Nickel-a-Meal Against Obesity: Local empowerment strategies best for anti-obesity changes

Stanford University Economics Professor Jeremy Below is one of many to call into question the effectiveness of the billion-dollar tobacco settlement payments. His conclusions suggest this money is either being used by states for other purposes or having limited impact on consumer smoking habits – even as lawyers collect huge fees.

Some are now wondering whether similar strategies are worth it for anti-obesity campaigns. Neighborhood and community involvement approaches offer greater hope for behavior change at a cost of perhaps as little as a nickel a meal.

Nickel-a-Meal Alternative

A Nickel-a-Meal involvement program would have fast food outlets voluntarily collect an extra nickel for each burger, value meal or entrée they sell. These funds could then be turned over to charitable community organizations or perhaps even schools to establish nutrition, physical education and food empowerment programs wherein people are given the opportunity to talk about food policies and the impact of fast food on the family or culture.

When restaurants, grocery stores and food outlets are like any other local business, residents can handle most critical issues and considerations. When fast food conglomerates capture entire commercial districts and integrate their incentives throughout commercial and public entities, the entire game of food health changes.

Which is why America now leads the world as a model exporter of fast, inexpensive and convenient food options and, as a result, is being frustratingly acknowledged as the world’s chief purveyor of dangerous weight, diabetes and other health concerns.

Brazil offers Zero Hunger Plan

Socially responsible plans that do not rely upon legal or government coercion have been shown to have much potential. The nation of Brazil, for example, recently chose to address its “Silent Killer” through a project called Fome Zero (Zero Hunger).

Scientists have demonstrated that Brazil is more than capable of meeting the 3000-calorie minimum daily requirements for its population. However, large percentages have not been getting what they need as food exports, profit concerns and regulations have made it difficult to keep food available to low-income populations.

Fome Zero was designed to allow localities to talk about and be engaged in food policies. Workshops, community gardens, farmers markets and even neighborhood, affordable restaurants arose by collaborative agreement between localities and the government.

The US now finds itself on the opposite side of food concerns. Obesity and diabetes issues threaten our future generations, particularly newcomer populations and persons of color living on low incomes. Estimates are that as many as 25% to 40% of some groups are at severe risk of major life-time health challenges because of their reliance on poor-quality menus of convenience.

The Nickel-a-Meal concept offers one way for America to understand and address this issue without involving lawyers or even the government. The question is whether the fast food industry and food suppliers in general will be willing to consider such options before it is too late.

Brazil’s Fome Zero plan is one route – but empowerment strategies only work through the voluntary actions of consumers alone. Hopefully America will take notice.

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