Posts Tagged ‘healthy eating’

Well, not really, but there is this:

In a field experiment conducted during trick-or-treating at Halloween, we find that a visual cue of Michelle Obama prompts almost twice as many children age 9 and over to choose fruit over candy, compared to a visual cue of Ann Romney. This provides evidence that Michelle Obama’s campaign to promote healthy eating has succeeded in influencing behavior. No such evidence was found for children age 8 and below.

The results aren’t surprising, because Michelle Obama is a) covered in mass media enough to be recognizable by a 9 year old and b) very active in promoting healthy eating habits, compared to Ann Romney for whom neither of these are true. 

The more interesting comparison, I think, would be comparing Michelle Obama with someone else who has a similar degree of recognition and is also associated with food choices. Paula Deen is the first person that springs to mind, although I don’t know if the researchers’ budget has the flexibility to provide sticks of butter to the folks handing out the goodies. 

(via Duck of Minerva)

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In his reply to my post, Jastonite points out the differences in our usage of the word tyranny, I use it to refer to cruelty, while he refers to arbitrary and unrestrained power. I think that pretty well sums it up. I remain opposed to the regulation, I just think tyranny is too harsh a word in this case, as I have defined it.

That being said, I don’t really agree that the ban is arbitrary and unrestrained, although I can certainly see the arguments that it is. One might argue that its arbitrary because why regulate soft drinks? There are a whole host of other (potentially or definitely) harmful things out there we don’t regulate! And I’m sympathetic to that line of reasoning. But, the mayor has identified what he believes to be a public health problem, and he has taken policy steps to improve public health. Now we can argue whether or not there really is a public health problem here, whether the regulation will provide the policy outcomes he seeks, and even whether or not the mayor should be acting in this space at all. Those are all perfectly good and useful areas of debate. But I think it shows that the regulation wasn’t arbitrary, it was an attempt to achieve what the mayor views as a legitimate outcome.

As for “unrestrained”, I’m also sympathetic to the argument that the mayor acted through committee and not city council, and thus no voting (by the public or elected representatives) will occur. Hence his use of power here has not been restrained. However, the mechanism for that restraint still exists! As I pointed out in the comments of my first post, if New Yorkers were so inclined they could pressure their councilmen to block or overturn the regulation. So the mayors power, while unrestrained thus far, is not actually free of restraint as he still answers to city council and ultimately to NYC voters.

At any rate, I understand the arguments in favor of this constituting tyranny and my issue is semantic, I just think the word is too harsh for a policy that serves only to make drinking large quantities of soda slightly less convenient.

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New York City wants to ban the sale of 16 oz sodas. The Gravel Kraken writes:

This is tyranny.  Obesity may be a nationwide problem, but it is not a government problem.  Even accepting the premise that “too much sugar is bad for people, and a free people cannot be trusted to regulate their own sugar intake” the proposed regulation doesn’t make sense.  Free refills will still be allowed, there is no limit on number of 16 ounce drinks that can be sold at one, and grocery stores will still be allowed to sell sugary drinks at whatever size they please.  Keep in mind that the standard, single-serving soda bottle contains 20 ounces of soda.

This is just insulting and a waste of everybody’s time.

I agree that this ban is a dumb idea. I agree that it’s insulting and a waste of everyone’s time. I agree that it’s pointless, and I agree it shouldn’t be enacted. But it is not tyranny. Governments can do a lot of terrible things, and many of them do. Tyranny is very real and causes a lot of harm and suffering to a lot of people around the world. Making it slightly less convenient to drink 16 oz of Cherry Coke is not tyranny, it’s just annoying. The word tyranny is thrown around so much by libertarians that I’m beginning to think really it’s stopped describing actual tyranny and instead just means “things the government does that I think it shouldn’t”.

When we see tyranny, we should point it out. And we should combat it. But this is not tyranny. This is a dumb, pointless regulation. And we should combat it too, but lets try to stop crying wolf.

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Commenting on an Yglesias post connecting obesity and commute times, Karl Smith asks for a model to explain the effect:

I tend to roll my eyes at this type of research because in the language of economics, it lacks a structural model. That is at model time folks seem to forget that they are dealing with a complex system that has specifically evolved to maintain equilibrium in the face of exogenous shocks.
Moreover, the human system is not much different than most mammalian systems and so positing cognitive causes as the source seems sketchy at best. This is not to say impossible, but simply that a claim so ridiculous on its face would require a really good story. To date I have yet to hear one and typically when I’ve challenged obesity researchers with an implicitly cognitive model they typially seem unaware that one would need a story or structural model.

We’ve observed that certain kinds of chronic stress can have strange effects and we know that we can manipulate body mass by using drugs that manipulate serotonin, dopamine,norepinephrine and cortisol. So, we have something remotely suggestive of a mechanism.

All that having been said my intuition still says we are looking at a single vector, and it’s a molecule or family of molecules. Still, something like the commuting/sitting hypothesis should be taken seriously.

It sounds like Smith wants to hear something along the lines of “commuting is known to cause an increase in levels of the whatever molecule, and the whatever molecule is known to up/down regulate the whatever pathway, leading to weight gain”.

That would be fantastic if we could figure it out to that level of detail but its not going to happen. Rather, I think the effect is much, much more simply explained by time constraints. Let’s say you work 8 hours per day plus 1 hour for lunch and breaks. Now let’s say you commute 1 hour each way (a conservative estimate for many) and take half an hour in the morning to get ready. This means from the time you wake up to the time you get home from work consumes 11.5 hours. Now let’s say you want 6.5 hours of sleep each night. Were up to 18 hours accounted for. That leaves 6 hours in which to run errands, do chores, cook and eat dinner, prepare for the next day, go out and drink, or do whatever else you may want to do. So with only 25% of each day available to you to do all the things you want/have to do, activities like going to the gym or exercising probably won’t make the cut for most people.
Of course that’s a choice and anyone that so chooses could prioritize those activities over happy hour for example. Commuting certainly doesn’t make you fat, just like being poor doesn’t make you fat. It’s all about choices.

But time is a very real constraint, and should factor into the analysis. At the end of the day you can still choose to eat healthy and exercise, regardless of your commute (or income) but the associated time constraints serve to raise (potentially significantly) the marginal cost of making those choices.

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The Gravel Kraken highlights some new research from USDA showing that healthy food is not necesarily more expensive than unhealthy food:

Now, I am not saying that the cheapest diet one could get away with will be a healthy one. I am also not saying that a healthy diet is particularly cheap. I am saying that I do not believe that any significant fraction of America’s obese population is in that condition because they want to be healthy but food is too expensive.

I agree! I’ve never really thought cost was the real barrier to helathy eating by the poor. I certainly think its a factor, but not the whole story. Something that I think sometimes gets overlooked in this dsicussion is time. The story typically goes something like “poor people are more likely to be overweight because they can’t afford to eat healthy” but I think “they don’t have time to eat healthy” is more accurate. Fresh fruits and veggies and fish like salmon are healthy, we all know this. But preparing a meal from fresh ingredients is time consuming and takes a considerable amount of effort.

Consider single parents, or people working multiple jobs, or the combination. These folks just aren’t likely to have the time and energy at the end of the day to stop by the farmers market on the way home then spend the evening preparing a fresh meal. Rather, they’ll stop at McDonald’s and then spend the evening doing all the things that have to get done by the end of the day. I’m not saying this is laziness, just necessity. A lot of folks simply don’t have the time and energy to eat healthy. Like cost, time and effort is certainly not the whole story but I think its an important part. 

Recently, we’ve seen “healthy” fast food places start cropping up in cities in the northeast. One of them is a fast food salad place, and its a lot better than McDonald’s and “traditional” fast food from a health standpoint. But you pay a premium for it. Companies like that can play a role in making healthy eating more accessible to the poor, but in this particular case, cost really is a barrier as these types of places are seen as “high end” fast food and typically cater to a much more affluent clientele.

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