A junk food response to a junk food problem

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Do you have a junk food problem?

Junk food definition (according to Merriam-Webster):

(1)Food that is high in calories but low in nutritional content

(2) Something that is appealing or enjoyable but of little or no real value

We as a society are making people fatter. Over the years, the combined media emphasis on appearance and weight  has fostered extreme self-consciousness and shame about how we look. Add to that an obsessive focus on eating or not-eating the right or wrong foods.

Recent efforts in the UK, USA and Canada to tax junk food has been offered up as a solution. But it is more likely to add to the stress.

Taxing junk food is a band-aid attempt to fix a complex problem. First, excess weight is often seen as a health issue that contributes to other more serious concerns. However, excess weight is actually a symptom, an outward sign that all is not right. How  absurd to focus on the symptom without addressing the complex set of underlying issues. That’s a typical North American quick-and-easy fix – that won’t work!

As a symptom, overweight can be linked to our thin-obsessed culture with its emphasis on weight-loss schemes mixed with tempting ever-present ads for food, restaurants, and recipes — all within the same TV talk show, commercial break or magazine pages.

So many other factors contribute to excess weight: the abundance of cheap fast-food,  poverty, stress, loneliness, environmental toxins and a lack of emotional awareness. As a psychotherapist, the latter concerns me the most.

As a society, we eat more food than we need. We do it for pleasure (it tastes great), to cope with stress (it is comforting), to avoid problems (eating is a nifty and handy diversion), and to escape from uncomfortable feelings. Numerous studies have demonstrated that junk food especially, with its high fat and sugar content, can induce a high similar to that obtained from cocaine, or a calm similar to that induced by marijuana.

Can we or should we blame people, especially youngsters, for wanting junk food? Taxing it without finding ways to offset it’s desirability and the cost of healthy and accessible alternatives seems foolhardy.

First, there’s the rebellion factor. Tell kids of any age that something is bad, or that society frowns on it, and it is highly likely they will want to do it all the more – a natural response.

Better to teach people about their emotions and less harmful ways to manage stress. Better to address why people have  too much junk food in their diets.

The idea of taxing junk-food is a bit of a fad nowadays. It gives the appearance of action, and is a relatively easy or simplistic solution. So much less complicated than addressing what’s really going on.

According to an article in The Guardian (Oct 7. 2016), junk food is “shortening lives of children.” Citing a World Health Organization (WHO) report, solutions include “including introducing tough regulations to protect children from the marketing of unhealthy food, ensuring schools promote healthy eating and physical activity, strengthening planning and building rules to provide safe neighborhoods, and monitoring the impact of these policies.”

The low cost availability of junk food is only a small piece of the puzzle. Taxing it to make it more expensive is a quick, cheap and easy fix – much like junk food itself!

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