Sep 252011
 
Authors: Joe Vajgrt

Food is an intimate and fundamental aspect of everyone’s life, and the choices we make about the food we consume are complicated by an array of cultural, political and economic considerations.

The government walks a very fine line between the expectation that they’ll provide basic oversight concerning the food we eat and the perception that Big Brother is being overly paternalistic by restricting personal choice and freedom. That’s why legislating a healthy diet is always going to be a touchy subject.

One thing’s for sure, though: we need reform in a variety of areas.

In the United States, our weight has become such a hefty problem over the last several decades that the military has been forced to loosen its health and fitness standards for admission into the armed forces. In order to meet demand for the number of troops needed to continue fighting any of the wars we’re currently tangled up in, the branches of the military are now accepting applicants that would have been previously rejected for being too fat and in poor physical condition.

The obesity epidemic has even changed transportation safety guidelines. First, airplanes, buses and ambulances had to be expanded to make room for our extra bulk. Now, researchers have had to request the manufacture of fatter crash test dummies in order to properly test vehicle safety.

When considering the rapid expansion of our collective waistlines, it’s tempting to point a chubby finger at a variety of potential causes. In the last few years, Congress has been paying more attention to the school lunch program, and rightfully so. However, there are a lot of other places that we should look at when trying to improve the health of our nation.

Michelle Obama has championed the cause for healthy eating, stressing the importance of reaching out to children in order to influence the next generation’s eating habits. However, by simply suggesting that dessert shouldn’t become its own food group, the First Lady came under fire from conservative critics such as Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin’s quote on Laura Ingrahram’s radio show provides a glimpse into the mindset of a lot of “typical” Americans. In reference to Michelle Obama’s organic White House garden and children’s health initiatives, Palin said, “Take her anti-obesity thing that she is on. She is on this kick, right. What she is telling us is she cannot trust parents to make decisions for their own children, for their own families in what we should eat. … Just leave us alone, get off our back.”

This coming from a woman who publicly expressed her excitement about eating fried butter on a stick at the Iowa state fair. In case you weren’t aware, this was the hot-ticket item at the GOP caucuses last month. It was literally an entire stick of butter, battered and fried, and served with a tub of vanilla icing to dip it in.

Not to claim that clogging your blood with this amount of cholesterol in one sitting might affect your mental capacity, but there is a direct correlation between the amount of fried butter a person eats and the likelihood of voting for Michele Bachman, as evidenced by her solid victory in Iowa’s straw polls.

Instead of going after Michele Obama for encouraging kids to eat healthier and be more active, people like Sarah Palin should be concerned with reforming the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP benefits.

Presently, nearly 40 million people –– more than one in eight Americans –– receive assistance from the program. During the ‘70s, only one in 50 people were getting food stamps. Over that same time span, the obesity rate has increased from 15 percent, all the way up to 35 percent today.

A report that was published in USA Today showed that food stamps and the obesity rate might in fact be related, saying “Jay Zagorsky, a scientist at Ohio State University, has calculated that, controlling for socioeconomic status, women who received food stamps were more likely to be overweight than non-recipients. They gained weight faster while receiving assistance than when not.”

Another huge problem is that doctors don’t receive adequate training in nutrition. According to an article in the New York Times last month, “In the mid-1980s, the National Academy of Sciences published a landmark report highlighting the lack of adequate nutrition education in medical schools. Now, it appears that even two and a half decades later, a vast majority of medical schools still fail to meet the minimum recommended requirements.”

Serious diseases that are linked to what we eat kill an estimated three out of four Americans each year, according to the National Cancer Institute. If our doctors don’t even understand how to avoid these complications, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Joe Vajgrt is a senior journalism major who is finally done writing about obesity. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. He can be reached at letters@collegian.com.

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