“We live in a toxic environment, one that is almost supremely designed to cause us to gain weight,” says David Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D., head of the Optimal Weight for Life Program at Children's Hospital in Boston. “This includes constant availability of high-calorie, poor-quality foods and direct or indirect government subsidies for these very poor-quality foods. There’s a lot of profit being made by companies selling us more food than we need with less quality than we need.”
My Kingdom for an Apple!
Fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes – found “in study after study” to promote good health and reduce body weight – can be more difficult to find and more expensive than processed or refined foods, Ludwig says.
“Walk into a school and for a few quarters in the vending machine you can come up with a large soft drink,” he notes. “But try getting a fresh, tasty apple in the afternoon in a school.”
Vending machines are particularly problematic, Ludwig says, because schools often rely on the profits made from sales of high-calorie snacks to make up for inadequate school budgets.
School lunch programs are another problem. While the programs are intended to provide healthful food to kids, they are also used to dispense food deemed as surplus by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That means surplus food is a “potentially dominating factor” in determining what gets served in school lunch programs because there are profits involved, Ludwig says. “If there’s a surplus of corn, you’ll find a lot of corn on school menus, even though corn is a starchy vegetable with fewer vitamins and minerals per calorie than many green, leafy vegetables.”
Where's the Fresh Produce?
Schools aren’t the only places where healthful food is often hard to find. Because supermarkets prefer suburbs to cities, low-income, inner-city families have trouble finding fresh produce in their neighborhood markets.