Food and obesity

Via Noah Smith I’ve seen this interesting article on the food industry – it is a long read, but worth it!

But why couldn’t Big Food’s processing and marketing genius be put to use on genuinely healthier foods, like grilled fish? Putting aside the standard objection that the industry has no interest in doing so—we’ll see later that in fact the industry has plenty of motivation for taking on this challenge—wouldn’t that present a more plausible answer to America’s junk-food problem than ordering up 50,000 new farmers’ markets featuring locally grown organic squash blossoms?

It is an issue I see a lot of my friends talking about, and one which has led Gareth Morgan and Geoff Simmons to write a book.  Seems like an interesting and important issue to think about 🙂

Note:  I have no interest in trying to define what people should be doing here – and I aim to have a little chat about choice at some point in the future as I think it is an important issue that can get lost in this (eg I feel it gets lost here).  However, I can tell the food issue is, and is going to be, an issue that people want to look into – and would like to hear your thoughts 😉

2 replies
  1. Peter
    Peter says:

    While some of it may be cosmetic bumpf, there are signs of increasing corporate responsibility in this space. Steinlager today (?) has launched a new campaign: (realise not core to your nutritional focus, but related). I think Eric Crampton has written skeptically (his strength) about social responsibility initiatives undertaken by corporates, but it strikes me (assertion) that there there is a strengthening drift toward moral consumerism and, associated, stronger morality in business, commensurate with a real long-term value focus. Check out this from Tesco: This nutritional stuff is a mighty tricky policy area; one person’s pain (too much XX) is another’s pleasure. How bad is bad enough to tax a-la ciggies & booze? And what impact for those that can least afford? What is MSD doing in this space? (worth a look). Government promotion? A good sink for cash, and what incremental value over Gareth and other groups? Behavioural change is tough, and it requires genuine ownership by the changers – not finger wagging. Interesting topic to dig more into. Hope the thoughts help in some way.

    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      Interesting stuff cheers.

      The article I linked to mentioned how much corporate are trying to come to terms with the issue – they aren’t trying to kill people after all, and if information considerations are good then their own interest in profitability is a useful thing.

      Nutrition is tough, all policy areas are tough but this is especially tough given the magnitude of the information issues and the importance of it. The economic method is useful here, which is why I find some of the comment in the piece I linked to in the note annoying 🙂

      Like all these things, there are trade-offs. And people may well be willing to trade-off some of their life in the future for certain enjoyments now. We have to learn to allow people to be heterogeneous – and making sure we accept that rather than constantly calling anything that doesn’t meet our view of “what is right” is a good first step on looking at the nutrition issue clearly!

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