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Too Big For Our Own Good?

Too Big For Our Own Good?It'stime for Congress to take a closer look at the role big food companiesare playing in the nation's bulging waistline, says a Tufts expert.Boston

Boston [10.01.04] Junk food products dominate the supermarket shelves,and now studies indicate they may be dominating our diets as well.On average, nearly a third of the calories consumed by Americanscome from junk food, according to one study. As the nation's waistlinebulges, so too does the influence of the major food makers whodominate the junk food market. It's time, says a Tufts nutritionexpert, for Congress to take a closer look.

"Eight foodbehemoths, empowered by economic size, marketing muscle, tastyproducts, and vast sales and distribution networks, are significantin shaping our diets," Tufts' JamesTillotson wrote in an op-ed for The Boston Globe. "Theinescapable implication is that directly (through advertisingand promotion) and indirectly (through wide distribution and shareof market) these mega-eight are a key source of Americans' 'empty'calories, further adding to our too-calorie-rich diets. Too manyempty, unused calories are a prime cause of obesity."

A significanthealth problem itself, obesity appears to be a springboard fora host of other health issues.

"Being overweightor obese sets us up for nasty chronic diseases -- diabetes, heartproblems, strokes, high blood pressure, some cancers, asthma,gall bladder disease, joint malfunctions and possibly Alzheimer'sdisease," the professor at the FriedmanSchool of Nutrition Science and Policy wrote in the Globe."And the list of painful, debilitating diseases grows longer asscience learns more about the dangers of chronic overweight."

Already,the effects of this growing trend have been costly.

"By beingoverweight -- or worse, obese -- not only are we likely to liveshorter (and more painful) lives, but the present (and future)costs of weight-related illnesses are staggering," Tillotson wrote."There are credible estimates that the total costs (direct andindirect) are already $69 billion to $117 billion per year. TheRand Corporation calculated that our country's obesity-relatedmedical costs now rival those of smoking."

Given thescale of the problem, Tillotson says Congress needs to get involved.

"The mega-companies'market structure -- coupled with the epidemic of overweight Americans-- compels an examination by the US Congress, not for any legalwrong doing, but for their all-persuasive influence on our unhealthyeating," he wrote in the Globe.

Accordingto Tillotson, the laws assume that obesity is a matter of personalresponsibility. As a result, there are few ramifications for foodmakers who mass produce unhealthy foods.

"Currentpublic policies allow the mega-eight companies (along with therest of the 40 largest that sell 80 percent of our groceries)to market any food in any legal manner they choose," he wrote."There are no legal requirements for companies to consider theweight implications of their marketing and product activities."

But moreneeds to be done to address the growing issue of obesity.

"Given theprojected health problems, economic costs, and human suffering,Congress should reexamine today's failed policies and fix them,"Tillotson wrote in the Globe. "Given obesity's devilishcomplexities, only Congress has the power to mobilize our nationto solve this health plague." ”

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