Lawrence Lessig is a professor of law at the Harvard Law School and the director of the Edmond J Safra Center for Ethics. He is a political activist who takes on both sides of the political aisle...
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Fast Food Islands
Naipaul is correct. Nothing is real in T&T until London says so. Minshall only became Minshallian after Barcelona. No one noticed we were getting fat? No one was watching the Carnival bands? No one read the research published in the local media on obesity? We had to wait until the Daily Mail put us in our place? The Daily Mail? Of all the second-rate newspapers in the world, we have to accept what the Daily Mail says? Yes.
That is what the people an’ dem does read. Face it fellows, you all could write every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday for years that Trinis getting fat and not a soul will take you on but as soon as “faren” talk about “fat Trinis,” all man-jack and their nennen rush to repeat whatever the “faren” newspaper say.
Well if is so, is so! We go take it an’ run. Our fatness is a consequence of our change in lifestyle. Lifestyle here refers to diet and exercise. Despite what people want to believe, diet is the more important. Eat a banana split in five minutes and you consume 500 calories.
Run a Savannah in 20 minutes and you use up 250 calories. Walk it in 30 minutes and you lucky if you expend 200 calories. Yes, you can influence your weight by exercise but to do so you have to spend about two hours a day, seven days a week, exercising hard. None of this walking-talking, hand-swinging, barely-raise-a-sweat thing. That’s good for your muscle tone and your ego but for little else.
Poor diet refers to fast food, junk food, the food you get at KFC or McDonalds or any of the other fast food places—full of fats, calories, salt, sugar and chemicals. It doesn’t need to be cooked. It’s cheap. It’s very available. Working mothers with limited time and even more limited economic resources love it. It tastes good; the kids love it. Businessmen love the profits. When challenged, they do a little spin and claim they are interested in improving their food and offer a salad.
But it’s bad food. Last month, the US Center for Science in the Public Interest said an examination of 3,498 children’s meal combinations at 34 US restaurant chains found that 91 per cent of the meals failed to meet voluntary nutrition standards set by the National Restaurant Association’s own Kids LiveWell menu standards. Their own standards! “Nine of the top chain restaurants, including McDonald’s, do not have a single kids’ meal that meets the Kids LiveWell standards.”
Another example that industry self-regulation does not work. Compounding the difficulty of keeping your child’s weight down by exercise is the change in children’s play, from outdoors to indoors. Kids now spend more time sitting down watching TV or on a computer playing “games.”
Their working parents are no longer around to watch over them, streets are full of aggressive drivers, there are fewer and fewer parks in residential areas plus, in many areas, it’s simply not safe anymore to have your child outside because of crime. So it’s interesting that the Minister of Health has began to make noises about “healthier lifestyles,” and some editorials have at last started to address the issue. So far it’s all talk and no action. In T&T, of course, talk is often considered a synonym for action.
One hears the minister talk about a one-year-old Fight the Fat campaign. Has anyone else heard about this? I haven’t. One hears the usual sound bites that the Ministry of Health will “soon” be “launching a multi-prolonged media campaign highlighting the dangers of unhealthy eating high sugar intake and food additives.” One hears the usual talk about personal responsibility and about corporate social responsibility from the editorials and letters to the editor.
Unfortunately, none of these things have ever worked. There is no evidence that appealing to businessmen ever made them change their business practices. And why should they? To the contrary. No one is in business to lose money. Personal responsibility is the kind of thing well-meaning people like to quote. It will only work when people have: a) the knowledge to make informed choices and, b) the economic means to take those decisions.
That means Government has to take up a major role in assisting parents. They need to get involved. In education, in economics but also in crime and traffic control and in suburban development. Hear the minister again: “If people do not curb their current lifestyle, in 15 years taxpayers will have to foot a higher medical bill for the increase in hospital beds needed for the increase in diabetics, amputations, kidney failures, heart attacks and high blood pressure cases that will occur."
So what does your Government intend to do about it? Public educational campaigns? Subsidise local vegetables and blue food? Tax fast food? Ban juice and sweet drink in schools like in Mexico? Assist the Bocas Lit Fest so that it does not have to take money from fast food companies? Come back in 15 years and we will tell you.
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