Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Malaysia Wants to Ban Fast Food Advertising

It’s an interesting idea that Malaysia has, they essentially want to treat fast food like how cigarettes are treated in this country, as something dirty. They’re also thinking about a “Sin Tax.”

“This is the only country where people discuss over breakfast where and what to eat for lunch. And then over lunch, it will be what’s for supper,” he noted.

Dr Chua said obesity, which was the “root of all problems,” now affected 37% of the population, compared to 20% a decade ago.

About 12% of the population would suffer from diabetes by 2020 if nothing were to be done, he said.

I’m reminded of Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” a bit. Just in the concept of how islands are good test cases for larger populations. So if Malaysia’s health crumbles it’s not hard to see that America’s would fall a similar trend line. (Basically wasn’t American Samoa that case? Introduce an American-style diet and watch the population in one generation just start dropping dead of heart disease and diabetes?)

In Malaysia’s case I’m using “they” but it seems like it’s only their Health Ministry or Health Minister that is thinking about this change. And it’s likely to encounter resistance in other parts of the government.

I think it’s a real open question whether a nation can collectively change dietary habits for the better. (They can always change for the worse). I’m not saying that everyone in Malaysia or America will become optimally healthy, but it does seem that our collective eating patterns, the national diet if you will, are designed to make us fat. Is it possible to change a national diet to something better? I’m skeptical, but the increased focus on national eating patterns (rather than individual eating habits) has been a move in the right direction.

When patterns effect large populations I’m always more interested in macro explanations then the micro ones. You can come up with an individual explanation why every fat person in America is overweight but when more people are overweight than healthy isn’t it useful to look at the reasons why those trends are occurring than to argue that each individual needs to do better? (Not that I’m not trying to do my part, but I’m also white, middle-class and come from an upper-middle class background. I have better opportunities afforded to me than many trying to lose weight.)

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