Obesity, world hunger, ultra-processed and more

Food continues to be in the news. Many of these items have been covered in previous posts on this blog, but there is more to report. Here is my take on some of these stories.

Ted Kyle weighs in on obesity and food issues. He posts daily on these issues, but his passion is prevention and treatment of obesity. We don’t always agree, but I appreciate his perspective and his embrace of nuance. He does not give stilted, rote answers to complex issues. Recent guidelines on childhood obesity have those treating eating disorders riled up. The emphasis on childhood obesity leads to greater incidence of disordered eating, they proclaim. Kyle suggests that we should be able to treat children with obesity and with eating disorders as individuals. It’s a nice thought, but American* media overpowers our newswaves with the antiobesity message and drowns out any discussion of eating disorders.

Kyle also mentions the ‘healthy’ protein bars which provide a nice shot of sugar with the protein. Do we really need that much protein in our lives? Most Americans* do not. And the added sugar promotes the idea that if I eat healthy, I can combine it with something not so healthy and come out ahead. I have seen many people ahead of me in the grocery-store line combine a healthy banana with a not so healthy Danish employing the same principle. The site also considers the potential role of ultra-processed foods as they contribute to obesity. Kyle thinks that there is something there there when it comes to the relationship, but he thinks that the explanations are too shallow to be taken at face value.

An update on world hunger indicates that we may be at a turning point, and that is not a good thing. We hear if it bleeds it leads. Bad news appears more often than good news. Yet, remarkable progress has been made around the world about hunger. That is until recent times. The last five years led to increased hunger, and the problem is getting worse not better. The Russian War in Ukraine contributes to world hunger, but other factors, including climate change, play a role. Wealthier nations who are responsible for behavior causing climate change have obligations to change their ways and help out poorer nations that suffer the consequences. Poorer nations have obligations too to help their people adapt.

Of particular concern are children affected by hunger leading to malnutrition. Malnourished children have weakened immune systems increasing their vulnerability to disease. Of the fifteen countries most affected by childhood malnutrition, thirteen are in Africa.

Ultra-processed foods are getting a more sympathetic view in the press than previous coverage. An excellent article portrays the pluses and minuses of this broad category. Some ultra-processed products are not healthy. Others are judged unhealthy by association. The author suggests that ultra-processed are suspect because the items contain additives. Thus, ultra-processed foods and foods with clean labels are opposites. Are we to assume that all ultra-processed products are unhealthy, and all clean foods are healthy? Such oversimplifications make it difficult to develop dietary patterns that will keep us in good health. That becomes even more of a concern for families with limited disposable incomes.

Dollar General store sign
An oasis in a food desert or a way station in a food swamp?

Dollar stores increase food access to poor families. Food purchases at Dollar Stores outpace all other American* markets of edible items in this time of food inflation. Products at these stores are packaged items to include dairy, eggs, meat, and convenience items. Fresh foods are not often available. These stores are good sources of products in rural areas and in the South. Studies suggest that buying food at a Dollar Store is all about income level. For critics of the healthiness of food at Dollar Stores, the best way to decrease food sales at these stores is to work on increasing incomes among the poor. For a more detailed description of the challenges of eating while poor see Pressure Cooker and How the Other Half Eats.

Dietary guidelines will be revised and greet us before we know it. It will be intriguing as they will be the first ones offered after the recent White House Conference on Health and Nutrition. The advisory committee has been appointed and it represents a wide range of expertise. The diversity of expertise is admirable from nutrient research to childhood obesity to dietetics to work with unrepresented minorities to many other areas of experience. I am impressed at the depth and breadth of knowledge on the committee. My one reservation is that no one on the panel seems to have a basic understanding of food composition or food safety. That may be important with particular reference to ultra-processed foods. Are the members going to try to understand what makes an ultra-processed food fit the category or are they going to condemn them based on popular news stories?

Diet culture meet the opposition. The New York Times honored the pioneers of the Intuitive Eating movement. America*, they stated, was overwhelmed with a diet culture that made us obsess over food and made us fat. They introduced mindfulness into the eating equation and rejected restrictive diets. Rather than dividing foods into healthy and unhealthy, they encouraged us to eat what we want to eat and let flavor be our guide. These authors introduced ten principles that help us achieve peace with our meals instead of angst. We should enjoy our food not stress over it.


*I use the terms America and American despite admonitions against this usage. I understand that North, Central, and South America exist, but, to the best of my knowledge, no other nation in the hemisphere than the USA has America in its name. UnitedStatsian or USAer don’t work for me. Neither does the suggested alternative, US citizen, as many people who live, work, eat, and play in the USA are not citizens but are a critical part of our culture. I am proud to be a naturalized American citizen who was born in Canada. Don’t tell anyone, but I still cheer for the Canadians during international sporting events.

Coming soon: How do we decide what food to eat and when?

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