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It’s easy to become obese in America. These 7 charts explain why (vox.com)
47 points by pmcpinto 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 98 comments

As a non-US person, I used to think "you all just have to stop eating so much" towards those overweight in the US.

But after living in the US you start to understand that it really is not easy.

In other countries, bread is bread, restaurant food is one serving and the snacks your peers bring in are home-made sweets, or cheese and crackers, etc.

In the US, bread is sugary and dense in calories, restaurant food is in two salty-oily servings, and the snacks your peers bring in are donuts and cupcakes.

When I first moved to the US and lived as I normally would, I gained weight quickly. It sucked having to involve yourself mentally in something you normally don't have to think about.

Agreed. Bread is really bad in the US. The food culture is also terrible. Snacks are seen as a necessity. Most drinks are super sugary. Portion sizes are way too big. Vegetables always have to be processed beyond recognition, people can't often comprehend that I eat raw cucumber and pepper. Coffee used to be a small cup, now it's a gigantic Starbucks with tons of sugar and flavored syrup. You really have to put up a lot of resistance because if you follow the normal eating patterns you will get fat.

A lot of what you said sounds like an argument for 'just eat less'.

When I tried to follow a 'normal eating pattern' in the US, it made me physically sick from the amount of food and sugar in the portions, so I had to forcibly reduce the amounts to not feel like garbage every waking day.

Maybe people just don't realize how amazing they can feel if they just size down the portions?

"Maybe people just don't realize how amazing they can feel if they just size down the portions?"

A lot of people seem to be genuinely afraid to not get enough "nutrients" or protein if they eat less. Living in the US for a while totally distorts your sense of the appropriate amount of food to eat. Even the ice cream cones kids are eating here are probably at least three times the size of what I got as kid in Germany. Candy bars are at least double the size.

Also everyone drives, even to fetch milk from nearest convenience store. It's too easy not to have any exercise all day

To be fair in my experience you have to drive in the US. Everything seems to be very far apart.

A shop here in Ireland for me is a short walk down the road. A nearby shop in the US tends to be a lot further.

Everything is very far apart because everyone drives. Everyone has to drive because everything is very far apart. It's a vicious cycle that does a fantastic job of exacerbating societal issues, especially poverty, obesity, and air quality.

great if you want a bigger house though.

Well, you'll need a bigger house to fit your bigger children.

Snark aside, I think that if more of the societal costs of owning a bigger house were priced in to having a bigger house, fewere people would want bigger houses. There's no reason we HAVE to live in a society fueled by consumerist real estate envy.

EDIT: Forgot a word

There's plenty of metropolitan cities where no one has to drive, but there's plenty of rural areas where it's pretty much a necessity, and plenty of suburban areas where you can easily bike everywhere (or even walk if you have the time or drive if you don't). The greatest thing about the US is the choices you get to make for yourself - no matter which lifestyle you choose to live, you can find somewhere to fit that lifestyle in the US.

...as long as you're rich.

If you take a typical median-income family, plot out a reasonable household budget and daily schedule, and then try to match it with every place in the US, most of the results will show that the family must own at least one car and spend an hour a day driving it. It's the only way to afford being there at all. The desirable areas are priced out of their reach, because there just aren't enough of them.

I'd love for all my daily transit to be on elevators and electric trains. But I also want my public school district to have enough money to pay its teachers without taxing me, specifically, into oblivion. For reasons I cannot comprehend, my employer wants to locate its workplace in the middle of a bunch of office buildings, where they enjoy lower facilities costs and a lower tax rate, while still benefiting from an educated workforce. So I pretty much have to drive a while between home and work.

If I lived close to work, I couldn't afford the place. If I worked close to home, the jobs nearby wouldn't pay enough to cover housing.

Since we're dealing purely in anecdata, I live 4 miles from a job that covers my housing, and I'm far from rich. I could choose to put myself in a different situation, but I chose my current situation and am quite happy.

> Since we're dealing purely in anecdata...

The median household income is roughly $60k. 86% of workers commute using a privately-owned automobile (ACS data), with about 3/4 commuting by driving solo. The mean commute time is about 26 minutes.

This situation might be exacerbated by the fact that the median tenure at a job is hovering just above 4 years, and home mortgages are 30 years. So if you buy a house and want to pay off the loan on schedule, you now have to make sure it is close to 7.5 different jobs in your industry. ...Per person working in your household. Married? Site your home near 15 jobs, some of which might not even exist yet. This doesn't even account for what happens when your company decides to build on a new campus for all of its workers.

By the home affordability rule of thumb that you can afford 2x to 2.5x your annual income on your mortgage loan, the median household can afford a house at $120k to $150k. Find a pile of those within biking distance of 15 different jobs in one or two careers that pay $30k to $60k per year.

You won't, outside a handful of large cities, and the majority of the US doesn't live there, as shown by the commuting data.

> There's plenty of metropolitan cities where no one has to drive

What percentage of the land mass of the US does that constitute? I bet less than 10% and that's being really generous.

> What percentage of the land mass of the US does that constitute?

3% as of two years ago, according to the Census Bureau.[0]

But that's enough to accommodate the people that want to live there, or at least close enough to take public transport into the city. I personally dislike city living, so I'm happy I'm not forced into it.

[0] https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2016/cb16-210...

> bread is sugary and dense in calories

I don't buy a lot of bread, but when I do, fresh baked real bread is readily available here always.

> restaurant food is in two salty-oily servings

That depends on the restaurant, but you can find good and bad food in any country. I easily get 2 or 3 meals out of a restaurant portion, so it's very economical sometimes (even more so than fast food options).

> the snacks your peers bring in are donuts and cupcakes.

Don't forget the abundance of home-made snacks that are common in US workplaces, depending on the individual workplace and the people in it, of course.

> you all just have to stop eating so much

It's true, and it's not that hard. You just have to want to be healthy and make the choices to achieve that goal. I lost 50 pounds doing strictly portion control and cutting out processed foods (unless I'm hung over - then hot pockets are my bestest friend). I choose not to eat my entire meal in a restaurant, and I choose to not to order salty meals (oily, yes, but olive oil is so good and good for you), and I choose not to buy bread full of preservatives, and I choose not to eat the processed snacks that my co-workers bring, and I choose to limit sugary drinks, and I choose to eat a scoop of ice cream every night (because it's healthy as long as I'm not overeating). I love living in the US because I get to make those choices for myself (i.e., not legislated), including "stop eating so much".

That being said, none of the things you mentioned are exclusive to the US.

And for the record, I agree with the article that it's easy to become obese, but it's more because of the choices people make and not the options they have.

Where do you live that things aren’t sugary? Because they sure are in Denmark. When I grew up, the most sugary “pre-made food” you could buy at a supermarket was Coca Cola, today it’s one of the least sugary “pre-made foods” because it’s limited by law.

The lowest amount of sugar in another drink that isn’t diet skim-milk or water is orange juice with 11-15% sugar.

We have ryebread which isn’t too bad, but the last time I was buying buns for burgers the lowest amount of sugar I could find were 10% in some gluten-free-eco-health buns.

Even candy has increased its sugar content by around 30% over the past 25 years.

It’s really crazy, but you’re right in that it’s way worse in America.

> In 1800, the average person consumed approximately 22.4 grams of sugar each day (10.2 kg per year). In 1900, the average person consumed approximately 112 grams of sugar each day (40.8 kg per year). In 2009, 50 per cent of Americans consumed approximately 227 grams of sugar each day - equating to 81.6 kg per year.

The seminal event for increasing per-capita sugar intake was the introduction of Coca Cola/soda.


If you aren't familiar with the tragedy of sugar on traditional Native Americans, introduction of processed American foods has created an epidemic on reservation.

"Type II Diabetes, the Modern Epidemic of American Indians"


Christopher McDougall's book "Natural Born Heroes" is about the heroes of Crete during WW2 who were able to fight off the Germans by putting up extraordinary resistance by doing, among other things, hiking for miles and miles over treacherous territory for 20 hours straight. It makes an argument that a paleo-based diet is the reason why they were able to do it. With this diet, they were able to run and evade for long distances without fatigue. Meats and other proteins provide a sustainable, longer-lasting source of energy in contrast to the spike of sugar.


I dunno man... the reason why I could hike 20 hours straight today is because I run 6 days a week and now have the fitness level to do it. It's not because I ate bacon instead of toast.

Meats don’t exactly provide energy, they provide calories which is converted into energy through the Krebs Cycle. Protein/carbs/sugar all ultimately will be converted and used by cells as glucose/glucagon.

Generally you are correct and protein shouldn’t spike insulin like sugar, but certainly some protein will spike insulin. For example I’ve been experimenting with various proteins in ketosis and even whey isolate spikes my insulin and knocks me out of ketosis.

Maybe they weren’t doing paleo diets so much as high fat diets and entering ketosis where the body stops using glucose/glucogon as primary source of energy and begins using ketones for cellular energy.

81.6kg ...wow, that's a bit over what I weigh. In sugar.

I weighed ~113kg at the end of high-school (c. 2005) and the first step I took towards losing weight was switching out regular soda for diet variants. People say 'diet' is still bad[0], but switching definitely cut down on my caloric intake. Slowly, but surely, I started paying more attention to caloric intake...which brings me to where I am, now.

[0]: https://examine.com/nutrition/is-diet-soda-bad-for-you/

Why doesn't the article talk about corn and meat subsidies. While meat by itself doesn't fuel obesity as much as carbs, most people typically pair with high fat and high carb foods.

The decision usually is between a cheap meat based meal and a non-meat based meal, and since meat is as cheap or cheaper than vegetables, it gets picked. Also, broccoli has more protein per calorie than beef.

> Also, broccoli has more protein per calorie than beef.

It looks like this might be a myth. I'd never heard this claim before so decided to do some googling. However, I am surprised to learn that broccoli has a substantial amount of protein, regardless of whether or not it's "more than beef".

Could be the "per calorie" qualifier - you'd need to eat a large pile of broccoli, since beef often has a lot of calories in fat.

You're right to be skeptical - statements like that ignore bioavailability. You won't absorb anything like 100% of the protein from broccoli.

Lower bioavailability in plant sources of protein does not seem to hinder their ability to help maintain positive nitrogen balance, a key to building muscle mass.

Read https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/6686252/

Via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vo1ajCmi1jk&feature=share

This is old vegetable-vs-animal proteins issue. Non-animal proteins don't contain all aminoacids for the human body to be able to absorb it. Only meat & diary products naturally do.

What you can do, and vegetarians/vegans have been doing, is to pair it with another plant product that is also non-complete, but has a different composition of these amino acids. Mixed together, they end up providing some sort of complete protein (meaning you have to know what to mix with what, in what ratio). Or just mix it with some animal protein.

That's why broccoli is dense with protein, but most if not all just goes through your body, depending what you consume it with.

This is my fitness-guy understanding, please correct me if it's incorrect.

This may help improve your understanding.


to save people a click...

"the results show that any single one or combination of these plant foods provides amino acid intakes in excess of the recommended requirements."

"A vegetarian diet based on any single one or combination of these unprocessed starches (eg, rice, corn, potatoes, beans), with the addition of vegetables and fruits, supplies all the protein, amino acids, essential fats, minerals, and vitamins (with the exception of vitamin B12) necessary for excellent health"

Hemp protein contains 20 amino acids and all 9 essential amino acids the body can’t produce.

Meat per se is awesome, many people living on only meat are quite slim, but sadly man Americans idea of meat is actually fried breaded corn with condiment levels of meat mixed in.

Even "chicken nuggets" are < 40% meat. They should really be called bread nuggets or something.

> high fat and high carb foods.

> and since meat is as cheap or cheaper than vegetables

I take issue lumping a lot of these things. Vegetables are not a significant source of calories in almost any diet by their nature, except vegetables like corn, potatoes, etc, which are definitely not helping Americans.

Americans do not need starchy vegetables. They need eggs, meat (real meat!), cheese, quality yogurt like skyr, butter. Calorie dense, fatty food. Not bread and corn and rice, no matter the vegetables its paired with. If they ate well in the first place, whatever veggies they pair it with are rounding errors and I think a huge canard in dietary discussions.

Out of curiosity, what would it address? The corn subsidy is, of course, crop insurance (~60% paid for by the government, the rest by the user), which is also available for vegetables. The payouts for corn are the highest because of how much corn is grown, leading to a much greater chance of crop failure in a given year, and thus more money directed towards those claims.

Vegetables are expensive because of not having realized the efficiencies of grain. Production of corn (and grains in general, and meat by extension) is almost entirely automated these days, while vegetables still require a fair amount of direct human involvement. Less efficient processes mean more cost to the consumer.

I think there is another factor too- there are a lot more double income households than there have been in the past, which leaves less time for cooking, so people just eat out. People are also under a lot of stress due to lack of job security, more part time or gig work, weekend and evening work, etc, which leads to stress eating. Communities are fragmenting as people have to move every couple years to find new work, or as they substitute online relationships for real ones (who has the time?), which again leads to stress eating. No doubt everything in the article is a factor too, but we are undergoing wider cultural changes that you have to take into effect.

By the way, when I talk about "double income households" I'm not saying that women shouldn't be equal in the workforce, I'm saying that maybe men and women should both be working somewhat shorter hours so that they have time for their home lives.

I hope that as time goes on more people are realizing the diseconomies that having a dual-income household creates. Chronic stress, outsourcing the maintenance of the household (cars, going out to eat, etc), higher tax brackets, childcare, a lot of it adds up faster than you think. Ambition for more fuels the dual income dream. Misplaced ambition is a killer.

Another reason to save a large fraction of your income- to pay off the house quickly and get back down to a single income household, or have both people go part time. Very liberating.

The big thing working against it though, is that land and luxuries are positional goods, and people will continue to work hard in order to outbid eachother in order to have more of these positional goods. This is why I'm afraid the dual-income trend will not reverse.

Most people learn to give up on chasing luxuries sooner or later.

The one modern problem is "land". It's not even just that. Land is actually very plentiful, the problem is the small amount of land available in desired places. And it's again not what it looks like, because desirability is not some intrinsic characteristic of the land anymore, instead the land is desirable because for some reason all the employment opportunities are there.

I really don't understand how employment got to be so much geographically restricted. But it is about this that people are fighting at current positional markets.

Because, buildings. And social structure.

>A variety of healthier foods — especially fruits and vegetables — also need to be made more affordable and readily available to Americans.

I was looking for this uninformed and incorrect statement.

"Junk Food" and Fast food tends to be between 100-300 Calories Per Dollar. Fresh Fruit and Vegetables are in this same range.

This doesnt include that homecooked meals are 200-300% cheaper than junk food. A meal with Chicken Rice and Veggies are closer to 600-700 calories per dollar and have protein and nutrients.

There is obviously a time aspect, but that isnt what is discussed in the quote.

My expertise is food, source- http://efficiencyiseverything.com/food/

> "Junk Food" and Fast food tends to be between 100-300 Calories Per Dollar. Fresh Fruit and Vegetables are in this same range.

Is that median or average? Because from my understanding, that may be true at a large supermarket in a wealthy suburb, but at a small corner market in a poor neighborhood, which is often the only market a poor person has access to, the veggies are far more expensive per calorie than junco food, if they even have the fresh fruits and veggies, which they often don’t.

Junk food ranges from 100 Calories per dollar to 300 calories per dollar.

There arent junk foods that score above 400 calories per dollar. They dont exist from 5 years of searching(and if they do, let me know, I would like to study it).

Those corner stores will have Apples, Oranges, and Bananas. There is a reason, they are cheap and similar cost to these junk foods.

> small corner market in a poor neighborhood, which is often the only market a poor person has access to, the veggies are far more expensive per calorie than junco food

This seems like an impossibility. Junk food requires a multiple stage manufacturing process, while vegetables only need to be shipped and sometimes refrigerated.

The big thing is to look at the price you pay. Paying 1 dollar for a bag of carrots is cheaper than a 15 dollar tray of mixed veggies.

As previously mentioned, if you have ideas for low cost foods, let me know, we study this for Efficiency Is Everything.

> There arent junk foods that score above 400 calories per dollar. They dont exist from 5 years of searching

Top Ramen chicken flavor is 190 calories per package, 48 packs look to be available at around $10 (the lowest I can find right now is actually $8.78, but $10 is a nice round figure.) So that's $10/9120 calories or 912 calories per dollar.

Slim Jim Smoked Snack Sticks I can find for $20 for 120. They are 160 calories each. That works out to $20/19200cal or 960cal/$.

That all took about 5 minutes of searching. Your five years of searching don't appear to have been spent very efficiently.

> Junk food requires a multiple stage manufacturing process, while vegetables only need to be shipped and sometimes refrigerated.

Shipping and refrigeration and allowances for damage and spoilage and paying for shelf space (raw veggies are bulky per calorie, which affects in-store or, for direct to consumer delivery, in a warehouse, inventory cost as well as shipping) are, altogether, huge costs; mitigating them is one of the big drivers for industrial food production.

Ramen can be found closer to 2,200 calories per dollar. At what point are we moving from Junk food to Soup?

I havent looked at Slim Jims in bulk, but usually dried meat is quite expensive. What store do you buy slim jims at? (I expect the protein per dollar to be less than chicken but on-par with yogurts/dollar fast food. 10-20g/$)

Also, none of those have calcium


I'm not sure what you are trying to point out since you mentioned soup. That you can drink flour cheaper than you can cook a well rounded meal? Flour isnt going to get you fiber.

Did you read the original source? Ramen and various junk food are all over that page.

> Ramen can be found closer to 2,200 calories per dollar. At what point are we moving from Junk food to Soup?

They are overlapping categories.

> Also, none of those have calcium

Well, yeah, they are junk food. Micronutrient (or even macro) completeness isn't really an expected feature. Your claim was that no junk food existed over 400cal/$. This is false. That junk food is, well, junk is not the claim I was addressing, nor one that seems to be in any kind of dispute.

Alrighty mister, you win ;)

Now where are you getting these slim jims?

Took me about five minutes to find. 8 pop tarts, 1600 calories, $2. 800 calories per dollar: https://www.target.com/p/pop-tarts-strawberry-milkshake-8ct-...

Poptarts are on the list too.

But poptarts are low protein per dollar and have limited nutrients.

Of course they have poor nutritional value. They’re junk food. But they provide 800 calories per dollar. And that’s the whole point — when you’re poor, you can survive on $3 of pop tarts per day, but not $3 of fruits and veggies.

I got one cheaper.

You could eat bread for 0.75$ a day until you get scurvy.

Poptarts are super expensive.

Maybe you’ve never been to a depressed area, but the reason veggies cost more in small stores is because of lack of turnover. Junk food can stay on the shelves for weeks to months. Veggies don’t last more than a few days and anything that isn’t purchased has to be thrown out. That cost of food waste is part of the price of the veggies at the small markets.

> There is obviously a time aspect

You're not comparing the cost of balanced vs. junk foods here, but rather the cost of eating out vs. home cooking (paying for someone else to cook your food).

You can make junk food at home quite easily for even less money. Consider for instance baking a cake, from cheap ingredients like oil, sugar and flour. Ingredients like potatoes and vegetable oil are literally cheap as chips.

>You can make junk food at home quite easily for even less money.

Sure you can get 2000 calories per dollar eating homemade sugar cookies, but you probably are going to get sick of it and grow unhealthy. Low protein per dollar, low fiber per dollar, all of these are important qualities you dont get in 'junk foods'.

A Chicken Rice Veggie dish like Fried Rice, Chicken Curry, Fajitas, etc... are closer to 700 calories per dollar(less than 20$/week), are around 40-50g protein per dollar, and have nutrients from various vegetables.

Junk food performs poorly in non-calorie metrics like Protein and micro nutrients.

>Ingredients like potatoes and vegetable oil are literally cheap as chips.

To clarify, potatoes and vegetable oil are significantly(~10x) cheaper than packaged chips.

>Let’s start with cost: As you can see in the chart, when it comes to how many calories you get per dollar, sugar, vegetable oils, and refined grains deliver a higher bang for the buck than fruits and vegetables

Somebody shopping with purpose can get cheap healthy food easily, but the chart they give did give me some thought.

If you use look at chart they give, fruits and vegetables are actually slightly lower on the $/100g axis, but have a much lower calorie density. This underlines one thing I've thought about: we are kind of too busy to spend all day eating low energy-density foods. The modern lifestlye has a decent amount of pressure to minimize the amount of time spent eating so we can get back to work.

Americans are fat because 1. Poor diet and eating too much 2. lack of exercise driven by car-dependence and sprawled out unwalkable car-centric cities. Commuting in a car 1 hour per day and sitting in an office for 8 hours doesn't exactly foster a healthy lifestyle unless one goes out of their way to be active (eg. gym), sacrificing their already sparse free time. This is part of the reason obesity is much lower in cities like NYC where people walk/bike to get around.

The CDC graph really confuses me. 40% of US men are overweight, 35% are obese, 5% are extremely obese. If I add that up, 80% of American men are overweight. Maybe it is because I live in Los Angeles, and it is really hard to believe that 80% of American men are overweight.

Really, 4 out of 5? I get that other parts of the country are different, but I also think BMI is a really crude tool that paints some healthy people as weighing more than they should for their height. But it can be muscle, it can be body type, etc.

Yep, I'm technically overweight even when I have a 6pack. 185 lbs at 6ft.

Ive been lifting for 6 years, and my lowest weight I get is 183lbs, after this I begin to starve and overeat due to how skinny I am.

I dont know the solution, but my doctor looked at me and knew I was healthy even though I was technically overweight.

That sounds like a problem with the definition of overweight, which probably uses BMI. BMI doesn't seem to scale well to athletic builds.

But that is my point: that is how people get to statistics like 80% of American men are overweight. Like the poster above, I am 6'. So I am kind of tall and broad shouldered, due to genetics. If I weigh 185 I am overweight, although I think at that weight I look reasonably trim. Working out eventually makes me weigh more, because muscle weighs more. I have seen papers where people say 'Overweight' people (as defined by BMI) actually have longer life spans than normal BMI people. Keep in mind, some people get to normal BMI via chemotherapy. It is only at Obese and very Obeses that you see negative effects.

For the biggest group of American men, this article is implying that they are unhealthy, when the facts are that they are actually healthy.

I'm not saying this isn't among the most important health issues in the US. I just think you need a more reasonable standard or a lot of people will just throw up their hands.

I know that BMI is imperfect, but it seems like a reasonable enough proxy measure when you're looking at whole-population trends for the USA. I don't think a more reasonable measure is really needed for this purpose.

The BMI of athletes, or the limited options of people who live in food deserts, really seem like missing-the-forest-for-the-trees tangents in these sorts of discussions. According to the "rise of obesity in America" chart in the article, overweight-or-more among American women went from about 40% in 1960 to about 80% in 2014, with the highest percentage increase in the "extremely obese" subgroup. It's interesting to speculate about what drives it. But I don't think we can explain the trend with "they got shredded" or "they moved to food deserts" when we're talking about 40% of all American women.

Maybe my intuition is wrong -- maybe there are enough people with high muscle mass that it's skewing entire charts like the Vox article shows. If you have citations to that effect, I'll read them with gratitude.

It certainly doesn't help that more people type for a living, look at moving pixels on a screen for fun, sit in a car for an hour a day.

The US diet seems natural to me. I think it's the result of 100 years of evolution in food design and the fact that your body wants fat-adding easy to acquire calories. Fritos didn't grow on trees.

A more interesting question is to compare why countries at an equal level of wealth and technical development aren't the same. Ethnicity? Culture? Legal climate?

It's also about taste.

Fruits and vegetables in the US taste terrible.

How do you want a kid to chose this sad dry dirt stick they call carrots when they got a deliciously engineered Maillard molecules stacked burger next to it ?

Every time I go to the US, I have to spend crazy money at Whole food to get something only near the quality of what I get to regular supermarkets in France. And in my country, I try to avoid regular supermarkets because there is no joy in eating their fresh good.

Of course you will eat a kit kat if you have to pay 3 times the price to get something healthy, and 5 times to get something satisfying.

Plus remember, this tops the effort that is already required in choosing what to buy and cook it.

It's an impossible game to win for many American.

And it's a vicious circle.

Being fed with crap lead to less energy, more disease, and worse mood, and so you have even less chance to catch on life opportunities. And less chance to ever eat healthy again.

Bland fruits and veggies are a result of agribusiness efforts to optimize for shelf life and visual appeal. One strategy to address this is to expand the types of fruits and veggies in your diet. Explore a local ethnic grocery to try a variety of flavors, aromas and textures. The complaint may change to sensory overload.

> Explore a local ethnic grocery to try a variety of flavors, aromas and textures.

That won't scale.

I have a fine strategy for eating proper food: not leaving in the US.

Just search "food capitalism", eg https://www.popmatters.com/foodies-guide-to-capitalism-inter... or https://www.currentaffairs.org/2017/11/a-public-option-for-f...

"Food is actually the perfect example of a system in which the presence of a profit motive is having incredibly destructive human consequences. That’s because it introduces a terrible incentive: to sell people the products they’ll get addicted to rather than the products that are good for them. Americans live on junk food; they have terrible diets, with too much sodium, too many calories, too much sugar, and too few fruits and vegetables. "

I cant ever foresee a situation where I think the government is in the best position to decide what farmers grow, what livestock is produced and what I should put on my plate. just no.

That's what you have in the US right now though. Subsidies go to unhealthy foods.

Why is the opposite of capitalism always government?

Feral free-market capitalism clearly isn't delivering what we want when it comes to food, but the alternative isn't communism. It's better incentives and/or punishments for the market. That certainly is where government (which, incidentally, represents the people, or should do), has a place.

My thought on this is that how else would you compel change in the market? I don't think any other entity could do so. Of course I am no expert in this so I am willing to listen and consider what the alternatives are.

Also just want to clarify that I do not think that our state of agribusiness is perfect and not in need of some systemic change. There are tons of perverse incentives out there that have created some of the problems we face. However, I feel like a lot of that was caused by government intervention. I don't see this as a left vs right issue either, as both sides are guilty here.

Of course, but they don't need to plan what crops are grown, or what's on your plate.

There could be a sugar tax for example.

Or even better a 'health tax' pegged to a 'health index' of some kind, quite possibly with both government and private involvement.

Lots of possibilities

But one thing seems clear, that capitalism is ultimately only interested in profit. It should be tailored to align better with society's needs.

I am not sure what you mean by feral free market but what we have in US and EU doesn't look like that. There are tons of subsidies and regulations making a lot of things unprofitable to grow (cause you get cash for free when you grow junk food) and a lot of things unpractical (hard to have small simple farm when you have to comply with tons of laws just to ask eggs from a few hens you have).

By 'feral' I mean 'unfettered', wild.

I agree the subsidies are not helpful, but I think they exist to politically support farmers rather than to encourage particular foods.

That said (to use the latest irksomely popular phrase), I don't think the agricultural subsidies are the whole, or even major part of the story of the food environment.

Food producers are able to design such a wide variety of processed foods that it would be easy to get wolf-in-sheep's clothing unhealthy delicious snacks past most any government taxation scheme designed to stop them.

In the same way it's possible to slip unhealthy foods to unsuspecting consumers.

A classic arms race, it can't be avoided.

But the healthiness measurements don't necessarily have to be dictated directly by government. Government could set uo an independent health assessment index, or market of some kind.

Isn't it always government? Who else would create those incentives/punishments?

The opposite of organic liberal organization is planned mandatory organization. It's a matter of discussing what plan is a good one.

Isn't that part of how the UK managed not to starve in the early 1940s? Seems like it was a good idea for them.

The market has failed us, so let's take power over food production away from the market and give it to the government. You know, the same government that implemented corn subsidies and told everyone that a low-fat, high-carb diet was a really good idea.

Wait, what?

or just tax unhealhty food ...

The proper place of government is to regulate markets, so that they deliver social good, not spiral into self-serving vortices. Adam Smith said roughly this.

That's just the problem, innit -- if the taxation were applied according to FDA dietary recommendations, the wrong food would be taxed.

Assuming that the government will make the problems with food go away with regulatory pressure relies on the assumption that the government is as enlightened about dietary needs as you are (or claim to be). In reality -- even absent the graft rampant in American politics -- that's not the case.

Well someone is going to decide the food environment.

Should be it be private companies, who deliver the "tastiest" food, to maximize profit, or should it be government with their well-meaning but wrong pronouncements?

Given we still don't know for sure what the health recommendations should be (which I think is largely why govt advice is wrong), I would plump (ahem) for well-meaning.

Taxing unhealthy food only works if the foods that the government decides are unhealthy are actually unhealthy, and they don't avoid declaring things unhealthy that are healthy. How many years has the us government been anti-fat, but ok with sugar; how well has that served us?

Also, it presupposes that a food's healthiness is universal to all people.

Not sure about that alleged proper place of government (it is, after all, the thing we're supposed to vigorously debate, not declare as a just-so thing), but I'm all on board with getting subsidies out of sugar, corn, beef, and all the other garbage we subsidize.

Heck, if we're going to tax or subsidize anything, tax unhealthy food and subsidize the shit out of vegetables (and to a much less extent, fruits, so long as they're bound for market whole, and not just like oranges to be turned into juice).

And subsidize fresh produce markets in food deserts.

What we're doing now is the worst of all possible worlds, though. We subsidize the most environmentally destructive and health-destructive foods, with entirely predictable results.

> Healthier foods can cost more

This is an outrageous lie; although they added the word "can" which is either quickly overseen or makes the statement useless.

But arrogant ignorant misleading propaganda is typical for the harmful mainstream media where writers are paid for words and stories and not for content and truth.

Unhealthy food and mainstream media are similar in a way.

Vegan products are the cheapest products.

Vegetables and fruits are cheap if one buys seasonal products.

Vegan high carb (e.g. bread, rice,...) and high fat (e.g. oil) products offer always cheap calories. Besides, getting enough calories in the US is not the problem according to the article.

Animal products are by far the most expensive and most harmful products. Note: They are also subsidized.

Accusing Vox of a hidden agenda and bad faith really isn't called for. And I don't see how the fact that healthier food, under some circumstances, can cost more, is a controversial statement. The chart for point 4 even supports your point, since meat is the highest cost per 100 g.

But I think your comment is misplaced because the points of the article have almost nothing to do with vegan/meat choices. Taking meat out of the American diet would not significantly change the facts presented in the article. This is especially true for point 3, where we consume way, way too much (vegan) soda and (vegan) sugary beverages.

I do not think that the author of the article has a hidden agenda but mentioning that healthy food can cost more is either misleading or useless.

Quote (of a lie): "Instead, there is a range of economic and social factors that make eating enough fruits and vegetables really hard."

Of course it "can" cost more if you insist on buying only the most expensive vegan food available.

Try to become obese on a cheap healthy whole food plant based diet and rice and potatoes and bread without much added sugar (= normal bread in Europe).

The article offers no useful information to the reader and shifts all responsibility to the evil industry and claims that healthy food is too expensive and socially unacceptable and thus out of reach and not a solution.

Can you find one benefit of the article that made you smarter or a better person ?

" Researchers have pointed out that if Americans actually followed the US dietary guidelines and started to eat the volume and variety of produce health officials recommend, we wouldn’t have nearly enough to meet consumer demand."

Compare any American super market's fruit and veggie section to one in Canada, or EU, and this is obviously true. Even Whole Foods' is pathetically small[1].

Seeing how little space there is for F&V, if you imagine doubling the space, the production problem is quite apparent.

[1]In Canada, the nearest supermarket to my folks' uses half it's floor space on vegetables and fruits. Grown in California, of course.

If the demand for these products existed, the market would easily provide them. But why would excess supply be created if no one wants it?

Agriculture is, like, the least free market.

Ignoring your hyperbole, I agree the existence of many distorting subsidies surely affects prices, but the price of all food is low across the board (compared to other industrialized countries). If people wanted to buy the healthy options at the price paid for them in Europe, they would be available.

Right, in the US corn in (Blame Iowa :) ) is super subsidized.

That's what happens when you subsidize farmers in a few counties in California and eliminate the produce industry nationwide.

Seven graphs that could be boiled down to two factors - more food, more sugar - shoved in your face, and if you dare get fat it's your fault!

Unless you are being force fed in a very literal sense, There is no person responsible for your dietary intake other than yourself.

It is true that the temptations of heavily-marketed unhealthy food are stronger than they were in the past. This does not mean that it is not your fault if you get fat.

Assuming your sarcasm is genuine, I find your particular line of thought to be very endemic of a particularly damaging variety of the victimhood mentality.

I can only speak for myself, but when I was younger I never equated what I was eating to what my health was like. I really did eat whatever was prepared/purchased for me. I also did unwise things like placing a microwave burrito between to small microwave pizzas when I was feeling really hungry (not too often, mind). Never did I think "this is gonna make me fat!", instead "this is gonna taste good!"

Well, I'd say poor youth habits are where all this begins and they can be tough to break. Little by little I started minding my nutrition and started losing weight. I always read the nutrition labeling, now...to the point where it might seem obsessive to an observer. Not that I'm the paragon of health and fitness, but I at least pay attention to what's going in my body - both good and bad.

Well, obviously it's your fault if you get fat. Any Hackernews oughta know by now that they should be eating a strict paleo diet, with ingredients sourced from farmers they know personally and cooked at home with the copious free time they have after commuting an hour each way between SV and the exurbs to work their cushy job building JS webshit for a YC-backed startup.

> should be eating a strict paleo diet

This seems to be a typical US american thing as well and why it is easy to become obese and unhealthy in the USA.

Tales of evil sugar and tales of good healthy high fat high protein diets with much animal products.

Worldwide scientific experts warn against much sugar and much fat and much animal products (high fat, high protein).

Exactly. American diet is excessive is people try to fix that by switching another excessive diet. Eat less, eat better foods. It's that simole. You don't need a fancy diet with a name.

I agree although the healthiest diet has a name: vegan or better whole food plant based diet.



There are a ton of healthy diets. You can pick pretty much any diet that is not the American standard diet and you will be fine.

Because it's easy is not an excuse. When you say that you become a victim and you lose any agency you might have had over this.

But to each his own.

What is it exactly that you're refusing to excuse people from?

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