News this week suggests the U.S. could be moving towards more regulation in the food and drug industry. Do we desperately need it or is it enough already?
This week the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, filed a petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration urging them to require that beverage makers reduce the amount of high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners.
The average 20-ounce soda contains 16 teaspoons of sugars made from high fructose corn syrup. The American Heart Association recommends that men consume no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar daily. For women the limit is 6 teaspoons.
Research shows that some 14 million Americans of all ages get more than one-third of their calories from added sugar. The average American consumes 152 pounds of sugar a year.
Outdoor Fast Food Ads
Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, have found that people that live in areas that have the greatest number of outdoor fast-food ads are more likely to be obese than people who live in areas without these signs.
The link between the ads and the levels of obesity is significant enough to confirm that “policy approaches may be important to reduce the amount of food advertising in urban areas.”
While an outright ban of these outdoor ads isn’t feasible, there are other steps that could be taken. Advertisers could be required to include warning labels on the ads, counter-advertising campaigns (like the billboard above) could be initiated, and a tax on ‘obesogenic’ advertising are some of the ideas being looked at.
Big Brother or Necessary Regulation?
As the FDA and Center for Disease Control work to find interventions to reduce the prevalence of obesity, I suspect we will begin to see more and more of these recommendations.
Putting a tax on outdoor advertising, warning labels on sodas and enforcing laws that set limits on the amount of sugar in beverages or saturated fats in food are hot button topics. Many people think it is an infringement on their freedom. The words Big Brother and ‘nanny state’ come to mind.
If enforcing more regulation on the food and beverage industry isn’t the answer to this weighty issue and the costly impact it has on our health, what is?
Carrots and Sticks
Until now positive reinforcement has been the most prevalent method for encouraging people to change behaviors. Workplace wellness programs reward employees with carrots. Monetary incentives such as discounts on the employee’s health insurance, gym memberships, gift cards, and extra hours of paid time off are a few of the ways employers entice workers to participate in the company sponsored wellness programs.
Some companies are moving to the sticks approach. The company that I work for now makes smokers pay more for their health insurance. Maybe they decided they would try the carrot approach, didn’t see the changes they hoped for, and decided they need to ding people for some of the habits that drive health care costs up.
On a broader scope, have we allowed people enough time to regulate their own consumption of sugar and saturated fat? That doesn’t seem to be working. Maybe it’s time to throw some sticks at this which means higher taxes and more regulation.
What do you think?
The American Journal of Preventive Medicine estimates a 42 percent obesity rate by 2032. Researchers estimate that the projected increase in obesity rates will cost the United States $550 billion between now and 2030.
Americans don’t like to be told what they should and shouldn’t eat. But, is it time to get serious about what the food and beverage industry is and is not allowed to sell? Or, do companies have the right to sell, and people have the right to purchase and consume what they want even if it contributes to chronic disease and higher medical costs?
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