Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Food Fight: The Inside Story of the Food Industry, America’s Obesity Crisis, and What We Can Do About It, by Kelly D. Brownell, PH.D and Katherine Bat

This is an interesting book to contrast with Gina Kolata’s ponderously titled Rethinking Thin, which I reviewed recently for this blog. Rethinking Thin basically had an ‘it’s all too hard’ attitude to weight loss, and summed up with the bizarre argument that Americans are probably better off being of a chunkier persuasion. She kind of saw it as a sign of economic progress.

In contrast to Kolata’s laid back attitude, Kelly D. Brownell (Director of the Yale Centre for eating and weight disorders) and Katherine Battle Horgen sound off every alarm possible and end every chapter with an impassioned call to action.

For these authors, there is no doubt as to why we are experiencing an obesity crisis. It’s mostly to do with environment. An environment that bombards us at every turn with food advertising, and from a very young age. Making matters worse, most of the food information we get comes from the mega advertising campaigns of the big food companies. Government advertising campaigns simply can’t match the dollars put up by the likes of McDonalds.

So you get the situation where people make nutritional decisions based on what they see written on a packet of chips. Anyone who reads the blurbs on a lot of junk foods will be amazed at the growing list of silly information that is provided for consumers. Like lollies saying they are 99 percent fat free, leading people to think they are a good health choice.

That’s the media environment. The authors also note that the physical environment is more and more tailored to cars and less and less to exercise and physical activity. We need more bike paths and places to take a walk.

To make all of this happen – less advertising, more parkland to play in – will take action from citizens. Hence the book’s repeated calls to action. Leaving obesity management to government on its own will not get nearly enough done. Also, government is in thrall to the big food producers, who have enormous power.

The text of this book is pretty messy. The authors pile up lots and lots of statistics and information, so you get quite a wallop. Yet I wish the book had been neater and didn’t have such a rushed and breathless way about it.

That’s a shame, because this is the sort of book I’d be reluctant to recommend to the lay reader.

The authors should go back to the drawing board and writer a simpler, more user friendly version, with a neat guide at the back on where further information can be obtained.

Brownell and Horgen are preaching to the converted at The Chris Saliba Web Experience. However, with Food Fight, I don’t know who they’re trying to appeal to - the average punter or industry specialist.

A messy pot of factoids.

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