So the city of New York Department of Health has recently changed its ad campaign regarding the dangers of obesity. Specifically, this new campaign is on the prowl against fast food joints that offer larger or “super sized” portions on their menu.
Link to the article: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/10/in-new-ads-health-department-offers-super-sized-warnings/
The Department is using scare tactics to make individuals think twice about purchasing these portion sizes, noting that (in the ad in the article) the instances of Type 2 Diabetes has increased over the years which can lead to limb amputation. Scary stuff! As an aside, you might ask “is it true?” Yes, it is true. The picture goes a little far in its depiction, but diabetes can lead to amputations. From my research, it is frequently foot amputation that results, caused by a reduction in the Diabetes sufferer to feel pain in their extremities. This causes them to ignore injuries to the foot, leading to ulceration and gangrene and eventual removal of the limb. It’s an extreme take on the matter – the actual incidences of ulceration in diabetic patients is 2 – 3%, but the number of them that require amputation is 85%. So while it might be extreme, it is true.
But I did not come here to talk about amputation or even diabetes. No, I am here to discuss a little something in the article, a quote from a representative of the Beverage Association. From the Article:
“Portion control is indeed an important piece of the solution to obesity,” said Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for the association. “But instead of utilizing scare tactics, the beverage industry is offering real solutions like smaller portioned containers and calorie labels that show the number of calories in the full container, right up front, to help people choose products and sizes that are right for them and their families.”
Let’s break this down a little. First off, right away he has a point – portion control is a very important component of controlling obesity. I know – I lost a lot of weight myself using just that. What about the second part of the quote? The point about the smaller containers and the calorie labels? Well, that’s …. not so good a point. I mean, the idea behind it is sound and it appears to be intended to help. But the reality is that it won’t really help the situation, either for obesity or diabetes. Let me explain what I mean. To do that, you need to understand a little something about calories.
Calories are in just about everything we eat. Save water which is needed as a transfer / mixing / suspension / etc fluid in the body, everything we eat or drink otherwise is caloric. This is a fact – the reasoning to support it is simple – there is no reason to eat something (biologically speaking) unless it is providing sustenance. Sustenance comes in the form of proteins, nutrients, minerals, fats, and sugars. The first two are used for cell production; the material is used to produce copies of DNA when cells split. Minerals are used to transfer oxygen, regulate processes and other large scale operations as well as provide very large scale structural building material (think calcium for bones). Fat provides slow energy to the system as well as building materials for things like cell walls. Sugar primarily provides energy to the system. Each cell is a motor and each motor needs fuel to burn. Sugar is that fuel – interestingly, your homeostatic system partially depends on this fuel use to provide heat to the body. One of the reasons we are “warm blooded” mammals.
A beverage producer means any company that makes fluids that we consume. Bottled water, soda, coffees, and so forth. Water is not part of the problem here (no calories) and it is (thankfully) one of the better selling drinks products to at least a portion of the populace. The problem is in the drinks that carry calories in them – the non-diet sodas, milk, and cream infused coffees and so forth. These beverages can provide a great number of calories to an individual very quickly, calories that you will absorb as readily as you will from food (you can thank evolution for that trick).
So, enough with the biology stuff, what’s the problem with his second point? The problem is two-fold. The first problem is that, as he states, the industry is offering “options” to individuals regarding beverage sizes. Oh really? Options, you say? Yeah! Give people the chance to buy a small amount of the product. What’s the problem with that? Well, it sort of completely misses the point of the ads. The ad in that article is pointing out that beverage sizes have been increasing over the years. Implied in that statement is the fact that people have been purchasing and drinking these larger sizes. They already have the “choice” to buy the smallest member of the line-up. They aren’t doing that – they are buying the largest product they can. Human nature, really.
Granted, the smallest member is not the smallest any more. One of the members over at Fark pointed out that Wendy’s announced that they were eliminating their super size portions some years ago. They did it, but not how you might think. They actually eliminated the smallest sizes and renamed the medium, large, and super into the small, medium, and large. In one motion, they increased their serving sizes permanently and fairly sneakily when you think about it. You don’t have the choice to go for a lower caloric amount because they simply do not provide it. In fact, they are playing pretty loose with the names of their meals, so much so that one might get fooled into believing they are having a modest amount of calories when they are having anything but.
This leads to the second problem. People are people and most do not give much thought to the calories that they see listed on the sides of products. I sure as hell didn’t when I was a fatass. Those calorie things were for the health nuts was my thought. You didn’t need to be that worried about them. Besides, they can’t add up that fast. What I was operating from, and what most people out there operate from, was blind, optimistic ignorance. I didn’t really know that much about calories or how weight really worked. The diet fad and junk food industries had a hand in that lack of knowledge. But the blame was mine too. Sure, the signal to noise ratio was and is atrocious, but I wasn’t exactly eager to learn either. During that time of my life, telling me that there were 80 calories in one thing and 220 in another was irrelevant. I didn’t know how much I needed and I didn’t figure that they added up that fast anyway. Hopefully some of you reading this know exactly where I’m coming from on this.
Not only did I not know the ins and outs of calories and weight, I didn’t care to know. A sort of intentional ignorance mixed with the other. I didn’t want to hear that my eating was my problem. That would have made me to blame for this, even if just partly and I didn’t want to hear that. Printing how many calories were in a soda to the side was irrelevant to me. It was not going to stop me from drinking it. Hell, I’d almost drink it to spite “them”. You know, those people that didn’t want me to enjoy eating. Screw them, they don’t know how this works either.
That is the attitude of the average man – they don’t care what it says on the side of the container. Those are just words and numbers. They don’t apply to them. Hell, they’re exaggerating it anyway. If I don’t need that much soda, then why do they sell it in that size? And that’s the other shoe, ladies and gentlemen. That is why that man, well intentions or not, is wrong. Giving people the numbers on the side? Meaningless; they don’t know how much they need, how much they had, and most simply won’t do the math. Smaller sizes? Useless; why are the bigger ones there if you don’t need them? The Associations response is to basically do as they have done before. Big surprise – that’s their profit margins they’re dealing with there.
Not that I am defending the ad itself. Amputee and big gulp cups? Might impact some, most for a few shamed minutes until the ad is gone and they go back to gobbling down food as they usually do.
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