What Is Food? – NYTimes.com

Some good opinion pieces on the controversy around NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban on super-sized soft drinks.

The first by Mark Bitman, noting that soft drinks (and equivalents) don’t meet the definition of food ‘provides those substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition.’ Quote:

The arguments against this ban mostly come from the “right.” (There actually is no right and left here, only right and wrong.) We’re told, as we almost always are when a progressive public health measure is passed, that this is “nanny-statism.” (The American Beverage Association also argues that the move is counterproductive, but the cigarette companies used to market their product as healthful, so as long as you remember that, you know what to do with the A.B.A.’s statements.) On a more personal level, we hear things like, “if people want to be obese, that’s their prerogative.”

The second by Daniel Lieberman reminds us of the evolutionary roots of our sweet tooth, and who argues for even more government intervention to compensate for our evolutionary instincts and the widespread availability of sugar. Quote:

Adults need help, too, and we should do more to regulate companies that exploit our deeply rooted appetites for sugar and other unhealthy foods. The mayor was right to ban trans fats, but we should also make the food industry honest about portion sizes. Like cigarettes, mass-marketed junk food should come with prominent health warning labels. It should be illegal to advertise highly fattening food as “fat free.” People have the right to be unhealthy, but we should make that choice more onerous and expensive by imposing taxes on soda and junk food.

We humans did not evolve to eat healthily and go to the gym; until recently, we didn’t have to make such choices. But we did evolve to cooperate to help one another survive and thrive. Circumstances have changed, but we still need one another’s help as much as we ever did. For this reason, we need government on our side, not on the side of those who wish to make money by stoking our cravings and profiting from them. We have evolved to need coercion.

And on the good news side, Disney’s plan to impose standards on food advertising aimed at young children on Disney owned television channels, radio stations and web sites (but nothing about their various resorts).

Disney Takes on Obesity

And lastly, Jeffrey Simpson’s lambasting of yet another government study on obesity, rather than any concrete action. Simpson is weak on the concrete action part as well, citing only the OECD as the authoritative source on what to do (the OECD recommends focus on at-risk individuals while obesity now affects such a large number of people). While income equality is one key factor (as it is on so many issues), bit simplistic that improving that (which we should in any case) will solve obesity, given that the factors involved apply to all social strata. There are lessons from the anti-smoking campaigns here. Quote:

In Canada, the largest number of people live in suburbs where the car rules. The average television set is on in the average Canadian household more than 20 hours a week, and kids who leave television gravitate to other kinds of screens: video games on iPads or the computer. Fast-food advertisers drown the airwaves. And so on.

 Fighting Obesity by Fighting Poverty

Regulating Our Sugar Habit – NYTimes.com

In an ideal world, such regulation would not be needed, as education and the like would mean there was a reduced market for sugar products. However, as Daniel Lieberman points out in his Harvard lecture, we are wired through evolution to eat and absorb too much fat and sugar, so regulation may be needed.

Regulating Our Sugar Habit – NYTimes.com.

Harvard Thinks Big 2012: Evolutionary Biology and Obesity

A good talk about how evolution has resulted in a propensity to obesity, and that while softer approaches like continuing working on treatment for obesity-induced disease and education on how to reduce obesity, ultimately greater regulation is most effective way to reduce the growth in obesity. Not popular among those who are concerned about the ‘nanny state’ but Lieberman argues convincingly the other approaches on their own will not be effective.

Harvard Thinks Big 2012: 8 All-Star Professors. 8 Big Ideas. | Open Culture.