Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More home cooking...

The effort to re-invigorate home cooking is reverberating around the blogosphere.  Frankly they don't sound all that hopeful this idea is the magic bullet for obesity, due to several very sound reasons.  However, in the midst of the debate, one useful fact appeared:
Oliver wants to change the way low-income communities approach meals. The problem is that the evidence suggests meals aren't driving the rise in obesity -- snacks are. A 2003 paper by economists David Cutler, Ed Glaeser and Jesse Shapiro looked at an array of different ways to measure caloric intake, and found that most meals aren't getting much bigger. Dinner, in fact, might be getting a bit smaller. The big increase in caloric intake actually came between meals. In 1977, Americans reported eating about 186 calories outside of mealtimes. By 1994, that had rocketed to 346 calories. It's likely even higher now. That difference alone is enough to explain the changes in our national waistline. And it won't go away if we begin cooking dinners but still are purchasing 20-ounce bottles of Coke at the office. [More]

It is this incremental and oblique attack on HFCS (note it is not mentioned, but is nonetheless irrevocably linked to soda) that could bend the demand curve for this corn product.  Although the current high prices for sucrose here in the US (thanks in large part to our protectionist sugar policy) most all have added demand for HFCS, longer term is more problematic, I think. Snacks are big sources of calories and big users of HFCS.

More ominous is the tiny but growing sector seeking out cane sugar-sweetened soda as either a matter of taste (it really does taste different, as I discovered on our cruise to Mexico) or style.

The very properties of HFCS - low-cost, calorie dense, and abundant - all suddenly look less like good things and more like razor blades to a few people. Farmers need to understand that food demands change when people are better fed.  And, boy - are we overfed!
Americans are consuming more calories than they did 30 years ago, and the rate of increase is three times greater in women than men, according to the latest analysis of the diet of the U.S. population published in the February 6 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The study finds U.S. women increased their daily calorie consumption 22 percent between 1971 and 2000, from 1542 calories per day to 1877 calories. During the same period the calorie intake for men increased 7 percent from 2450 calories per day to 2618 calories.
The increase in calories is mainly due to an increase in carbohydrate consumption. Men increased the percentage of their daily calorie intake resulting from carbohydrates from 42.4 percent to 49 percent. Women increased their carbohydrate consumption from 45.4 percent of daily calorie intake to 51.6 percent.
The study also finds that the percent of calories Americans take in from fat has decreased, with most of the drop in saturated fat intake. However, the actual number of fat grams consumed per day has changed little since 1971 due to the increase in overall calories consumed daily. Protein consumption for both men and women remained about the same from 1971 to 2000. [More]

The standard answer from agriculture is folks aren't exercising enough.  Fair point, but that does not address the consumption increase in carbs at all.

The economic feedback loop from health care costs via obesity remedies could provide a mechanism to change both sugar and corn policies.  Maybe not much, but the much large pressure for deficit reduction could pose an even sterner test at the same time.

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