Abundance Doesn’t Mean Health

The relatively new notion that around a third or more of the world’s population is badly (“mal”) nourished conflates hunger and diet-spawned illnesses like diabetes, both of which are preventable.

Both result from a lack of access to quality food, which in turn can result from a lack of money. No one with money starves, and the obesity-diabetes epidemic afflicts predominantly people on the low end of the income scale. With money comes good food, food that creates health and not “illth,” to use John Ruskin’s word. With a lack of money comes either not enough food or so-called empty calories, calories that put on pounds but do not nourish.

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Stop Subsidizing Obesity

Not long ago few doctors – not even pediatricians – concerned themselves much with nutrition. This has changed, and dramatically: As childhood obesity gains recognition as a true health crisis, more and more doctors are publicly expressing alarm at the impact the standard American diet is having on health.

“I never saw Type 2 diabetes during my training, 20 years ago,” David Ludwig, a pediatrician, told me the other day, referring to what was once called “adult-onset” diabetes, the form that is often caused by obesity. “Never. Now about a quarter of the new diabetes cases we’re seeing are Type 2.”

Ludwig, who is director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center in Boston, is one of three authors, all medical doctors of an essay (“Viewpoint”) in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association titled “Opportunities to Reduce Childhood Hunger and Obesity.”

That title that would once have been impossible, but now it’s merely paradoxical. Because the situation is this: 17 percent of children in the United States are obese, 16 percent are food-insecure (this means they have inconsistent access to food), and some number, which is impossible to nail down, are both. Seven times as many poor children are obese as those who are underweight, an indication that government aid in the form of food stamps, now officially called SNAP, does a good job of addressing hunger but encourages the consumption of unhealthy calories.

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Posted in Food Politics