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Need to Know, August 17, 2012: Obesity in America

This week's host, Scott Simon. Photo: Will O’Leary

On this week’s episode, we report on the nation’s high obesity and diabetes rates, which are disproportionately impacting children in low-income communities.

Need to Know reports from the Bronx in New York City, where we take an in-depth look at the Department of Health’s campaign to reverse this dangerous trend.

Later, anchor Scott Simon interviews Ross Hammond of the Brookings Institute to get his take on whether or not the federal government can help solve the nation’s obesity epidemic.

This week’s “American Voices” essay is from entrepreneur Haile Johnston, who provides fresh food to residents of inner-city Philadelphia.

Read the full transcript.

What’s on this week:

Saving Carla

An in-depth look at how the nation’s obesity problem resonates for one family in the Bronx.

Interview: Ross Hammond

A conversation with Ross Hammond of the Brookings Institute on whether the federal government can provide the answer to America’s obesity epidemic.

American Voices

This week’s essay is by Haile Johnston, who helps provides fresh food to residents of inner-city Philadelphia.

Web Exclusive: Interview with Kerry McLean

Kerry McLean, community director at WHEDco, a woman’s housing and economic development corporation in the Bronx, speaks about her work helping local residents start their own Green Carts in NYC.

Watch more full episodes of Need to Know.


  • OCTheo

    No good food comes in a can, packaged, pasteurized or preserved. Teaching kids how to read labels is passing wrong information in an early age.

    Even trained scientists, are confused by US food labels, because the USDA has fallen asleep on the job. Children should be taught about the important of raw fruits and vegetables, not fas food food labeling. 

    I can get anyone with diabetes, healthy and out of medication in 30 days. All it takes is to get a juicer and drink green juice everyday. It is simple, economical for the patient and lifesaving. The person looses weight and keeps it off for life. Healthy food does not come from a factory. It comes from a farm. Most grocery stores are like disease dissemination centers, full of dead, processed foods. This is why Americans are so fat and so sick.

  • Farmer A

    A lot of this obesity that is going on is the chemicals we are pumping in to our foods . Remember when chicken breast where not bigger than your hand? How about beef remember when your cows took 2-3 years before they were ready to be eat? When eggs only came in one size? Did the brilliant ones who invented these steroids think for a secound that when we pump this crap in to the foods people eat they maybe affected? My oldest son is very skinny he refuses to eat meat he eats veggies and fruits and lots of peanut butter. My 11 year old is 5’9” and wieghs 168 pounds he eats meat and veggies, but he mostly eats meat. I noticed that when we all decided to see if eating just veggies would make a skinnier for one month we ate no meat. My 11 year old went in to a tail spin he used to be hungry all the time eat dinner and the 20 mins later he was hungry. He did not do that anymore he was not so hungry. So I took it apon myself to see what it is that makes us so hungry when we eat meat!! thats when I found out about the stuff they put in the animals before slaughter to make them better?!!! No they are pumping these animals with steriods I remember a comercial talking about riod rage?? Notice more violence these days ? Notice that we as a nation are suffering for diabetes and obesity ? Amazing how antibotics are not healing as well these days? guess why you are getting your antibotics from the food you eat so of course you body and the viruses are becoming ammun to them we take them in to our bodies every meal we eat!!  Your worried just about obesity and diabetes open your eyes worry about the next bite your children might take maybe that final dose to ruin thier immune system. Have ibs or crones study whats in the meat and eggs you eat !!! Might want to check out those new extra large veggies that science has made to end world hunger !!! you don’t think the substance used to inlarge it will find its way in to your body??? Just a few things to think about …………. No I am not a vegeterian I just know only eat meat from my farm and the veggies and fruits I grow. My animals see the vet and are all in good health, but they are steriod free and thats one thing I did to stop the obesity in my family !!

  • sandra m

    Of course sugar is a major source of the obesity epidemic. However, I believe there are other foods we need to examine. Compare photos of people today with photos of people from forty, fifty years ago. You will notice that, on average, people from earlier decades had a smaller body mass. Did they exercise more or eat less? No and no. Folks then ate the same fatty foods and sugary drinks. But, those fatty foods-fried chicken, burgers, etc.-weren’t loaded with hormones and antibiotics that were injected into the food animals to artificially plump them up. That’s what’s in the food animals today. Why wouldn’t those same additives, then, plump up the consumers who eat the food animals?  We should give this proposition serious study.

  • Anonymous

    Carla’s mother on her number one obstacle to feeding Carla a healthy diet:
    “Not enough money.”

    If you saw the movie, “Food Inc.,” you may also recall the scene wherein the poor family was grocery shopping, one child wanted fresh broccoli, and the parents reluctantly reached the conclusion their budget couldn’t take the hit.

    Poor people in many communities simply cannot afford fresh food.

    So, educating people about healthy eating is not enough.  We need to make sure that every American can afford an appropriate diet.

  • Anonymous

    I mostly loved the story and found it inspiring.

    Yet, I do think that the prevailing “scientific” approach to diet is too reductionist and largely unhelpful, not to mention corrupted by business interests.

    For example, the “expert” from the Brookings Inst. kept talking about “obesity” as THE problem, when obesity itself is a symptom of a diet and lifestyle that is unnatural.  One can be very unhealthy without being obese.  For example, many overweight people were lured into the Atkins approach, and I knew a number of them.  They lost a lot of weight but they were anything but healthy. 

    I agree with OCTheo that the most important step we can take is to move away from processed foods and toward fresh, home-prepared foods with a high percentage being raw.  From what I’ve experienced myself and seen in others, this is the most promising approach.  Reading labels on what is essentially devitalized pseudo-food will only get us so far.  Also, the idea that human nutrition can be reduced to getting x of this vitamin and y of that mineral is laughable.  The body is extraordinarily complex – way more so than any machine created by Man – and everything in it is affected by everything else.  The smart way to eat is not to make an equation out of it but to eat a variety of foods in close to their natural form as possible, to observe what kinds of diets and food preparation have worked historically, to use one’s own intuition, and to simply make use of trial and error to see what works for you, personally.

  • Danielle

    Excellent piece! This is such an important issue for us to all understand. I hope one day junk food is taxed as aggressively as nicotine products and the income is used to subsidize fresh produce!