Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Food influences...

Taken separately there would seem to be little connection between the news items I read in USA Today,  but as I walked back to my room some possible linkages sprang to mind.

First, the Michael Vick situation.  I don't follow pro football very closely, but have a dim grasp of his colorful history.  Two things are noteworthy, it seems.  1) The guy can play.  Better still, he is at least a competent and durable QB in a league which seems to have a persistent shortage of same.

So why aren't QB-challenged teams like say, DA BEARS, jumping at the change to sign him?  Maybe there are all kinds of reasons sports fanatics are aware of, but one reason I think is the nature of his crime: dog-fighting.

Some sportswriters are puzzled too at how this offense is creating a stronger public backlash than the numerous and, to my mind, more heinous crimes in pro sports.
My personal opinion might be different from the average NFL fans, seeing as how I am more than happy to give Vick a second-chance. I am not a zealous-Christian/PETA activist, screaming for his head over killing a few pit bulls.
Was it wrong of him to have a bunch of dead, murdered dogs buried in his backyard? Without a doubt. I currently own a two-year old beagle whom I take care of and spend time with every single day. For me to say I wasn't sad to hear that an NFL player had done this would be a lie.
At the same time, I have a number of friends who live either in or below the Maryland-Virginia state line. Some of them have been involved in dog-fighting at one time or another. This is not to say that the average 'southern' inhabitant is out to break laws and doesn't care about their pets.
It just means that things are different, the way of life and the way they do things are often different in Virginia and the other states below the Mason-Dixon line then they are in other states.
To make a long story short, yes, I believe Vick should have been punished. The magnitude of his first-time offense was so severe that he definitely deserved some jail-time, a lengthy suspension or both. Did he get that? Again, yes he did. [More]

While I watch whether Vick gets a chance to play, and if so, where, I will be looking for fan reaction, because I think it is one indicator as to how much public attitude toward animals has shifted in recent years.

Meanwhile in another column the lead story was about obesity and health costs.

Private health insurance spending on illnesses related to obesity has increased more than tenfold since 1987, according to the first research to quantify the trend.
The growth in obesity has fueled a dramatic increase in the amount spent treating diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and other weight-related illnesses, says the study, which is published today in Health Affairs, an online journal of health policy and research.
Overall, employers and privately insured families spent $36.5 billion on obesity-linked illnesses in 2002, up from an inflation-adjusted $3.6 billion in 1987. That's up from 2% of total health care spending on obesity in 1987 to 11.6% in 2002, the latest year for which data are available.
On average, treating an obese person cost $1,244 more in 2002 than treating a healthy-weight person did. In 1987, the gap was $272.
And the obesity problem is "only going to get worse," says lead author Kenneth Thorpe, chairman of the department of health policy and management at Emory University in Atlanta. "The costs are up because so many more Americans are obese and because they're being more aggressively treated for weight-related illnesses." [More]
Following on that story in multiple sources were actions being recommended by various medical experts such as:
While the CDC is not a regulatory agency and has only a $43 million budget this year for nutrition, physical activity and obesity programs, it is now stepping up its efforts to combat obesity. Last week, the agency released a set of recommendations to help communities prevent and combat obesity. They include discouraging the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, instituting smaller portion-size options in venues such as government facilities, and requiring physical education in schools.
As New York City’s health commissioner for more than seven years, Dr. Frieden was known for measures such as banning artificial trans fats in some foods and requiring certain chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus. In an article published in April in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Frieden and Kelly Brownell, a professor at Yale University, proposed a penny-an-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, arguing that those drinks “may be the single largest driver of the obesity epidemic.”
In his speech Monday, Dr. Frieden said measures that had worked to control tobacco, such as taxes and reducing exposure, could help control obesity, too. Those could include a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. A 10% price increase on sugared beverages could reduce consumption 7.8%, he said. [More]
Now the final link is the emergence of some sort of cost-controlling body in health care reform negotiations.
The Finance senators were considering a tax of as much as 35 percent on very high-cost insurance policies, part of an attempt to rein in rapid escalation of costs. Also likely to be included in any deal was creation of a commission charged with slowing the growth of Medicare. [More]

There are various forms of cost-controlling entities being discussed - this is just one example.

So, mixing all these influences together in my mind suggests a change in our food industry is unavoidable. The bigger news is "cheaper" may not be the absolute trump card it has been for suppliers. Even if it is, if health costs start being tracked back to the foods associated with them (i.e. soda pop) and those externalities recovered via a tax, we will shift food buying habits, I think.

The long-standing medical admonition to eat less red meat will also become part of an anti-obesity/health costs realignment in some way, I predict. Simply put, the bill for our dietary habits may be about to land on the dinner table.

Public attitude toward animals will continue to raise the costs of producing meat by changing production practices - the Vick story should be instructive to those who think animal care standards are an issue with only a few consumers.  Unless the meat industry can muster a better response to animal welfare criticisms than "it makes food cheap", I don't see that log slowing down.

All this extends a trend toward less HFCS and domestic meat consumption - both bad news for corn growers.  And bad news for corn growers tends to be contagious.


Anonymous said...

First I do agree with your approach to the Vick situation and I thought it was pretty clever how you turned that into bad news for corn growers.
Second after all the ethanol bashers join up with PETA and the environmentalists to make agriculture truly non profitable we'll have a shrinking population through starvation. That will result in gobal cooling.

Roy Fischer said...

What are" the numerous and, to my mind, more heinous crimes in pro sports" than promoting dog fights which led to the physical abuse and death of those animals?

Gary Frank said...


Sounds like were are headed for "1984". There individuals were convinced that 2 + 2 = 5.