September 6, 2010

Eating in 3D: The Objective

Face it. America is busting at the seams. Or more specifically, American’s are busting at their inseams. In the 20-odd years that I have been an adult, the obesity rate has swelled to enormous proportions. For the record, obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater. BMI is calculated from a person's weight and height and provides a reasonable window into one’s propensity for serious health problems including cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes. What is your BMI? If you haven’t checked lately, do so

In 2009, thirty-three states claimed an obesity prevalence equal to or greater than one in four citizens; nine of these states (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia – hush puppies, anyone?) had a prevalence of obesity equal to or greater than 30%. Only Colorado and the District of Columbia had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%. What is going on?! Check out the handy-dandy animated fat maps provided by the CDC at These bring whole new meaning to Red States and Blue States.

Why so fat? There are innumerable factors at play – from insidious corporate conspiracy theories to shamefully inert lifestyles. Yet, if I had to ascribe our cumulative budge to just one factor, I would go to the source. The industrialization of food has radically changed what we consume and how much our food costs. In 1949, Americans spent 22% of their income on food, whereas in 2009 they spent a meager 10% (with significant city-by-city variation - check out

I’m all for saving a buck but this free lunch is anything but free – we are paying with our poor, fat-saturated lives. Less expensive food is often the product of factory farming and industrialized processing. With jumbo size products being sold cheap, the American food dollar may go farther, but, ironically, expanding waistlines simply displace these dollars to healthcare spending down the line. Today’s go-large value meal is tomorrow Lipitor prescription.

I found a video that perfectly summarizes this shift in American food habits. Take a look.

Did anyone notice the corporate sponsorship of this educational video montage? Anyone? Yes – Whole Foods. It shouldn’t surprise you to find that “Whole Paycheck” is in support of Americans increasing the amount of money they spend on nutritious, fresh, …well… whole foods. This brings me to the nut of the matter.

Asking American families to spend more on their food is not a viable means to a healthy end. It’s my blog and so it’s my opinion but I don’t think we need to take a survey to validate this premise. If I asked four families outside the Chula Vista Von’s what they would do with a $25 savings on their shopping trip, “purchase more fresh fruit,” “substitute organic milk for the gallon fortified with bovine growth-hormone,” and “spring for the free range chicken breasts” are not likely responses. I’m not sure I want to know what the responses would be.

Why am I blogging the obvious? Yes, we are fat and growing fatter. So what?

When I started this experiment, I didn’t think eating in 3D was possible. I am still not convinced it is totally sustainable but that remains to be seen. Without a doubt, it is incredibly difficult to achieve a health diet under the economics outlined in this experiment. It would be damned near impossible for individuals lacking basic understanding of nutrition and skills to accurately track consumption. A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine assessed 200 patients’ ability to reading nutrition labels on food packages. Although 77 percent of the people had at least ninth-grade literacy skills and more than two-thirds had at least some college, many participants had trouble with basic math calculations. As a result, only 32 percent could correctly calculate the amount of carbohydrates in a 20-ounce bottle of soda with 2½ servings in the container. Only 60 percent could calculate the number of carbs in half a bagel when the serving size on the package was a whole bagel.

Without an indictment of our educational system, suffice it to say that Americans needs help. The food industry is impenetrable behind a fortress of lobbing armor. For producers and processors, more nutritious foods are directly correlated with higher prices. Consumers with discretionary dollars will pay more for organic, whole grain, fat-free goodness. Thus, these players are not the most likely participants in a project designed to tell America how to get nutrition at costs roughly equivalent to boxed mac and cheese, spaghetti-os and frozen burrito (mmmm…three favorite staples of my youth).

So, I turn my attention to the grocers. What self-respecting supermarket lacks the now-requisite organic produce section? The kosher case? The family-sized frozen entre section? Clearly, grocers find ways to group foods in logical and attractive ways to assist consumers in making buying decisions. Have you ever seen a section that unites affordable, highly nutritious food products? I have – it is called a Trader Joe’s. Regrettably, Trader Joe's is not an option for everyone.

I’d like to see Vons, Albertsons and others feature Eating in 3D end cap displays which offer the ingredients for a $2.00 - $3.00 meal (per person) which meets 30% – 50% of a person’s recommended daily allowance of key nutrients and which takes fewer than 35 minutes to prepare. It’s possible, I’ve proven it. But, on your own, it takes more diligence, creativity and will-power than humanly probable. With help at the point of food purchase, our sheep-like instincts can take over. In-store marketing will lead us to water and we might just choose to drink to our own health.
I'll be sharing our meal plans, results and observations along the way. Let me know what you think - better yet, join us!

No comments:

Post a Comment