It’s Really Simple

February 10th, 2009


I’m sorry, but it’s really simple. The reason that we are getting fatter as a nation, and lagging behind 29 other countries in longevity, is that we have given the responsibility for our health over to someone else.

My parents grew up in central Illinois. They ate lots of fresh food that was prepared in the same way by generations of grandmas. This good food helped them be healthy and active. They never considered going out to eat as a “way of life”. As children of the depression, they were grateful for having food on the table and not worrying about where they would sleep.

Fast forward 70 years and what do we find? We are a nation that has moved from having fresh food as its main stay to a nation that is addicted to sweet, prepared food. There are lots of economic and social reasons for this change. What is not well understood is that there is also a business interest at play here.

In our recent Business Matters program on the impact of sweeteners, I discovered that until 1978 the percentage of the U.S. population that was obese didn’t change. In 1978, a growth in obesity began and it has accelerated.

I know there is a belief that there is no magic answer to the problem of obesity, and to some extent I accept that. However, I felt there was something at cause that if it were changed could reverse this trend.

I got to wondering about when High Fructose Corn Syrup was introduced into our foods. I found that it made its way into baby formula in the mid-70s. Coke switched from sugar to HFCS in the mid-80s. I looked at a number of websites about what foods HFCS is in and found it’s in about everything we eat that is processed.

There are some facts that most of us don’t think about with regard to HFCS. It is a highly subsidized farm product. Its use spread as farm subsidies drove its price down. So naturally, companies switched from sugar to HFCS because it was both cheap and easy (as a liquid it is easier to handle in mass-production).

I want to say right now I do not feel that HFCS is the culprit of our obesity crisis. I do think it is a symptom and that is my point. It is a symptom of a change in our choices about food. It is a symptom of our decision that fast and cheap is more important than healthy and carefully prepared. It is a symptom of our choice to expose our bodies to the effects of sweeteners from infancy.

We spend more than any other country on health care, and yet we have sicker folks and shorter lives than people in many other countries. The solution is reforming our way of life. This must be the focus of any change that will have an impact on health care reform.

We must move from delegating the responsibility for the nourishing of ourselves and our children to others, to assuming full responsibility ourselves. By assuming responsibility, we take control of the health of our families. We prod our school systems to do a better job in the food choices our kids have. We make meals at home so that we remember what’s in the food, and our kids can re-educate their palates. We can stop putting things in our mouth that are not good for us (what is the value to our bodies of drinking an 800 calories super-sized soda?).

When we resume our responsibility for what we eat, amazing things happen. Our health improves. Our vitality increases. We start getting a sense of wonder about our world and the gifts we have.

There will be some fallout, of course. For you, it may mean that you have to remember (or learn) how to prepare food. Initially, like anything new, it will seem like it takes more time. Don’t be discouraged, the payoff is real and comes quickly.

In the corporate world there will also be consequences. If we cut back on discretionary food that has no real nutritional value, the companies that produce that food will be impacted along with their suppliers. That’s ok though. They will figure out what you find to be of value to you and offer that.

There is no better time than now to step up to this responsibility. You will find in the end you’ll save some money, and the money you have will be better used for things that truly matter to your quality of life.

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