No. 196

SHOCK HORROR – CHILD OBESITY ON THE DECLINE IN US

Stone the crows! The obesity crisis isn’t getting worse.

Last week the New York Times reported a decline in overweight infants. In fact, the “gold standard” US survey found the number of obese Americans aged 2 to 5 is down by 43 per cent.[i] That any little children at all are obese is a disgrace, still, that many fewer are has got to be good news.

But perhaps not for those who do not like the idea of weight being an issue people can do something about themselves

The Crows noticed an absence of cheering from the weight watchers and warners –who advocate higher taxes on fast food and announce that obesity is an illness when the Times story ran. Of course, I may have missed the coverage but the Fairfax Media papers and Radio National, where experts anxious to instruct us on what is best for us usually appear, seemed strangely silent.

Maybe the obesity industry found aspects of it indigestible. Like the conclusion of the researcher the NYT reported, who said, “Families with children had been buying lower-calorie foods over the past decade, a pattern he said was unrelated to the economic downturn.” And why pray, would they have done this? Surely not because “some combination of state, local and federal policies aimed at reducing obesity is starting to make a difference”. [ii]

Good lord, ordinary Americans have got the message about what makes their kids fat and are doing something about it! Just like average Australians. An under-reported study five years back found that growth in the number of overweight and obese children had stalled, which the research orthodoxy was ignoring. “People are always reluctant to let go a notion which is their life work,” said Professor Timothy Old from the University of South Australia’s School of Health Sciences. [iii]

For everybody who assumes that people are incapable of acting in their own interests, and their children’s interests, this is bad news indeed, contradicting the orthodoxy that our environment is saturated with fats we are seduced to swallow. As Deborah Cohen from RAND puts it; “If Americans did not live in a world filled with buffets, cheap fast food, soft drinks with corn syrup, and too many foods with excess fat, salt and sugar, the incidence of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes probably would plummet.” [iv]

The Crows can’t see it cheering up those who insist that obesity is a disease either.[v] Unless it is an addiction. Kirrily Pursey from the University of Newcastle suggests eating “could trigger feel-good chemicals in the brain such as dopamine, a chemical that is also stimulated by highly addictive drugs including cocaine and methamphetamines”.[vi]

So you see we must be saved from ourselves As Ms Cohen put it, “Education can help, but what’s really needed is regulation — for example, limits on marketing that caters to our addiction to sugar and fat.”

Oh yes? Except, it seems, that over time education can change behaviour. A generation gave up smoking as the message got through that fags are fatal. And before any one argues it was all down to price hikes and advertising bans, look at the way we drink less. In just five years, from 2007, Australian consumption of pure alcohol dropped from 10.8 litres to 10.1 litres.[vii]

Sure, humanity is capable of addiction to anything, porn and pills, heroin and hamburgers, the demon drink and wicked weed. Sure, we may need a nudge (of the Thaler and Sunstein kind) to beat our poison of choice – higher taxes, scary advertisements, information explaining the damage too much of what we fancy is generally a very bad thing. But most of us can beat an addiction if we want too enough.

At least, that is what people think. A survey last year of Australians and Americans found that while people accept food is addictive they still think will power rather than “medicalised” treatment is the way to defeat it. “The apparent failure of neurobiological explanations of overeating and obesity to alter public views toward obese individuals and the treatment of obesity suggests that these explanations have not yet had the beneficial impacts assumed by their advocates,” wrote Natalie Lee and University of Queensland colleagues.[viii]

This new US survey demonstrates that people understand they have the power to protect their children by acting on information about diet. And if they can do something for their kids they can do it for themselves, if they want to.

 

For bespoke opeds and speeches call the crows

Stephen4@hotkey.net.au

 

ENDNOTES

[i] Sabrina Tavernise, “Obesity rate for young children plummets 43 per cent in a decade,” New York Times, February 25

[ii] Tavernise op cit

[iii] Siobhain Ryan and Natasha Bita, “Childhood obesity a myth says research,” The Australian, January 9 2009

[iv] Deborah Cohen, “Five myths about obesity,” Washington Post, December 27 2013

[v] Matt Peacock, “Medical experts warn obesity is a disease that must be treated,” ABC TV, 7.30 Report, August 26 2013 @ http://goo.gl/3vryOk recovered on March 1

[vi] University of Newcastle, “Food addiction,” October 14 2013 @ http://goo.gl/jUKKQ2 recovered on March 1

[vii] Australian Bureau of Statistics, “Apparent consumption of alcohol 2011-12” September 18 2013 @ http://goo.gl/RpUHPa recovered on March 1

[viii] Natalie M Lee, Jayne Lucke, Wayne D Hall, Carla Meurk, Frances M Boyle, and Adrian Carter, “Public views on food addiction and obesity: implications for policy and treatment,” Plos One, September 25 2013 @ http://goo.gl/AdwI1Y recovered on March 1

'2012