Food in America: A Looming Health Crisis
Our food is killing us. Find out how the Tera app can help.
The state of our food today presents a multifaceted challenge that impacts our health, economy, and overall well-being. In this article, we delve into four key aspects that shed light on the intricate web of issues surrounding our food system: chronic food-related illnesses, food quality, the prevalence of quantity over quality, and the role of food manufacturers and regulators.
Chronic Food Illness
The current state of our food system is a matter of great concern, with profound implications for human health and financial well-being. Chronic diseases linked to our diet, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, are responsible for approximately 678,000 deaths each year in the United States alone.
The economic impact of nutrition-related chronic illnesses is staggering, estimated to be around $16 trillion over a ten-year period from 2011 to 2020. This astronomical figure underscores the magnitude of the problem we are facing.
What we eat has become a leading cause of disease and death worldwide, surpassing the impact of tobacco or alcohol. In 2015, approximately 7 million deaths were attributed to tobacco smoke, while 2.75 million were linked to alcohol. However, an alarming 12 million deaths could be directly traced back to "dietary risks." These risks include diets low in essential nutrients like vegetables, nuts, and seafood, as well as diets high in processed meats and sugary beverages.
Obesity, characterized by a Body Mass Index (BMI) exceeding 30, has experienced a dramatic surge. Nearly 42% of American adults fall into the obese category, and almost 20% of children aged 2 to 19 are affected, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Globally, diet-related diseases such as heart disease (the leading cause of death in the US, often linked to high blood pressure and cholesterol), cancer (unhealthy food and drinks increase the risk of at least 13 types of cancer, making it the second highest cause of death in the US), and type 2 diabetes (an estimated 96 million U.S. adults have pre-diabetes, according to the CDC) are on the rise.
These issues have emerged alongside the widespread marketing of fast food, sugary beverages, processed meats, branded snacks, and other ultra-processed products. Additionally, our high-stress lifestyles and the glorification of fast-paced living have contributed to the problem. Moreover, mass agriculture practices have led to soil depletion, further exacerbating the challenges we face.
The deteriorating quality of our food is a matter of utmost urgency. The proliferation of ultra-processed foods (UPFs) is especially concerning, as they now constitute a significant portion of the American diet. Shockingly, UPFs account for 60% of the calories consumed by Americans, with an even higher percentage of 67% among children. This highlights the pervasive presence of UPFs in our daily food consumption.
UPFs are manufactured using a wide range of food additives, encompassing approximately 14,000 chemicals. Additionally, the use of chemicals has become increasingly prevalent in agriculture, factory farming, and consumer products. Presently, there are over 80,000 chemicals in use, and an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 new chemicals are introduced annually. This alarming trend has been associated with a sharp increase in health issues, including diabetes, breast cancer, reproductive problems, obesity, and autism.
One of the primary concerns regarding UPFs is their poor nutrient quality. These foods lack the essential nutrients found in unrefined, minimally processed alternatives such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and nutritious sources of protein. Consuming high-quality, nutrient-dense foods is crucial for maintaining a healthy diet and overall well-being.
To address this issue, it is essential to prioritize the consumption of whole, unprocessed foods and reduce reliance on UPFs. Encouraging individuals to make informed choices about their food intake and promoting education regarding nutrition and food quality are vital steps toward improving the state of our food system.
Additionally, supporting sustainable farming practices and advocating for stricter regulations on food additives can contribute to reversing the decline in food quality and promoting healthier eating habits. By prioritizing the consumption of nutrient-rich, minimally processed foods, we can positively impact our health and well-being.
Quantity Over Quality
The issue of food extends beyond its quality; it also encompasses the quantity we consume. Across different social classes and demographics, it has become evident that most of us now consume more food and drink than our grandparents did, often indulging in snacks between meals. Unfortunately, the United States has developed a cultural inclination toward prioritizing quantity over quality when it comes to food.
Fast food establishments and chain restaurants have come under scrutiny as well. Changes in eating habits have become widespread, shifting from savory foods to sugary alternatives and from homemade dinners to dining out or relying on takeout.
The excessive consumption of cheese, sugar, starch, and red meat has become common, while the intake of fruits and vegetables remains insufficient. In fact, our calorie intake has increased by nearly 500 calories per day compared to the 1970s.
The choices we make regarding food are often influenced by what is easily available and the constraints imposed by our busy lifestyles. The proliferation of chain restaurants has contributed to the decline of smaller local establishments, eroding regional culinary traditions and diminishing cultural diversity.
While McDonald's cannot solely define our entire food culture in a country as vast as the United States, the widespread expansion of these types of restaurants has led to the homogenization of our plates. Chain restaurants benefit from the ability to order ingredients in bulk, allowing them to offer larger portions at lower costs. Our preference for these establishments is driven by cultural values that prioritize quantity and affordability.
Manufacturers and Regulators
I recently came across a quote from a doctor that struck a chord: "Obesity rises relentlessly because whole industries profit from it." The responsibility of individuals to make healthier food choices becomes significantly more challenging when big food companies and their influential agents in Congress create structures and practices that hinder access to nutritious options.
When a corporate food culture promotes large portions, heavily processed, high-calorie, and low-nutritional foods, simply relying on "personal responsibility" is not a viable solution. For many Americans, especially those with limited incomes, access to healthy foods is more difficult due to issues of availability and affordability.
Ultra-processed foods are deliberately engineered by food manufacturers to trigger cravings and desires through the inclusion of added sugar, salt, flavorings, and colorants. The pervasive influence of advertising further reinforces these urges, saturating various platforms with marketing messages.
The question of responsibility also extends to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Do we have adequate systems in place to safeguard our health? Many experts and individuals in influential positions have expressed concerns about the FDA's ability to meet the challenges of the current food landscape.
Sam Kass, senior policy adviser on nutrition to President Barack Obama and a key figure behind former first lady Michelle Obama's childhood obesity campaign, emphasized that the agency is not effectively addressing the pressing issues at hand. "There’s just no question that the agency isn't meeting the moment," Kass said.
What Can We Do?
The complexities of our food system demand comprehensive solutions. Addressing chronic food-related illnesses requires a holistic approach that tackles root causes, promotes education, and encourages healthier lifestyles.
Improving food quality involves advocating for whole, minimally processed alternatives, supporting sustainable and local food systems, and reducing reliance on ultra-processed products. Shifting the narrative from quantity to quality necessitates cultural change, emphasizing the value of nutrient-rich foods and challenging industry practices.
Lastly, effective regulation and oversight are vital to ensure public health and safety, necessitating the collaboration of policymakers, industry stakeholders, and consumers. By addressing these interconnected issues, we can pave the way for a healthier and more sustainable food future.
The Tera App
The Tera app is your comprehensive tool for avoiding unhealthy food and navigating the complexities of a corrupt food system. With its extensive ingredient analysis and scientific scoring system, Tera reveals potential health and environmental hazards associated with specific substances, empowering you to make informed decisions about the products you consume.
It exposes misleading marketing tactics, hidden additives, and questionable manufacturing processes, ensuring that you can avoid unhealthy or unethical products. Additionally, Tera offers personalized recommendations for healthier alternatives, guiding you towards choices aligned with your well-being goals. With Tera, you have the power to take control of your food choices and contribute to a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle!
Connect with us!
- Download the Tera app
- Subscribe to our newsletter for more content