Soft big­otry

Ac­tivist as­sump­tions about low-in­come nu­tri­tion don’t pan out

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By Julie Gunlock

The “obe­sity epi­demic” is of­ten used to jus­tify myr­iad new reg­u­la­tions tar­get­ing cer­tain types of food and restau­rants. Yet these reg­u­la­tory ef­forts re­ally have less to do with mak­ing peo­ple healthy than in­creas­ing gov­ern­ment con­trol over how pri­vate busi­nesses run their com­pa­nies and how cit­i­zens run their pri­vate lives.

In the war on obe­sity, fast food restau­rants have ab­sorbed most of the at­tacks. In San Fran­cisco and New York City, toys are banned in fast food kid’s meals — the the­ory be­ing that chil­dren only want fast food for the toys; mi­nus toys, chil­dren will im­me­di­ately be­gin re­quest­ing hum­mus and car­rot sticks. An­other reg­u­la­tion re­quires fast food restau­rants to put calo­rie in­for­ma­tion on their menus un­der the the­ory that when peo­ple see their fa­vorite burger has 800-plus calo­ries, they’ll jog to the near­est salad bar.

In Los An­ge­les, a city coun­cil mem­ber — who clearly doubts her con­stituents’ abil­ity to ex­hibit any self-con­trol — has gone a step fur­ther and in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion to ban the con­struc­tion of new fast food restau­rants in her dis­trict.

Some Amer­i­cans con­cerned about their neigh­bors’ health may ap­plaud such ef­forts, but the sci­ence sim­ply does not back up the pre­sump­tion of a link be­tween obe­sity and fast food. In fact, in a 2010 re­port ex­am­in­ing the is­sue, re­searchers found that when con­sumers eat fast food, they of­ten eat less the rest of the day, which off­sets their over­all daily calo­rie in­take. The re­port also re­vealed that obese peo­ple con­sume most of their calo­ries at home, not at restau­rants. An­other study re­leased last year ex­am­ined the eat­ing habits of 5,000 Cal­i­for­ni­ans and found that as their in­come in­creased, so did their con­sump­tion of fast food meals — so much for the ur­ban leg­end that the poor are the pri­mary con­sumers of fast food.

De­spite this in­for­ma­tion, food ac­tivists and reg­u­la­tors con­tinue to por­tray low-in­come Amer­i­cans as help­less when faced with the power of fast food and des­per­ately in need of gov­ern­ment ac­tion to prod them to­ward “healthy” food de­ci­sions. Food ac­tivists sug­gest that the rea­son poor fam­i­lies turn to fast food is be­cause they are so over­bur­dened by mul­ti­ple jobs and lack the time and money to make sim­ple, healthy meals. More in­sult­ingly, some food ac­tivists claim, with­out em­bar­rass­ment, that low­in­come in­di­vid­u­als sim­ply don’t un­der­stand the easy-to-read nu­tri­tion la­bels on the back of food pack­ages and that’s why they choose candy over grapes. Clearly, for many in­ter­ested in “help­ing” low-in­come Amer­i­cans, poverty sim­ply equals stu­pid­ity.

Re­search re­leased last month, how­ever, ap­pears to spoil their rhetor­i­cal — and pa­tron­iz­ing — soup.

Share Our Strength, one of the na­tion’s most re­spected an­ti­hunger or­ga­ni­za­tions, re­leased a provoca­tive new re­port: “It’s Din­ner­time: A Re­port on Low-in­come Fam­i­lies’ Ef­forts to Plan, Shop for, and Cook Healthy Meals,” which shows low-in­come Amer­i­cans are far more in­de­pen­dent and aware of the food choices than the food nanny statists would have us all be­lieve.

Among the sur­pris­ing find­ings is that 8 in 10 low-in­come fam­i­lies make din­ner at home and from scratch at least five times a week. Fam­i­lies only eat fast food on av­er­age one night a week. The re­port also shows that while some fam­i­lies do strug­gle to cook healthy meals ev­ery night (what fam­ily doesn’t?), a whopping 85 per­cent of low-in­come fam­i­lies polled said they want to make healthy meals and be­lieve eat­ing healthy is re­al­is­tic for them. The Share Our Strength study is just the lat­est in a grow­ing body of re­search that shat­ters the as­sump­tions we have about low-in­come fam­i­lies’ eat­ing habits.

So why do the poor suf­fer from obe­sity at higher rates than high­er­in­come peo­ple? Clearly, the jury is out on that ques­tion. But one thing is for sure: Eat­ing food that tastes good is a rel­a­tively cheap pas­time, say, com­pared to sail­ing, golf­ing or go­ing to the gym. Hu­man be­ings seek plea­sure no mat­ter their eco­nomic sta­tus and some peo­ple might sim­ply choose to live with the phys­i­cal con­se­quences of that choice.

Per­sonal choice is a bit­ter pill for food ac­tivists, reg­u­la­tors and big-gov­ern­ment en­thu­si­asts who pre­fer to blame the obe­sity “epi­demic” on big busi­ness — like fast food chains — and por­tray poor Amer­i­cans as chil­dren in des­per­ate need of res­cue from their un­con­trol­lable food urges. As this lat­est study shows though, low-in­come Amer­i­cans are per­fectly ca­pa­ble of tak­ing care of them­selves and their fam­ily’s food needs.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY MARK WE­BER

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