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Letter: Solving obesity requires structural change, not just healthier choices

FILE - In this May 8, 2014, file photo, an overweight person is seen in New York.
Mark Lennihan, Associated Press

When speaking of obesity, one rarely hears of the conditions that incentivize the consumption of nonnutritious food. It is no coincidence that obese people are disproportionately poor and live in food deserts. A food desert defines a low-income area where residents live more than 1 mile away from a grocery store with nutritional food items. A mile-long journey by transit can be an excursion of hours and in a society where time is money, poor folk are not to blame for the oversaturation of fast food chains. Even if poor folks had the luxury of choice, it still doesn’t account for the fact that nutritious food costs more while giving you half the calories, steering the cost-effective choice away from the nutritionally sound one.

The government does not subsidize nutritious food like it does surplus crops that end up in fast and processed food, conveniently making fast food much more profitable. A $4 box of spinach is not nearly as filling as a meal provided by a fast food chain at half the cost. One would need to eat 2-3 times the amount of nutritious food to duplicate the calories given by fast food meals.

So far, solutions to obesity have been largely based in pushing individuals to make “healthier” choices. The issue with this approach — and the reason why obesity is still on the rise — is that it treats people as consumers and not as citizens who have a right to demand better access to nutritional food. This approach turns citizens against each other and effectively takes the onus away from policymakers who actually have the power to change the structural factors that promote obesity. In order to make effective solutions, we need to work together to move away from Band-Aid fixes and towards meaningful policy change.

Marilisa Vega

Salt Lake City