The Trump administration has come under fire recently for its decision to roll back Obama-era food regulations. The Food and Drug Administration delayed a rule requiring restaurants to post calorie counts on menus. The move is certainly in tandem with the Trump mantra of eliminating oppressive and chaotic regulations, but public health advocates are concerned that the lack of clear and concise nutrition information will augment the obesity epidemic even more.
While this calorie-count debate has its merits, I argue that it is better observed in the context of America’s growing obesity problem. The fact that it even exists at all stems directly from the largest, and perhaps most ominous, public health crisis of the modern-day. In the past 50 years, obesity rates among adults have nearly doubled from 13.4% to 35.7%. The prospects for today’s youth are even dimmer—nearly one in five children are plagued with obesity.
Why is this happening? Who is to blame?
Many are quick to point the finger at the processed food industry, and at the federal government for stifling economic growth and leaving those in poverty with no choice but cheap fast food. Yet few take the introspective approach. Since the fat-free neuroticism of the 1970’s, society has been catapulting itself from one diet fad to another—leaving us with a slew of confusing, misleading, and ultimately unhealthy processed foods.
Take America’s favorite cookie: the Oreo. It now comes in over forty different varieties, one for every celebrity-endorsed, delirium-ridden diet on the planet. Reduced-fat? Check. Low-sugar? Check. 100-calorie pack? Check. However, Mondelēz International (who owns a fair share of former-Kraft products), is not the only parent company guilty of this practice. The website for Cheez-Its, owned by Kellogg, is so nauseatingly crowded that it prompts an instant headache. The variety of snacks by Frito-Lay is equally absurd.
However, these monolithic corporations are not solely responsible for the obesity epidemic. They are businesses operating in a capitalist environment—the sheer number of chemically synthesized (albeit delicious) snacks are demanded by consumers.
The “cure” to the growing American waistline cannot come from the government alone. There must be a public movement pressuring corporations for less processed foods, forcing giants like Kellogg, Kraft, and Frito-Lay to improve their products. Expedient, nutrient-stripped snacks can no longer be the cornerstone of the American diet. In this regard, the firestorm surrounding the menu-labeling controversy is only a drop in the ocean of the obesity crisis. Public health experts would be better off shifting consumer demand to fresher, less-modified foods instead of arguing for mandatory calorie counts in fast food joints that serve nothing but garbage in the first place.