The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


May 13, 2013

Marta Mossburg, columnist: Writer uncovers scheme to make America fat

— In the 2008 Pixar movie “WALL.E,” humans so clogged up the earth with garbage they had to move to spaceships. Motorized chairs ferried the obese blobs portraying people of the future, who sipped liquids from massive cups and sat mesmerized by video screens.

It was both funny and scary in its assessment of America’s throw-away, fast-food culture where convenience is everything and self-control and direction is outsourced to technology. At the time of the movie, it was part of an emerging chorus of voices decrying Americans’ growing girth. Five years later it is almost impossible to go a day without seeing a news story on obesity; first lady Michelle Obama has made childhood exercise and healthy eating a top priority; and even purveyors of the triumvirate of salt, sugar and fat feel compelled to make amends for selling the stuff most blamed for everything from extra pounds to diabetes and heart disease. Coca-Cola, for example, recently promised to make lower-calorie drinks and nutrition information for its products more widely available around the world.

The consensus opinion is that fast food companies and convenience food makers are to blame for the fact that 69 percent of America is either overweight or obese. 2013’s “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us” by Michael Moss, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at The New York Times, makes one of the most compelling arguments for a side that has compiled reams of evidence that Americans are victims of a plot to maximize profits at the expense of our cholesterol levels, blood pressure and body mass index.

As Moss uncovered, the processed food industry has made a science of finding the “bliss” point for sugar, salt and fat, and has developed foods arguably as addictive as alcohol and drugs. It has also found ways to make it nearly impossible to pass their products in stores and been behind the massive proliferation of convenience stores throughout the U.S. — one of the best means to hook children and teenagers on their food and make them customers for life.

I agree that they are a big part of the problem — just as those who sold mortgages to people they knew couldn’t afford them were to the financial crisis. But he is so focused on assigning blame to one group that he glosses over the habits and norms that allowed Americans to become such easy prey for companies who make a living off of giving us what we crave.

For example, Moss mentions how the rise of convenience foods in the 1950s coincides with women moving into the work force in droves. But he does not explore how that shift impacted our collective ability to combat unhealthy food — what happens when there are fewer family dinners, for example — and what can be done in a society where that is not going to change. Even if it did, the culture of convenience is too ingrained and raising children too time consuming to send women and men to the kitchen for daily scratch cooking, even if they wanted to — aside from a few outliers.

And what about the millions of people who just don’t care about what they eat and want instant gratification in food just as they seek it in many other areas of their life? Those people most likely will never read his book.

The likely conclusion for many from his exhaustive look into the processed food industry is that it should be sued. Blaming others for our problems is the American way, and what the companies have done is manipulative if not illegal. But if the end goal is to make Americans thinner, processed food must start being perceived as gross and bad. If you live in wealthy zip codes, chub is as outcast as cigarettes, and healthy eating is practically a religion. Certainly there are creative minds in the advertising and marketing industry willing and able to proselytize these views to all of America. If not, my guess is that trial lawyers will get richer as Americans get even fatter.

Marta H. Mossburg writes about national affairs. Write her at Follow her on Twitter at @mmossburg.

Text Only
  • Other Views Other Views: Eroding court’s authority

    While Kansans were focused on the twists and turns of school finance this past week, lawmakers made an unnecessary and historic change in how the state’s district courts operate, coercively tying the reforms to badly needed funding.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Your View: Travesty

    What a travesty that a terrific young man from Spain is on the verge of deportation even though he has proven his worth in America (Globe, April 13).

    April 18, 2014

  • Your View: Astonishing transformation

    The transformation of the Republican Party in the last decade is astonishing.

    April 18, 2014

  • Your View: The changing view

    It is heartbreaking to hear the decades old trees (which border on South Pennsylvania in Webb City) cracking and being bulldozed down.

    April 18, 2014

  • Our View.jpg Our View: Safe and sound

    Of the 7,500 Joplin and Duenweg homes hit by the 2011 EF-5 tornado, fewer than 20 percent of them had basements.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Other Views Other Views: Funding for state’s roads

    Missouri is finding there is no good alternative to growing the economy, adding new well-paying jobs and expanding the tax base.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Geoff Caldwell, columnist: Government without apology or explanation

    Americans feel closest to their Uncle Sam at this time of year as he extends his hand for his “fair share” to fund his numerous endeavors.

    April 16, 2014

  • Your View: Step aside

    The people of Joplin made it clear they wanted change at City Hall with their decisive votes to replace two council members.

    April 16, 2014

  • Your View: Serious drawbacks

    Joan Banks’ guest column (Globe, April 13) lays out clearly and persuasively the serious drawbacks with so-called right-to-work legislation.

    April 16, 2014

  • Your View: Free choice

    Joan Banks’ guest column (Globe, April 13) regarding right-to-work seems to assume that if workers are given the choice of joining a union, they won’t join.

    April 16, 2014

Local News
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter

The United States is considering deploying about 150 soldiers for military exercises to begin in Poland and Estonia in the next few weeks, following Russia's buildup of forces near its border with Ukraine. Do you think we should deploy these troops?

     View Results
NDN Video
Raw: More Than 100,000 Gather for Easter Sunday Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest