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David Sirota
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Sunday 17 June 2012
“For the last few decades, food companies had aimed their marketing at single meals, pushing to inflate portion sizes.”

The Revolutionaries Feeding the Obesity Crisis

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Major food corporations face a quandary. They are under Wall Street's constant profit-growth pressure, but they can't substantially raise product prices because the food market is so cost sensitive. Therefore, to entice us to spend even more on eating, Big Food has lately been trying to extend the biological limits of consumption by challenging one of the most basic structures of American culture: the traditional meal schedule.

For the last few decades, food companies had aimed their marketing at single meals, pushing to inflate portion sizes. That initiative was wildly successful. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported, the average restaurant meal in the United States is now an unfathomable four times larger than it was in 1950. That has translated into "Americans now consume 2,700 calories a day, about 500 calories more than 40 years ago," according to the Atlantic Monthly.

One predictable result of this trend is an obesity rate that's poised to top 40 percent and that already costs the nation hundreds of billions of dollars in additional health care expenditures. The other result is that the super-size campaign has become a victim of its own success. Indeed, food companies are coming to realize that, in terms of per-meal product sales, they are quickly approaching the point where the human body simply cannot — or will not — accommodate any more calories in a single sitting. That has left Big Food fretting about a profit-making path forward — and that's where the innovators at Yum! Brands come in.

Known for ignoring public health concerns and pioneering weapons-grade junk food, this conglomerate's subsidiaries have most recently given us the cheeseburger-stuffed pizza (Pizza Hut), the Dorito-shelled taco (Taco Bell), and the "Double Down" (KFC) — a bacon and cheese sandwich that replaces bread with slabs of deep-fried chicken. So it should come as no surprise that with the three meals hitting their caloric max-out point, Yum! Brands have been leading the effort to add a whole new gorging session to America's daily schedule.

The campaign is called "fourth meal" and was originally launched in a series of Taco Bell spots telling kids that "everyone is a fourth mealer — some just don't know it yet." Now, new "fourth meal" ads are once again popping up all over television, insisting that "sometimes the best dinner is after dinner." The ads are backed by an eponymous website and a "cravinator" smartphone app that helps binge-eaters select their junk food of choice.

Though the "fourth meal" campaign has been ongoing since 2006, it is particularly notable today because it proves that such marketing will persist even as the obesity epidemic becomes a full-fledged headline-grabbing emergency. And it persists, of course, because these kinds of ads are wholly unregulated and tend to deliver for the food industry.

Social science data illustrates that latter truism. In 2010 and 2011, for instance, researchers from Yale University and Texas A&M University both found that fast-food ads successfully change kids' eating expectations and shape their culinary desires. Likewise, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently reported, "that greater familiarity with fast-food restaurant advertising on television is associated with obesity" likely because kids who see the ads develop "food consumption patterns that include many types of high-calorie food brands" being advertised.

In terms of cultural change, then, Yum! Brands are making a shrewd long-term investment in an eating revolution. Sure, it may for now seem like a stretch. But when the next obese generation believes "fourth meal" is equal to breakfast, lunch and dinner don't be surprised — and don't ask why. The answer is on your television set, your web browser and your smartphone screen.

Copyright Creators.com


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ABOUT David Sirota

David Sirota is a best-selling author of the new book "Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now." He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado.

I know that some people are

I know that some people are going to jump on me for the comment, but here is something that is undeniable: hunger= fat leaving the body. Burning fat is not meant to be comfortable or pleasant. Therefore, when our bodies burn fat, it tells us "I'm starving to death! Eat something." But unfortunately, we have so many myths and different "methods" and diets that don't work. The success rate for people who go on a special diet is almost 0%. And too many people say, "well keep eating so you're body's metabolism jump starts." That statement is utter BS. At the end of the day, how many calories you eat vs. how many you burn is what will determine if you burn fat or not.

99% of human taste buds are designed by nature to crave salt, sugar and fat. Why? Because in nature, those nutrients are rare. And if we were still living in caves and running away from cheetahs, those nutrients would be the only thing we would need. But with the help of science and government subsidies going towards corn, those nutrients are now exponentially more abundant than nature could ever hope to produce. We subsidize junk food and not freshly grown fruits and vegetables. But of course, if you shop smart enough, you can eat healthy and still save money than if you ate potato chips and fast food all the time.

No doubt about it, junk food is extremely tasty. But it should be a treat only. We need to get our kids pallets used to eating blander, healthier food. Of course McDonald's fries will taste exponentially better than regular mashed potatoes, but if our children get used to eat salads and fruit and lean meat at an early age, we can fight this obesity crisis. We also need to teach our kids HOW TO COOK! It is unfortunate that the rise of women in the work place correlates (I'm not saying at all that it is a cause) with the rise in obesity and the lack of home-cooked meals and dinners. I feel like learning how to shop for and cook healthy, affordable meals should be a federally mandated requirement among every student. Also, federally mandated exercise classes! Maybe we should teach kids how to take care of their bodies first before teaching them math that they probably will never use after they graduate from high school.

I'm an academic hematologist,

I'm an academic hematologist, treating mostly African Americans. i tell my patients that their weight is like their bank accounts. If they deposit more as calorie of food than they are withdrawing as exercise calories, their weight will increase. Secondly, thy need to know that a cup of fat has 2 1/2 times the number of calories as a cup of sugar. So Grill the chicken, don't fry it and stay away from chips and fries. if they are too obese to walk comfortably, use the exercise bike in the basement or find a treadmill that they can use. And eat lots of fruits and veggies. I cann't say that I have convinced anyone. The television set is pervasive as is the culture and the poverty does not help, either.

Thanks David for another

Thanks David for another important but really distressing column.

I think that there's a fundamental problem in the country in that those with power (such as Big Energy, Big Media, and now Big Food) don't give a #!@#$% about what's good for the nation.

When those in power show no restraint disaster looms.

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