Monday, March 30, 2015

Obesity and Advertisement

Advertisements have become a daily part of our lives.   They are on buildings, billboards, televisions, radios, social media sites , and anywhere someone can buy space.  They become a part of our subconscious; children are even more susceptible to this advertising.   Children are exposed to almost 30,000 food related advertisements a year, and this has been known to shape the eating habits of these children.

Yet, companies have the right to advertise their food under the First Amendment.   Not only is it protected under the First Amendment, but also it is smart business practice to advertise their products in so many ways.  After all, visibility of a product, sells the product.
 Yet, the scales are still climbing higher, which leads to the question, should the government regulate the advertising produced by the food industry?

Unfortunately, the answer is not an easy one nor should it be.    Companies target children, especially small children, because they are young and impressionable. They want to build a customer base from a young age and build a loyal customer base.  After all, more customers mean more money.  This is a business model for almost every industry, not just the food industry.  Punishing a corporation for a successful business model seems rather extreme and could potentially backfire on the prosperity of our food industry.   Yet, there are children that get hooked on food that will only add unhealthy and unusable calories.  Approximately 20% of children in the United States are now overweight. An unhealthy lifestyle leads to more physical problems later on in life which means more money spent on health care.

Some people call for advertising to children to be controlled more by the government.  This type of control would limit the type of advertising that targets children.  This would include following some European models which limit advertisements from “talking” to the children: advertisements can be directed at adults only.  Furthermore, a ban on product placement of junk foods in children programming has been proposed. 

However, there are some middle ground solutions that could be more beneficial.  One would be to allow the advertisements to continue but trying to counter act these advertisements by federal and state government sponsored programs that talk about healthy nutrition.  Another would be to moderate the amount of advertisement that is allowed in schools.  This idea has been coupled with legislation to stop schools from selling low-nutrition food in public schools.
A more industry friendly suggestion is for parents to monitor the amount of the television that their children are watching; overall this would limit the amount of advertisements that a child will be exposed too.   The food industry gets to advertise as much as they want, and childhood obesity will be blamed on parents rather than advertisement.

There is no doubt a crisis with our children.  Their eating habits include incredibly high amounts of junk food which in turn increases the obesity problem with children then adults.  Yet, the blame can be sprinkled upon the shoulders of many, but it needs to be reversed before this generation of children gets to adulthood.  If not, then we are looking a whole new host of problems in the future.   A simple solution would be to combine forces of these issues.  Parents should monitor their children’s television intake, and the food industry should pull back on the intense advertising towards children.  Schools should teach children about nutrition.  All of these forces combined will propel the children into better choices and habits.

Horse Slaughtering Pros and Cons

Horse slaughtering has been a controversy for several years.  Some see horses as a companion animal that should be protected, and others see these animals as meat for consumption.  Advocate groups and legislatures have tried to limit and even end horse slaughtering in the United States.   From 2005 to 2011, lawmakers prevented the USDA from spending money to inspect horse-slaughtering facilities.  This prevention essentially stopped horse slaughtering in the United States.  However, it did not stop the transportation of horses to Mexico and Canada for slaughter.  In New Mexico, 19,000 horses were shipped across the Mexican border.  Currently, there is a law, Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, H.R. 1094/S. 541, which will not only stop inspections but also end the exportation of horses across the two borders.  This would effectively eliminate the business of transporting horses.

Although horse meat is not generally being consumed  in the United States, there is still a market for the meat in Europe and Asia. This is fueling the business of horse transportation despite 80% of Americans being against the slaughter of horses. 

Despite public opinions, there is a potential economic gain in allowing horses slaughter within the borders of the United States.  The meat could be an U.S. export to the Asian and European countries; it could provide income revenue for the states and cities that allow it.  Jobs would be created in the areas that allow it; there is an economic positive for those that are involved.   Some would say that slaughter is also an alternative to neglect and abuse of unwanted horses. Slaughter would be a quick end, instead of the torment and pain that comes from being abused or starving to death.  Also, some people think that the choice to eat horse meat is one that is personal, and that the animals should be allowed for human consumption.  This goes hand in hand with the economic growth argument: there is a potential market for horse meat consumption.  Many who want to consume horse meat, or want the option too, akin the animals to similar animals such as chickens, cows, and pigs. This does raise the question, “what makes horses so special.”

Many would say that horses are special because they are companion, work and athlete based animals which is more so than their farm companions, and because of this, horses are normally given drugs to either enhance performance, prolong life, or similar reasons.  This could be potentially hazardous for human consumption if not regulated.  Similarly, regulations that could potentially regulate the sale and toxicity of horse meat are limited to non-existent.

Recently, New Mexico was confronted with the issue to ban horse-slaughtering and to monitor the boarders for horses being transported.  Three bills that addressed the issue were tabled in committee. There are no horse slaughter houses in New Mexico, so their denial of the bill will not make much difference in that respect.  Yet, New Mexico has a problem with an overabundance of horses.  Is tabling of the bill the government’s way out of an overabundance issue?  They can allow the horses to be transported without the trampling public opinion.  If it is, then it was smart on their part and a very easy out.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Government Commodities and Obesity

Does the Government have a duty to provide healthy balanced meals to its citizens that depend on food programs?  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).  FDPIR is authorized under Section 4(b) of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 and Section 4(a) of the Agriculture and Consumer Protection Act of 1973.  See 7 CFR Parts 250, 253, and 254 for authorities.  The FNS then works with Indian Tribal Organizations (ITOs) or an agency of the State government (for example the State of Nevada).  There are currently 276 tribes receiving FDPIR through 100 ITOs and 5 State agencies.

USDA purchases and ships FDPIR foods to the ITOs and State agencies based on available foods. The USDA food warehouse is located in Kansas City and distributes food throughout Indian Country. The administering agencies store and distribute the food and determine applicant eligibility  based on income (recipients are not eligible for food stamps but may be eligible for WIC). Some tribal nutrition programs provide food preparation and nutrition classes.

Individual Efficacy 
American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) people have endemically high rates of diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and other diseases related to a diet high in fat, sugar, and salt. This is in part due to the dramatically quick culture change, displacement, and removal of AI/AN from their traditional homelands.  Many of the FDPIR foods have historically been high in starch with little nutritional value.

Group Efficacy
Some tribes have treaties with the US Government that names specific quantities of rations and other agricultural items partly in exchange for vast swaths of the Great Plains.  Some have argued that tribal sovereignty is tied to having these promises upheld, including the provisions for government rations.

Health Challenges
The balance of providing nutritious food to some of the most rural areas of the the nation, and running the FDPIR program efficiently is a real concern.  When the government is trying to reduce costs, how does it comply with centuries old promises to its first people, while ensuring that programs are efficiently run.

In Sum
There is no clear quick solution.  Below is an example of a protein product distributed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North and South Dakota.

FDPIR food product on Standing Rock Reservation
Photo Credit: Chase Iron Eyes, McLaughlin, South Dakota, February 6, 2015.