The weight of responsibility

Feb. 15, 2003
Our global village is in a finger-pointing feeding frenzy. We all know weight is a huge problem. It's been written, televised and called out for months. But in America we cannot address a cultural problem without assigning blame. Pudgy digits first pointed at fast-food chains; frivolous lawsuits ensued, then slid through the grease pit.Now we must decide who's accountable for causing the world to revolve around the plate rather than the sun. It's each of us, of course, we're each responsible for our own diets. But if we need blame instead of accountably, then food marketers should carry that weight.Calling on food companies to reduce portions and educate consumers is a concept that seems to benefit both sides.A step back.My father formerly helped build automobile plants. When planning parameters for the first generation of mini-vans, Dad recalled dissing them in a conversation with an auto-exec. "That's the ugliest thing I've ever seen," said Dad. "Why would anyone want one of those?""Because," said the auto-exec, "we will tell them they want one."Now, like a Hot Apple Pie, no family experience is complete without a mini-van. Despite the fact that they're mocked like a fat aunt and most men actually chuckle when climbing aboard one of them, our culture finds them indispensable. And now some come with little tables, refrigerators and microwaves so we can eat on our way out to dinner."Please sir, I want some more."It's no surprise that food marketers try to sell consumers on the value of a "supersize" option. The increase in quality never outpaces the increase in revenue. A "Biggie" meal is more gratifying than a medium? Men -- especially but not exclusively -- have their core of masculinity challenged if they pass over a Hungry Man-sized dinner in favor of a Lean Cuisine. Clean your plate before you get dessert.The Associated Press recently ran reports purporting that portion sizes at home have been increasing as a direct result of the up-size encouragement we get from food companies. "Great," would say marketing folks. "We have influenced the nucleus of home life."  Sons and daughters, shudder at the image of future meet markets. Moo.Pack all that with recent studies that prove overweight folks die sooner than the slim set and you have a call to action for food companies.From the land of chipsThe United Kingdom, battling what it calls Eurobesity, has developed an encouraging idea. A respected doctor in the U.K. has called on food companies to cut back the size of the portions they offer consumers. The BBC reports that an epidemiologist at London's Wolfson Institute of Preventative Medicine is calling for cooperation between the British government and food companies in the style of that done with tobacco concerns. Research, they say, suggests people tend to finish their plates no matter how much food is served and a concerted reduction in prepared portions or two-for-ones could make a difference in the overall health of the nation.Sure, it's one thing for a socialized government to get involved, but here in the land of freedom it would prove a sticky wicket.The U.S., though, has boosted its 2004 budget for healthy Americans by $100 million for its "Steps to a Healthier U.S." campaign. Certainly, it's a step in the right direction, but place that $100 million increase against a few of food-maker budgets and you can see where the real influence weighs in.Calling on food companies to reduce portions and educate consumers is a concept that seems to benefit both sides. Food processors who start packing less in the packages and instituting a trust with the consumers may garner higher returns and a sense of service to the community, while consumers who pack less in their mouths may garner higher life expectancies and a sense of their feet..

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