Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Weighty Issue

After a week-long family vacation at Disney, I want to explore the issue of money and health.  While visiting their four amusement parks, I got the opportunity to observe thousands of families.  Some of these families live as close as Orlando and some from as far away as Australia.  The majority of these have one thing in common, they’re FAT!
Yeah, we know, our society is overweight.  Childhood obesity has reached epic proportions, and our aging demographic is riddled with weight related health issues.  The media report daily about the evils of trans fats, salt intake, and calorie consumption, to name a few.  But what I want to explore is the connection between wealth and health.
Now I am not saying that every family I saw at Disney is wealthy.  But give me the latitude of a few assumptions here.  First of all, the households that are spending money on family vacations during tough economic times are not living at the sustenance levels.  They obviously have some expendable income, and thus the means to spend more money on health related items.  Second, good, healthy food is expensive.  Junk food is cheap and readily available.  (Yes, I understand families can grow their own vegetables and farmer’s markets are an excellent source of affordable healthy food, bet we are talking about mainstream America here!)  Anyone who eats regular meals outside of the home, and tries to eat healthy can attest to this. I always laugh when eating lunch at a restaurant and I’m told substituting broccoli for french fries costs extra.  Or, when ordering water, being told by the waiter that the soda is included.  Seems quite counterintuitive to a society trying to get “healthier.”
So why is it that the exact people in our society who can afford healthy, clean food, cram their faces with hamburgers, french fries, and cokes.  Is it laziness? Good Marketing?  (those who have seen Supersize Me, can attest to the juggernaut that is Mcdonald’s marketing.)  Does the fact that people have the means to eat better mean that they actually will?  Obviously not.  A perfect example of this is Oprah Winfrey.  With access to the countries best personal trainers, and the private chef of her choice, she’s back up to 200 pounds! Check out this link to a recent blog at Mark’s Daily Apple.
This is obviously not a new phenomenon.  As families shifted from a traditional nuclear family makeup to a dual working parent, kids playing every sport, cram in everything you can each day, whirlwind, the major fast food chains responded.  Starting in 1998 Burger King, Mcdonalds and Taco Bell began selling “Value Meals” and created “Dollar Menus” reducing the prices of hamburgers, chicken nuggets and french fries to pocket change.  In August of this year, Taco Bell introduced an entire meal for $1.99.  Yet head to a local O’Charley’s and order a chicken salad and it will cost you $9.99!
As I ponder the potential future of this experiment, I think this is an area I would like to explore further.  I have become enthralled by the concepts of food and health.  Lately, books like Good Calories, Bad Calories, The Paleo Solution, and The Primal Blueprint are questioning the last forty years of food recommendations.  The food pyramid, as we have come to know it, may be the exact reason why our society is obese.  Add with government subsidies in certain food industries and rising health care costs, the connection of money and health may be one of the most important issues in the next 20 years.

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