In its 2007 report, “F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies are Failing in America,” Trust for America’s Health found a majority of adults favor increased government involvement in the issue. This includes free or low-cost access to exercise and weight-loss programs; reducing the marketing of unhealthy foods while increasing that of healthy foods; setting aside more green space for recreation and exercise; and expanding educational programs on nutrition and healthy lifestyles.

It’s a strategy Jones agrees with. “One of the things I see in obesity,” he says, “is once again, the disconnect with ‘What is food?’ People don’t understand that a lot of things hyped as food really aren’t, because they have very little nutritional value.

“There’s also a disconnect in health education. If you don’t have a basic understanding of food when you turn 16 or 17, it doesn’t sink in. There’s nothing to connect the information to. You’re told you must eat the four food groups and how much of each to eat, but how is that going to stick? There’s no connection as to why it’s important in your values, beliefs and perceptions.”

A Uniquely Human Desire

Perception plays a pivotal role in how Americans view food. We’re bombarded with ads touting bigger and better, more for your buck, cheaper by the dozen. They’re everywhere: Enticing and luring us, beckoning with every bite. And all this advertising rhetoric and seduction becomes ingrained as it’s filtered into our collective psyches.

“There’s an interesting marketer from France,” says Schüll, “a consultant who advertising firms always turn to. He has a unique approach of sniffing out cultural attitudes and then marketing to them. He’s figured out that to market cheese in Europe, you’ve got to portray the cheese as something that’s living, that’s still growing.

“But for Americans, cheese is basically dead. It lives in an airtight plastic receptacle; very much like a morgue. In France, you don’t put cheese in the refrigerator; in America, you do. That’s one aspect of what’s going on. Here, we don’t see food as a living thing; it’s simply part of this larger commodity array. We can throw it out or pack it away, and not tend to it with the kind of respect we might have had in another time or place.

“I think a great lesson is the gas situation right now and our scaling back. It’s obvious we can pretty quickly reframe our attitudes and behaviors of plenty, entitlement and excess.”

A new President may be the catalyst for a new approach. In late November, the nonprofit Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) sent Obama’s transition team 47 recommendations to combat obesity. Enacting new measures, says Mark Gottlieb, PHAI Executive Director, “could save countless lives and reduce the devastating consequences of this epidemic… A failure of federal obesity policy would have untenable public health and economic consequences.”

“The current generation of American children and adolescents may experience disability and death at earlier ages than their parents,” the report goes on to say, “reversing a pattern of generational improvement in health, productivity and quality of life that Americans have come to expect.”

Expectation. Perhaps the greatest emotional drive feeding into the obesity issue. In his book, The Best Life Diet, fitness and nutrition expert Bob Greene writes, “Being overweight is often a sign that you need to look deep inside yourself, not your refrigerator… What’s critical is that you find out what in your life is stirring up your emotions and ultimately causing you to turn to food for comfort and distraction.”

“Under the right circumstances,” says Schüll, “food – like drugs or love or work or anything else – can become a way to act out existential quandaries shared in the human condition. The capacity for this is not uniquely American, but it’s the historical and circumstantial factors that make it uniquely human.

“At a buffet, for example, food is right there, presenting itself as a way to act out our desire to have it all or consume something. But then it leaves us sort of empty.”

The euphoria, the emotional high of food is as fleeting as that second slice of pie. As a man observes in Buffet, “This is the sad truth about human desire. Once you capture it, it’s bound to disappoint. It’s bound to leave you feeling cheated. Full, but not satisfied.”

It’s something to chew on.

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Related stories: