Anti-obesity advocates are turning up the heat. Anti-obesity ads are on the airwaves and posted on you tube. The spots are compelling–and chilling. They target parents. They target junk foods. They are not honest.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield are behind the ads in Minnesota. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta promotes different ads in Georgia. The UK and Australia have their own versions. All of the ads reinforce the belief that obesity is a math problem. Eat less, exercise more, and just stop buying all those unhealthy foods.
THE ANTI-OBESITY ADS LIE
While the ads may be thought provoking to some, others find them shaming and judgmental. I find them dishonest. Why only target overweight? Not everyone who eats poorly is overweight. Not everyone who is overweight eats poorly. You can be fit and fat. You can be skinny and sick.
Research tells us that obesity is much more complex than a simple equation. Calories do count. But they are not the only thing that counts. The issues are complicated by a myriad of forces. Genetics, food subsidies that influence food costs, food access, food storage and safety issues, as well as the time, energy and skill to cook more healthful meals.
There are even bigger issues. We live with an abundant and adulterated food supply. Food technology has done its best to deliver a food supply that is too tasty and appealing. Our overly refined food supply influences biological regulators that lead to overeating. And as one of the ads painfully illustrates, too many people use food to soothe, cajole and bribe. Doing the easy, quick or convenient thing has cultivated a population with less than adequate self regulation and resilience.
MORE THAN FOOD
And there are big questions looming about the role of endocrine disruptors (ED) and other persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that contaminate our environment and obesity. These agents influence the very hormonal processes that regulate how our body uses energy.
Many pesticides interfere with estrogen receptors. Estrogen plays an important role in fat metabolism. I don’t think it is coincidental that the growing incidence of obesity parallels the chemically driven green revolution and plastics industry. Yet these industries spew the very ED and POPs that are detected in our air, water and soil and eventually in our food. They accumulate in the fat stores in our bodies and are linked with glucose intolerance (which can lead to diabetes), thyroid disease, cancer and host of other maladies.
So lets stop pretending that obesity is the issue. Lets stop pretending that only heavy people eat excessive amounts of refined starch, sugar and fat. Let’s stop pretending that judging and shaming people is an effective way to change behavior.
If the folks at Blue Cross/Blue Shield were really interested in helping people, I wonder if they would consider covering nutrition and lifestyle counseling–before someone is diagnosed with diabetes?