Yummy or Yucky: from Halloween to Thanksgiving – by Deborah Levine

Every year, we struggle to resist the temptation minute to minute to sugar ourselves.  It begins with Halloween candy and proceeds to Thanksgiving dinner, exploding with holiday eating extravaganzas with the year’s tastiest foods. By the New Year, the scale shows our over-indulgence. It’s no coincidence that 12% of gym members join in January.

Given COVID, I suspect that the number of Americans  suffering from the obesity-related disease of diabetes will surpass the 30 million when I first wrote this 3 years ago.  Did you know that the ten states with the highest rates of type 2 diabetes were here in the South? The same region where COVID vaccinations are so often rejected.

I’m not telling you anything you didn’t know or suspect. But knowledge doesn’t stop us from bad eating habits. My diabetic brother got huffily indignant when I suggested he no longer stop at the gas station on the way home for a daily fix of Oreo cookies. Sound familiar?

If diabetes isn’t enough to encourage you to be wary of the yummy stuff, consider your poor liver. About 30% – 40% of American adults have something called NASH, a fatty liver disease. Many of them don’t know they have it and find out only when they’re mysteriously ill. What to do? I lost thirty-five pounds by cutting out sugar, salt, and most processed foods. Yes, to those who’ve asked me, I got this thin on purpose.

Why does yummy trump nutritious in the first place? Be aware of the dollars spent to ensure you eat that fast food, sugary drinks, processed meats, and chocolate everything. The advertising budgets involved are huge with sophisticated ad campaigns that target vulnerable populations. Fast food restaurants target black and Hispanic youth, populations at high risk for obesity and related diseases. Food desserts have little fresh food available and are like sitting ducks for this advertising.

Scientists note that once you gain weight, your body works against you to keep it there. Only about 25% are successful in keeping the weight off long term according to Jennifer Kuk, associate professor at York University’s School of Kinesiology and Health. That’s tough for the 70 % of adults who are already overweight or obese. But, it can, and will, get worse.

The Robert Woods Foundation reports that most 2-year-olds today will develop obesity by age thirty-five. That’s not surprising considering that preschoolers are reported to see almost three fast food ads on average every day, children aged 6-11 years viewed even more and teens saw almost five ads per day. Less than 1 percent of all kids’ meal combinations met recommended nutrition standards in this report and now, the Trump administration has eased the rules on school lunches claiming that more nutritious meals are yukky.

Ah politics! Food and beverage companies spent $22,393,837 lobbying politicians this year. Companies like Coca Cola, Domino’s Pizza, McDonald’s Corporation, Wendy’s and Nestle hire multiple lobbying firms. Millions were spent by manufacturers like General Mills, Campbell Soup, and Kellog Co.

It’s not only lobbyist who benefit, but there’s direct support of political candidates. It’s not unusual for firms to spend more on Republican candidates than Democrats. A major political issue is labeling. How much do they have to let the public know about what they’re eating?

Some folks say that I’m mean to write this so close to holiday celebrations. But in my mind, it’s a kindness. Let that go through your mind, too, as you’re targeted by processed food purveyors. Turn off the fast food ads on TV. Shop for healthy food. Boycott fast food restaurants. Enjoy home cooking. Invite a politician to share the meal and chat about real food and real people. Now that’s yummy!

(based on an opinion column originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press)

Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash


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