By some measures, the U.S. food industry has been very successful. The following indicators are most telling of this success story. Specifically, food is cheaper and the food industry is healthy. However, this success is not an unmixed blessing:
- The U.S. food industry supplies every American with 3,800 calories a day. That is about 30% more than what men need and double what women need.
- The average American's food intake rose from 1,826 calories a day in late 1970s to 2,002 calories by the mid-1990s.
To pump that many more calories into the American body, the food industry:
- Spends an estimated $33 billion a year to encourage Americans to eat more.
- Super-sizes their offerings. An order of super-sized McDonald's fries has three times the calories of an order of McDonald's fries in the 1960s.
- Lowers food prices by an average of 0.2% per year since WWII.
As a result of more food intake and decline in physical activities to burn up the excess calories,
- 30.5% of Americans are obese, up from 22.9% a decade ago.
- 64.5%, or nearly two-thirds, are over-weight.
- 15% of children aged 6 to 19 are overweight.
- Obesity-related diseases account for 300,000 deaths a year, second only to tobacco.
The obesity epidemic is like Adam Smith's famous "invisible hand" model running amuck. The invisible hand model says that the greatest good is achieved when every individual is allowed to pursue his own interest without intentionally promoting the public good. There are no real villains in the obesity epidemic. The food industry is just trying to sell what people like to eat. The consumers are just eating what are most convenient for them to eat and seemingly enjoying them. The school districts are just trying to raise some funds by selling high-calorie, high-fat, high-salt fast foods and high-calorie soft drinks at schools for worthwhile school activities. And the advertising industry is just trying to create the most convincing TV commercials to please its advertisers. But the end result is nothing like the "greatest good" that Adam Smith's "invisible hand" model promises. Instead, it produces a health epidemic of an exploding biomass index.
Now to help contain this epidemic, every party in the game is urged to consider the impact of their seemingly innocent actions on the body mass of the whole society. People are told not to always eat what they like. School districts are encouraged to reduce the accessibility of non-nutritional foods, and food vendors are urged to go easy on fat, sugar, and salt (USA Today).
- Business Week. 10/21/2002. "Why we're so fat."
- USA Today. 8/22/2005. "Health movement has school cafeterias in a food fight."