I just finished reading Marc Ambinder’s article in the May issue of the Atlantic titled, “Beating Obesity.” It is a fantastic piece (link below) that looks at the obesity epidemic from a societal, medical, political, and personal point of view. In the article Ambinder discusses his struggle with weight a nd his decision to have bariatric (stomach bypass) surgery.
One of the points he made that I found very interesting was regarding the comparisons that can be drawn between the tobacco industry and the food industry. The tobacco industry has incentives get as many people as possible to start smoking (at a young age) and to continue smoking for the rest of their lives. Likewise, the food industry has incentives to get as many people as possible to consume as much food as possible. In both cases, more consumption = more profit.
We now have a wealth of tobacco industry documents available to us that clearly show that the tobacco industry has done almost everything possible to design products and advertising that will maximize the likelihood that we will start and continue to smoke. Now think about the food industry for a moment. Do you think that everything from the additives in processed foods, to the time it takes to nuke a meal in the microwave, to the marketing that is geared toward children has not been tested and refined to maximize the likelihood that individuals will begin and continue to eat these products? Honestly, if we acknowledge that tobacco and fast food are both pretty bad for us, is there really that big of a difference between Joe Camel and Ronald McDonald?
The point here is not to absolve us from our actions or to make excuses, but rather to acknowledge that sometimes we are up against industries who have more resources and more information that we do and whose goals might conflict with our own.