HealthCommentary

Exploring Human Potential

Exporting the U.S. Diet

Posted on | March 12, 2008 | No Comments

A bad deal for developing nationsEver heard of the “dual burden of disease”? The idea is that  infectious diseases from the developing world (as a byproduct of poverty, famine, lack of access to clean, safe water and forced migration tied to warfare) are intermingling with chronic diseases from the developed world (as a result of tobacco marketing, cancer and obesity-inducing diets, and pollution). Globalization sends such health issues as Bird Flu and resistant Tuberculosis in one direction and the export of tobacco advertising and the obesity-causing "modern diet" in the reverse direction. The resulting worry: Soon we will all share the worst of both worlds.

A particular case in point of this phenomenon is U.S. "factory farming" and the exportation of the modern American diet. While the success of modern farming is undeniable, there have been tradeoffs as we have marched steadily toward high-protein, high-corn, high-processed and high-consumption foods, which translate reliably into chronic obesity and chronic disease.

Meat is just one case in point. Today’s “factory farms” utilize assembly line operations that consume enormous amounts of water, energy, corn and food additives, including antibiotics, while producing significant pollutants and greenhouse gases. We then over-consume the product — at twice the global average. Today each of us consumes almost 200 pounds of meat a year. That’s about 110 grams of protein a day, which is twice the recommended amount and close to three times what we probably need. Statistics show we are pushing these consumptive habits to countries all around the world, with a deadly result: As the United States and other developed nations have shifted increasingly from grains to corn-based processed meats and other foods, our rates of chronic disease (including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, strokes and certain cancers) have escalated.

In the meantime, the damage to the environment caused by our factory farms — from the addition of greenhouse gasses to pollution of water sources and acceleration of deforestation — is well-documented.

So what should we do? In this week’s video program, embedded with this blog, I offer some suggestions, ranging from public education to a shift back to grains as the staple of our diet. Before we do anything, though, we need awareness and discussion. Watch the video and let me know what you think: Is the American diet the right way to go?

See Also

  • Corn-fed America
    This Health Politics program examines the sometimes invisible impact of corn on our diets. You are eating more of it than you may realize.
  • Meat is murder on the environment
    This 2007 article from New Scientist magazine reveals the high toll of meat production.

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