DHARMA Initiative Style Labeling Could Prevent Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes

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I took my sons for routine blood tests this week, and given that they are the offspring of two type 1 diabetics, you can imagine the fears in the back of my mind.  Their fasting blood glucose levels came back normal (thankfully), but what I found myself thinking about -surprisingly- when I looked over their results was – what if they had type 2 diabetes?  I always have type 1 diabetes on my mind because I know they may have a genetic predisposition to it.  But I don’t think it’s much of stretch to say that all of us eating a Western diet are predisposed to type 2 diabetes.

I do make an effort to keep my sons away from processed foods, soda, and junk food in general. I’m far from a tyrant about it, though.  And whenever they (or I) eat junk, I wish we weren’t eating it. But it’s everywhere, and sometimes -no matter how strong your will – it’s unavoidable.  So the question is, what will deter us from eating garbage food?  What can I do to keep my sons from wanting the food products that increase their risk for obesity and/or type 2 diabetes?

I touched on this subject in a post about whether Ronald McDonald should be forced into retirement.  And I’ve written before about why I’m not a fan of soda tax.  I think that America’s obesity (and diabetes) problem runs so deep that pointing a finger here or there isn’t going to solve anything. Soda is junk, but so is sugary cereal.  So are a thousand other products.  I don’t see small tax increases in these products, like 12 cents on a can of soda, as a real solution.  When it comes to a cigarette tax, however, I find myself feeling differently.

Recently I’ve been reading about Australia’s 25% tax increase on cigarettes.  This tax hike raised the price of cigarettes by $2 a box, which is enough, I believe to curb some cigarette purchases.  And moreover, as of July 1, 2012, cigarette packs in Australia will have no logos, color or font variation.  Each pack will bear the brand name and a graphic photo depicting the gruesome consequences of smoking like images of fat oozing out of blocked aortas, or rotting gums, or cancerous lungs.

Reading about this made me think that plain packaging laws might be a real solution for the obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemic in America.  Think of those DHARMA Initiative food containers on Lost.  If you weren’t stranded on an island, would you eat what’s in them?  No!  You’d never pay attention to them on a supermarket shelf.   If you had a choice, you’d choose the colorful, cheerful food boxes – the ones with pictures of attractive people, attractive food, or words like healthy and delicious written on them (even if they aren’t).  I’d do the same.

Of course, there are a million drawbacks to the idea of plain packaging laws.  I’m not about to raise a case for it here.  But I do think that it’s something that really could make an impact.  Imagine a plain white box with words Nabisco Chocolate Chip Cookies written on it in black print, and nothing more.  Not so exciting, right?  But wait… happens if you see a box labeled Swedish Fish.  Is there chewy candy or herring inside?

If we think about the Australian model of using gruesome photos on cigarette boxes, I say -in the case of junk food – that’s going way too far.  I think the shock effect wears off pretty quickly and we’d all stop noticing the ugly photo.  Or worse, it could have a Pavlovian effect.  Every time our kids saw a picture of diseased tissue, they might start to drool for candy.

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