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The Perishable Pundit Visits South Africa
Dispatch III — UK Weighs In On Obesity

In the old days, you could at least run into London and either do some business, visit with friends, shop or sightsee. But with the security issues, going back through security can be such a hassle you don’t even want to bother.

It also would be nice to take a shower, and shower facilities are available. But with the limits on carry-on, you can’t fit a change of clothes, especially if you need a laptop, cell phone and some business papers.

So I killed a day in the British Airways lounge where, among other things, they have plenty of British papers. I thought it would be interesting to go through them all and see what items are of interest to our business. We’ll run some from time to time:

The Guardian ran a major focus on the “Obesity Epidemic”. The report consists of three separate articles. The first explains that a group of “health campaigners” is leading a fight to get advertisements for “junk food” banned before 9:00pm. There is mention of a report, “Forecasting Obesity to 2010”, which predicts that one in three men would be obese by 2010, as would three out of four women.

The article is filled with health advocates pushing for — with government approval — a voluntary code for advertisers to be drawn up, one which could become mandatory if the volunteer program wasn’t satisfactory. But the government doesn’t like a mandatory ban. A great quote from Patricia Hewitt, Britain’s Health Secretary:

“We’ve already stepped in, but there’s only so much the government can do. People need to want to change their lifestyles and take responsibility for their health.”

The Pundit agrees with the Minister, but finds the whole article bizarre. At no point does the reporter seem to ask anyone if there is the slightest scintilla of evidence that banning ads of junk food before 9:00pm would reduce obesity in children or anyone else.

A second piece in The Guardian’s coverage is a Fashion piece that focuses on the move by retailers and manufacturers of women’s clothing to feature plus sizes in their lineups. The piece mentions that from the 1950’s to 2002, the British woman has gained almost 7 pounds, 2.5 inches around the hips and 7 inches around the waist.

A similar trend for men is expected to result in similar changes there.

The article is fair enough, but misses the more interesting story: Manufacturers and retailers who keep the same sizes but secretly increase the actual width of the clothes — thus allowing people to gain weight without having to buy larger sizes.

The final piece in The Guardian’s Obesity coverage is a report on a town by the name of Bradford, which Men’s Health magazine named Britain’s fattest city. There is a lot of psychobabble: “The socio-economic state of a large city which suffered industrial decline is an important context…” and reports on various efforts being made to reverse the situation.

What really comes across is how incredibly lame any of the responses are. They talk about having general practitioners “prescribe” walks and subsidizing the purchase of home gym equipment. Considering how much home exercise equipment that sits idle, I highly doubt that subsidized exercise equipment will do much good at all.

Fun And Passion At Trader Joe’s

We discussed Trader Joe’s in our pieces about Tesco here and here. Tesco is planning a concept that is roughly the same square footage as Trader Joe’s.

The Dallas Morning News article is about people so passionate about Trader Joe’s that they take detours on vacations — with empty suitcases in tow — to go to Trader Joe’s stores and otherwise search it out for gourmet items they can bring back home.

What also comes across is that Trader Joe’s has a razor-sharp focus on who its prototypical customer is…and that it is kind of fun.

I think we all underestimate the extent to which consumers think shopping for groceries is usually drudgery. If we worried less about making our stores streamlined and consistent and more about making them fun, we would do much better.

Pundit Mailbag:
Measuring Childhood Obesity


Yes, I think school foodservice has an impact on the well being of our children and it is probably something that is not measurable. There is a lot of things in life you can’t measure, but you know it’s for the betterment of your lifestyle.

— Eli Hudson
Produce Specialist
Pate Dawson Company

Eli Hudson is responding to our piece regarding the questionable effectiveness of changing school lunch programs to decrease childhood obesity. To review the article, you can see it here.

I have no reason to doubt Mr. Hudson’s sincerity in wishing to resolve this problem, and his claim that there are certain things in life that can’t be measured is certainly true.

But it is not true about this issue. Whether a change in school lunch programs reduces childhood obesity is pretty easy to research. You have two groups of schools with comparable demographics. You alter the menu in the manner based on what you are looking to test, such as whether a salad bar added will have an impact. If we stop selling soda in the vending machines, will that have an impact? Whatever you look to study.

Then you weigh the kids and do BMI statistics both before you start and at set intervals throughout the study. Then you find out if it had an impact.

Note that, inherently, the study may not require a caloric change in the lunch program or the soda consumption and the study may still cause the change in the weight or the BMI. As Mr. Hudson indicates, changes can come through kids who "take that message home and eat better at home."

But if the study shows no difference between the control group and the group exposed to the policy change, then we have no reason to implement the program.

Analyzing these things is very important. Otherwise, every Tom, Dick and Harry with a harebrained scheme will lay claim to Federal Funds to change dietary programs in schools.

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