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Fat has become an epidemic in America, with a staggering 30% of the population now classified as "obese."
Although there have been reports that obesity growth has tapered off, a new study predicts that, within 20 years, more than 40% of Americans will be dangerously overweight.
The good news is that the country finally seems to be noticing this and trying to do something about it.
Disney (DIS) announced Tuesday it was banning junk-food ads aimed at kids on its television networks (including on ABC, which Disney owns), becoming one of the first corporations to publicly take a stand against this problem. Starting in 2015, food makers will have to adhere to Disney's new nutrition policy, limiting calories, sugar and sodium content. As of now, a number of current products advertised on Disney channels will not fit the bill, including Kraft's (K) Capri Sun juice pouches, Lunchables and other sugary cereals.
"Parents can be confident that foods associated with Disney characters or advertised on Disney platforms meet our new, healthier nutrition guidelines," said Robert Iger, chairman and CEO of Disney.
On Tuesday, the company will also introduce new products to the grocery aisles, which follow the aforementioned nutritional guidelines. Disney says these products follow what it calls the "Mickey Check" and will be labeled with Mickey Mouse ears and a check mark.
Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently startled the city by proposing a ban on soda serving sizes bigger than 16 ounces. Although this announcement was met with widespread ridicule and outrage by people who viewed it as nanny-state over-reach, Bloomberg observed that 5,000 New Yorkers die from diseases related to obesity each year and said that it is time to do something about this.
The "fat problem," as it might be more directly described, is complex. And there are no easy answers.
The instinct of many people, fat and skinny alike, is to lay the problem solely at the feet of those who are fat, saying that they should be more disciplined.
And obese people should be more disciplined--no question about it. Ultimately, people need to take responsibility for their own health. If they want to overfeed themselves, there's nothing the government or corporations can or should do to stop that.
Where the problem becomes more complex is that it is much easier, cheaper, and more convenient to eat unhealthy food--and too much of it--than it is to eat well. And the fact that massive corporations that are highly skilled at research and marketing are applying their enormous resources to the challenge of selling more food makes it even easier to overeat.
Combine that with the fact that a huge percentage of Americans live paycheck to paycheck--and the profits of these corporations are directly tied to the amount and quality of the food they sell--and you get to the heart of the issue.
So how should the country go about solving this problem?
Should the government regulate "portion size," as New York City is now trying to do? Should it ban all potentially unhealthy foods--a list that would include not just "soda" but ice-cream, alcohol, bread (high in carbs), pasta, and almost all forms of fast food? Should it tax sugar? Should it make fat people pay more for health insurance and healthcare (many insurance companies already do).
Should corporations solve the problem, by serving only smaller sizes and using healthier ingredients?
Should Americans just accept responsibility for themselves, developing the discipline necessary to eat less and exercise more?