In no way can I capture everything Dr. Brownell said in an hour and forty-five minutes, but I want to share some of his key points, interesting research and ways we can be change agents.
Over 2/3 of our population is overweight or obese and guess what? This isn't just a national trend. It's international, including developed and underdeveloped countries. And on top of that, just over 20% of the U.S. population is getting the recommended physical activity.
The main message of his talk was that the food industry plays a HUGE role in our health crisis. Prices for soda and fatty, sugary foods has gradually increased over the years at rates of 20 and 46 percent. But the prices for fruits and vegetables has raised over 112%! The cost increase in food has greatly affected peoples' choices because they are able to feed their families cheaper on fatty, salt and sugar laden foods over lean proteins, fruits and veggies.
While education helps, Brownell stressed that the health community has nowhere near the buying power of the food industry. And therefore, a more effective solution to the problem is to start offering only optimal defaults (healthy options so kids don't have the opportunity to choose cheeseburgers and fries for lunch, banning trans fats in restaurants, or removing vending machines so they can't buy a soda on their break).
Sugar Sweetened Beverages are a major factor in the obesity epidemic. Sugar sweetened beverages include sodas, energy drinks, sweetened teas, sports drinks, Vitamin Water, etc.
- Did you know the average American drinks 50 GALLONS of sugar sweetened beverages per year?
- And kids age 2-18 consume about 40% of their calories from empty calories in sugar sweetened beverages.
During the Q & A period someone asked about diet sodas and Dr. Brownell made two good points:
1. Are the artificial sweeteners in diet sodas safe? The science on this he says, is all over the map. And if it is dangerous, we won't know the effects until 10+ years after people have been consuming them. Amen!
2. Do diet sodas help in weight loss? Again, he said, the evidence is all over the map. At this point, the health industry is focusing on targeting sugar sweetened beverages rather than including diet sodas as well.
Brownell proposed a 1 cent per ounce tax on sugar sweetened beverages as one way to combat the overweight and obesity issues. While this wouldn't be the end all be all, it would make a difference. For example, the state of Oregon could make approx. $182 million per year from such a proposed beverage tax in which it could use toward healthy living education or modifications within schools or helping to subsidize the cost of healthy foods (rather than corn - corn syrup).
How can we be change agents?
1. Talk to your legislators (local, state, federal). If local or state legislators get 2-3 phone calls on an issue it's likely that they will look into it further.
2. Share stories with the press. Whether you write an op ed for your local paper, or tip a reporter off to something good or bad that is happening surrounding food nutrition, access, cost, etc get the information to the press. They are always looking for story ideas.
3. Take your stand by making certain decisions at the grocery store that will not only impact your health, but tell the buyers at your grocery store what to stock.
Sorry for such a wordy post. I hope you found some of the info interesting. It definitely got my wheels spinning again - just what I needed, a little intellectual stimulation!
Check out the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity for tons more information and utterly jaw dropping statistics.