Cigarettes and junk food breeding epidemic?

Alex Greenlee | The Free Press

Posted on November 14, 2012 in Chiu On This, Sports
By Anna Chiu

The smoking ban will officially be enforced on campus starting in January with officials hoping to improve the health of the USM community.
Cancer, in fact, is the leading cause of death in Maine and has a higher rate than any other state, according to the Centers for Disease Control. They also estimated that 85 percent of all cancer diagnoses were due to preventable life habits, which include smoking and dieting habits.
Cigarettes have a bad reputation, given their laundry list of over 155 different carcinogens and toxins in a single cigarette. Reasons for the smoking ban are understandable, but there is another health issue that tops smoking or being around cigarette smoke for non-smokers.
The same mentality about smoking can be applied to junk food consumption. Junk food has been in our diets since childhood, so that now it is almost impossible to turn away when it is offered to us. Maine already tops the list in adult obesity nationwide at 28 percent, with 62.9 percent overweight.  According to data from the American Cancer Institute, improper diet is the cause of 40 percent of cancers in men and 60 percent in women. An improper diet constitutes consistent sugar intake  and consumption of less than five servings of fruits and vegetables, according to the USDA food pyramid.
The American Cancer Society estimated about 171,600 cancer deaths are due to tobacco use but they also suggest that a third of all cancer deaths are related to poor nutrition, overweight or obesity and physical inactivity. The relationship between cigarettes and junk food consumption is strikingly similar in how both can cause havoc in the body.
The production process of any junk food involves the addition of chemicals, which are carcinogenic to the human body, to help maintain freshness and elevate taste. Carcinogenic substances act slowly in the body, but they systemically poison it day by day.These ‘extra’ substances in junk food can become a precursor to a variety of health problems including obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and a multitude of cancers.
In Western societies, we tend to use junk food as positive reinforcement for children. Many elementary school teachers use candy to reward students for good behavior or effort, and it is instances like this when children learn and view candy as a good thing. Sophomore Clara Reed, a sociology major, recalls her earliest memories of junk food. “My mom used to have a drawer in the kitchen full of candy, and every time we did a chore she allowed us to go into the drawer and pick out our favorite piece of candy.”
At the Woodbury Campus Center, there are more varieties of king sized candy and chocolate in the snack aisle than topping choices at the salad bar. There is even a milk shake machine that was added this year, but it wasn’t decided by the dining committee. “How we decide what to offer is guided by student feedback,” said Chris Kinney, general manager of USM dining service. “We survey students online every semester to better understand their needs and preferences. We also conduct a dining committee meeting every other week that is open to all students.”
Just as smokers want their smoke, many students want their sugar fix. “I usually get some type of candy whenever I’m on campus, but I do think USM provides too much king sized chocolate and candy,” Reed said. “If I do want a particular chocolate, I end up buying the king sized because it’s the only size they have.”
Is providing king sized candy throughout campus is like supplying students with cigarettes?
Obesity is an epidemic and so is tobacco use. They’re both behavioral issues that can only be solved by individuals themselves through education and awareness.
One cigarette won’t cause cancer, it’s the accumulation of the deadly habit that increase your chances. Since the student voice dictates what is served on campus, the most vital tool is education, and not just nutrition. The science behind how ingredients react and also interact systemically in our bodies and the potential harm it can cause in the future should be recognized. People are exposed to numerous carcinogenic situations that go unnoticed on a daily basis. For instance, breathing the fumes at a gas station exposes you to benzene, a known carcinogen to the human body. Nobody talks about banning barbecuing even though it has been proved to emit smoke similar to cigarettes.
Public health policies, such as the smoking ban, continue to be in charge of ignorance which is why education is necessary to bring awareness to the forefront. USM needs to realize that junk food consumption is a habit as deadly as smoking. They could start by offering smaller sized choices instead of king sized. Education will allow students to make the best decisions for their health. The statistical data is available, but we need to rethink how we handle junk food consumption and how the systemic havoc is similar to smoking.