Why Poor Diets are Endangering Public Health: A Major U.S. Concern

Article Summary
With the issue of obesity and diabetes spinning out of control, some are concerned that the food industry is largely to blame for manipulating the public’s ability to choose healthier foods. In addition to being more concerned with public welfare and health, companies who wish to become more socially responsible can express sound principles while ensuring the availability of healthy food choices. On the other hand, individuals should protect their health, rather than taking it for granted, by practicing good nutritional stewardship. 

Why Poor Diets are Endangering Public Health: A Major U.S. Concern

By Orlando Saíz

A rise in death and illness from non-communicable diseases (NCD’s) such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, which are now responsible for two-thirds of deaths worldwide, is a major cause for concern.[i] If predictions about a health epidemic in the U.S. are true, issues as serious as global terrorism, climate change, or a stumbling economy will soon be overshadowed. Some see the U.S. food industry as largely to blame for contributing to poor diets, and for manipulating the public’s ability to choose healthier foods. Still others may feel that the companies are only responding to the demands of the people. In this era of corporate social responsibility, more can and perhaps should be done to both improve Americans’ health and food industry profitability. This article will primarily address the health concerns to the public. 

Current findings indicate that both diabetes and obesity are on the rise. In January 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) predicted that diabetes deaths would double between 2005 and 2030.[ii] According to a report on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, it was stressed that, in some cases, it is often easier and cheaper to get less healthy foods and beverages.[iii]

Poor eating habits in the U.S. are taking a toll on the public’s health. The over consumption of fast—convenience—foods and unhealthy snacks makes the issue of poor health and obesity in the U.S. difficult to remedy. The poor diets which persist can be linked to the rampancy of fast food eateries, supermarkets full of attractive, but unhealthy, products, and corporate marketing campaigns which are geared toward keeping popular brands a part of the daily routine. New York Times columnist Mark Bittman describes “The ubiquity, convenience and habit-forming appeal of hyper-processed foods have largely drowned out the alternatives… nearly inconceivable resources go into encouraging consumption in restaurants: fast-food companies spent $4.2 billion on marketing in 2009”.[iv] With busy lives, it’s no wonder that many in the U.S. are so hooked on junk foods, and the health of the nation is deteriorating.

Food companies are frequently blamed for the current crisis in health. The issue is often political and some believe this indicates a lack of corporate concern for public welfare. Health and nutrition expert Marion Nestle, of New York University, explains “The food industry spent billions to convince people that eating tons of junk food is normal, expected, and what adults and kids are supposed to do. Now, it faces a backlash driven by obesity and its health consequences”.[v] While a respected—socially responsible—company is generally known for its’ transparency, in keeping to a sound set of principles, as well as emboldening virtues and practices which are distinguishing, what is actually being represented in this case describes the opposite.

Companies like Starbucks consistently remain on the cutting edge and model social responsibility well by putting forth extra effort. In addition to “green” initiatives and ethical sourcing, Starbucks now offers healthier food and drinks—which are free of artificial flavors/dyes, trans-fats, and high-fructose corn syrup. On its website, the company makes available a comprehensive list of all nutrient content for each product that it sells, which is helpful to consumers who are concerned about making healthier choices.[vi] In expressing such a high level of social consciousness, as well as integrity, this enhances Starbucks’ public image, to a degree that allows the company to remain a cut above the rest in terms of social responsibility which can lure customers in and add to the bottom line.

Importantly, the food industry can play a significant role in promoting healthy diets, simply by ensuring the availability of healthy food choices.[vii] On the other hand, individuals can practice good stewardship by protecting their health, rather than taking such a crucial and valuable resource for granted. By inquiring about issues such as food safety, nutrition, and the integrity of food products—including the practices of the businesses who sell them, this will increase awareness and allow people to become more sophisticated consumers capable of making better-informed decisions. Ultimately, measures like these will enable people to take more control over their health and businesses can capitalize on a growing trend toward health and sustainability.

[i] Swinburn, Boyd. “Public Health Policy at the Mercy of Corporate Greed,” Union for International Cancer Control Website, 07 Sept. 2011, http://www.uicc.org/general-news/public-health-policy-mercy-corporate-greed. Web 05 Oct. 2011.

[ii] Fact sheet No. 312, World Health Organization Website, January 2011, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs312/en/index.html. Web 23 May 2011.

[iii] “Vital Signs,” Centers for Disease Control Website, http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/AdultObesity/LatestFindings.html. Web 10 Jun. 2011.

[iv] Bittman, Mark. “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?” The New York Times, 24 Sept. 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/opinion/sunday/is-junk-food-really-cheaper.html?_r=1. Web 5 Oct. 2011.

[v] Nestle, Marion. “Wall St. and Food: an Unhealthy Business Model,” The Atlantic, 30 Jun. 2011, http://www.theatlantic.com/life/archive/2011/06/wall-st-and-food-an-unhealthy-business-model/241278/. Web 17 Jun. 2011.

[vi] Starbucks Website. Http://www.starbucks.com/menu/nutrition. Web. 16 Aug. 2011.

[vii]Fact Sheet No. 311, World Health Organization Website (WHO), Mar. 2011,

About Orlando Saiz

International Affairs, International Politics, International Commerce


  1. Why Poor Diets Are Endangering American’s Health: A Major U.S. Concern « The Internationalist Papers - 2011.10.31

    […] than taking it for granted, by practicing good nutritional stewardship. (Read the full article at The Saturday Syndicate…) Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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