Reviewed By: Michael Long
Kelly D. Brownell, PH.D. and Katherine Battle Horgen, PH.D.
(McGraw Hill 2004)
“Why do you let this happen to me?” the obese every child cries out in the introduction to Kelly Brownell and Katherine Horgen’s unflinchingly critical yet exhaustively constructive examination of our country’s compulsive relationship with food.
moves beyond inflaming rhetoric about the responsibility that fast food companies and packaged food marketers have for the problem to the logical deconstruction that the problem demands.
The authors’ ability to include both a scientific review of the epidemiological facts of the obesity crisis and the passion of human beings personally involved in treating eating disorders (Brownell is the director at the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, where Horgen is also on the staff.) makes this a fascinating read for anyone concerned about the societal impact of our eating culture.
Take, for example, the book’s examination of food marketing directed at children. Food Fight
starts with the current debate. Marketers say that advertising only creates brand preference, but does not create additional consumption of unhealthy foods, while food industry critics claim that the advertising is a major factor driving increased consumption of high calorie foods.
“Who cares,” they write, “if a child eats Count Chocula rather than Lucky Charms? If the assumption is wrong, however, reining in food advertising becomes logical, with special protection afforded to those least capable of protecting themselves (children). About one-third of the $30 billion spent each year on food advertising is targeted at children.”
Brownell and Horgen proceed to break down exactly how advertising impacts food. In one fact box, they note that forty percent of McDonald’s advertising targets children and in another quoted a study that found that seventy percent of children aged six to eight believed that fast food was healthier than food cooked in the home.
Always balanced, they conclude the section on television advertising to children by noting that while there is a direct correlation between hours of television watched and increased risk of obesity in preschool children, studies have not separated the impact of sitting and watching from that of the advertising.
Close to my own thoughts on how to shift consumption towards healthy foods, the authors discuss the feasibility of a tax/subsidy system to encourage healthy eating. They note that a one cent tax on each can of soda would generate $1.5 billion in revenue each year, but that “there [has not been] a single case where the revenue [of such taxes] has been earmarked for programs related to nutrition, physical activity or obesity prevention.”
The authors argue for a clearer understanding of how much of a price subsidy would be required to encourage consumers to eat healthy foods enough to cause a shift in the overall public health. Does fifteen percent off at a healthy restaurant
lead to increased consumption of healthy foods?
Most importantly, Brownell and Horgen provide a coherent and actionable list of recommendations for individuals, families and policymakers to change the way that we deal with food in this country.
This is a fight that can be won. If you are interested in getting involved when it counts, read this book.