Is the Recession Making Us Fat?

>> Monday, June 8, 2009

One of our planners extraordinaire, Betsy Levine, writes this intriguing response to a recent article about rising obesity rates. Is the recession to blame? Betsy has a thought or two.

Hope this finds you well -- Jim.

Take it away, Betsy:

In a posting to the Human Condition blog from Newsweek on June 1, Kate Dailey asks “Is the Recession Making Americans Fatter?” (click here for article)

Apparently, in the last year the number of Americans who are obese has increased 1.7% -- almost 5.5 million more people are now obese than a year ago. Is the recession making it worse? They do call it comfort food for a reason (and aren’t we all looking for a little comfort), but when did comfort food come to mean McDonalds (the article points out that fast food sales are up) rather than a thick slice of mom’s meatloaf with mashed potatoes?

Rising obesity has been a trend for years…it’s bigger than the recession. Americans’ fundamental relationship with food is really at the heart of the issue. We have come to see everyday food as something that is produced, fully-formed from a microwavable box. It’s fast, filling, cheap and doesn’t require thought or skill. Food that does is more pornography than anything else, an out-of-reach ideal to be salivated over (thank you, Giada DeLaurentiis).

What is extremely interesting about the timing of this jump in obesity rates is how much anti-processed foods drumbeating there’s been during the same time period. Michael Pollen (The Omnivore’s Dilemma), Alice Waters (Chez Panisse), and Mark Bittman (NYT’s Minimalist) are a few of the figures who have been commanding a lot of media attention, with variations on a back-to-basics philosophy of eating.

What these numbers say is that their message isn’t breaking through to those at risk. Is the back-to-basics eating philosophy too intellectual to become a mass movement? Does someone who eats fast food 5x a week assume that they could never afford to eat that way because it comes from the pages of the New York Times? Do people believe that healthy eating is out of reach for them? Or does it just seem too hard -- is the convenience of a mass produced burger more seductive than wellness?

As marketers of wellness, how do we out-market the squishy, soft, manufactured yummy-ness of a Fluffernutter on Wonder Bread?

- Betsy Levine, Strategic Planner at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness


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