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How the Food Industry is Enabling the United States’ Obesity Epidemic

Danielle Moodie-Mills
Think Progress / News Report
Published: Saturday 12 January 2013
So even when people make a concerted effort to make healthy choices, there is still a great possibility that they are consuming the very product that is causing their weight gain—sugar—and the government isn’t doing enough about it.
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Obesity has long been framed as an issue of personal responsibility. The prevailing notion has been that if people simply stop eating junk food and start eating healthy fruits and vegetables, they will maintain a healthy weight.

And even though most Americans agree that obesity is a critical public health issue facing the nation — 83 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of Independents and 65 percent of Republicans rank it as a “serious issue” — opinions about how personal responsibility factors into the epidemic are somewhat divided along party lines. Democrats tend to believe that both the individual and government are responsible for combating the obesity epidemic, while Republicans believe the onus falls largely on the individual.

The “personal responsibility” argument assumes that people can simply avoid sugar and other unhealthy additives by staying away from fast foods. But Dr. Robert Lustig, the author of the new book Fat Chanceexplained this week on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that avoiding sugar — which he believes to be a major cause of America’s weight issue — may not be as easy as it seems:

One-third of the sugar in our diets comes from soda and sweetened beverages, you can taste it. One-sixth is in desserts, you know about those as well, but half of all the sugar consumed in this country comes from food you didn’t know had sugar in it — like hamburger buns, hamburger meat, and salad dressing, for instance.

So even when people make a concerted effort to make healthy choices, there is still a great possibility that they are consuming the very product that is causing their weight gain. And the government isn’t doing enough about it.

A few years ago, a group of doctors at Mount Sinai took out an advertisement in the New York Times pressuring the government to stop subsidizing food that was making Americans sick. “High-fructose corn syrup [HFCS] now represents 40 percent of the non-calorie-free sweeteners added to U.S. foods. It is virtually the only sweetener used in soft drinks,” the research physicians wrote in their advertisement. “Because of the subsidies, the cost of soft drinks containing HFCS has decreased by 24 percent since 1985, while the price of fruits and vegetables has gone up by 39 percent.”

But after the negative comments regarding HFCS went viral, corn refiners simply released a commercial rebranding HFCS as “corn sugar,” and purporting the safety of the re-named additive saying “corn sugar or cane sugar, sugar is sugar and your body doesn’t know the difference.”

Nearly one-third of American children and adolescents are labeled as overweight or obese, and they are expected to be the first generation who won’t live as long as their parents due to high cholesterol, diabetes, and other metabolic diseases. So will the government finally see fit to engage in the sugar debate and take a hard look at the crops they are subsidizing — or will Americans have to wait for this epidemic to reach its precipice, much like the battle against cigarettes? Let’s hope not, because the current health care system may just break under the extra weight.

ABOUT Danielle Moodie-Mills

Danielle Moodie-Mills is an Advisor for LGBT Policy and Racial Justice at the Center for American Progress and the Director of Environmental Education at the National Wildlife Federation.

So many of these comments

So many of these comments fall into the same trap as is highlighted by the article. They fall back on seeing health in terms of individual behavior, rather than the result of social, political, economic and environmental forces. Diet is shaped by the way we live our lives - by our income, our access to good nutrition and by our dietary cultures. Change has to come in access to food in terms of price and availability for all - especially those who have the fewest resources, it has to come in terms of the regulation of harmful ingredients in the manufacture of prepared foods and the promotion of those foods, it has to come in terms of building skills in home preparation of food as well as recovering the time it takes to prepare food for a family.

Personal diet needs to change, but unless change happens at other levels within society, it is unlikely to have any impact.

Please pay heed to prior

Please pay heed to prior commenters Tman418 and Brad Roon. Believe it or not, how MUCH you RUN AROUND, WHAT you EAT, and how MUCH you EAT are ALL factors. No, weight loss - and especially overall health and fitness, whether a bit overweight or not - are NOT in practice rocket science for the average person, even though many details are not fully known. No need to hold your breath until governments do the right thing - or at any rate better things. At least meanwhile follow Michael Pollan's advice: Eat [real] food; not too much; mostly plants. And follow others' equally cogent simple advice. Live (and eat) simply, that others may simply live. Eat to live, not live to eat: if you and your body get busy running around and doing real stuff, you will learn (if you don't already know) that a slightly unfilled stomach is usually better than a slightly overfilled stomach.

By the way, I watch very few videos but was entranced with Lustig's 'Sugar: the bitter truth'. However some of Lustig's sweeping claims are not reliable. In particular - as pointed out by (among others) Durrian-rider - for hundreds of generations our primal ancestors - as indeed some folks today - did eat lots of fruits and so our bodies do accommodate some amounts of fructose quite happily. This is one of many points of potential worry where instead of worrying about the consequences of eating a lot of one thing (rather than maybe of another thing), the simpler and more effective tactic is not to eat too much at all.

The thoughts of ghost

The thoughts of ghost thinker, Gloria Swanson, as logged by William Duffy in SUGAR BLUES, are still vibrant and prescient as then showing sugar to be an addictive drug, extremely harmful and its use promoted by the sugar industry the way toilet paper manufacturers love diarrhea. Children dropping dead sooner than their parents at the end of their life line according to recent studies is not unexpected to Swanson/Duffy readers. These studies should examine electronic transmissions with inescapable invisible smog of countless waves of electricity surrounding us, and new genetically modified plants and animals having nano or pico particles as building blocks of newly designed food.

We who look at the

We who look at the health/natural/organic/food side of things tend to be disgusted with the drug pusher's drug of the week hype, but don't seem the reflection in our own supplement of the week mania.

As for the "paleo diet" our paleo ancestors used a lot of fruits in very high quantities. Natives picked berries by the ton. When a fruit tree became ripe it was a major portion of food for as long as the food was available, and much was dried. In N America for pemmican, etc. There were native villages in Virginia in which they cultivated 15,000 acres of food for that village. Much was the 3 Sisters; corn, beans, squash.
Fresh, and variety are keys, but diet alone is insufficient. New studies link the sedentary lifestyle with numerous problems. In fact sitting all day is now being linked as a life-shortening experience similar to tobacco usage or other well known health problems.

Our foot is our most refined and specific piece of human anatomy. Not our butts.

The government need to

The government need to subsidize Americans who can grow their own food via a vegetable/fruit garden. The would greatly improve health by cutting down on pesticides, processed food, and great exercise.

To bad big Agriculture would go ballistic sensing that their profits are being threatened.

A great place to start would be for schools to have their own vegetable/fruit garden. Having such a garden would be a great teaching/learning tool.

Unfortunately our politicians are caught up in nursery the bankster and corporation either to become millionaires themselves, remain in office, and get in office. What a sad bunch of unprincipled, integrityless, people we have representing We the people.

be careful even with animal

be careful even with animal fats. The key to ALL of it is in the proportions and frequencies. Check out what is known as the Paleo Diet, but be sure to understand WHY. No one-size-fits-all approach fits all.

A factor I have not seen many people ever mention is the ever-increasing elapsed times from harvest to table of the foods we consume "fresh". Vital nutrients, most of which never even get talked about, are lost every minute of that time. And in the case of non-organically grown foods, especially those of varieties bred and chosen to physically tolerate the abuses of "post-harvest-handling", there is less of that nutrition in them to begin with.

Corn prices went up from an

Corn prices went up from an annual average of $2.13 per bushel in 2002 to $6.01 per bushel in 2011. This makes it extremely hard to understand how those oft-deplored subsidies have made corn products any cheaper. In fact, the subsidies for ethanol production from corn have helped drive up its price because of the demand for fuel from ethanol. Am I missing something? Can somebody more familiar with agricultural economics please explain?

An economic analysis along

An economic analysis along with a lecture by Lustig:

The saturated fat scam: What’s the real story?


While I do believe that

While I do believe that governments should stop subsidizing corn and start subsidizing healthy fruits and vegetables, the obesity epidemic can hardly be solved with government policies alone.

People act like junk food and soda were invented 15 years ago. They also pretend that junk food just recently became cheap. Yet my mom tells me that when she was a kid, one could buy 6 candy bars for $0.25, which is roughly $2.00 today. That's still cheap. Junk food and soda have always been cheap. But back in the day, kids used to run and play outside, often with their parents. And they did this while eating junk food and drinking soda. And there wasn't an "obesity epidemic" back then.

Also, you cannot truthfully claim that the foods and drinks we eat today are worse for us than what generations before us consumed. Back then, even after the FDA was invented, there were plenty of packaged meals and canned foods and drinks that didn't have any nutrient information or ingredients list on them. Today, we have no excuse to not know how many nutrients we're getting with every serving.

And whoever says, "Fast food is cheaper," is full of it. You want proof? Go to your local grocery store. Buy enough non-organic produce so that you can eat a salad once a day, for a week. Then the next week, buy yourself a non-breakfast fast food meal everyday at McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, wherever. Heck, even IF fast food was cheaper, which is proven to not be true, there's no excuse for obesity. Fast food joints serve salads now!

Our taste buds are designed by nature to crave salt, sugar, and fat. That's because these nutrients are rare, in nature. But our bodies don't know that we are living in a modern world where science has made these nutrients abundant. But our bodies will always believe that it needs more fat.

You wanna lose weight, it's simple. It's not easy, but it's simple. Deal with the hunger. Hunger=fat leaving the body. You're body hates burning fat, but you must deal with it.

And if you wanna keep off the pounds, remember these rules.
1. If you sit in a chair all day without supplemental exercise, then 3 square meals a day is guaranteed to make you fat.
2. If you're not handicapped and don't have a heavy load, take the stairs up at least 2 floors, and go down the stairs for at least 3 floors.
3. Have you considered riding your bike instead of driving? Maybe even public transportation? After all, many buses have bike racks, and many subways allow you to take your bike on the train.
4. If you're local reservoir isn't contaminated, have you considered drinking tap water instead of soda?
5. Have you considered home cooking instead of going out to eat? Salads take very little time and effort, btw.
6. Hey, you're at a fast food restaurant. You know they have salads, right?

At the end of the day, we humans need to exercise more. We need to get up and move around, play outside, interact with each other. We also need to use our brains more. Studies show that we burn more calories when we use our brains as opposed to sitting around watching TV and playing video games.

If we want to keep ourselves at a healthy body fat % at the current average physical activity level, we would have to settle for flavorless food and drinks. And some artificial sweeteners have been linked to cancer and other health problems, including dental problems.

So, do your best to lobby our government to shift some corn subsidies over to fruits and vegetables. Also, we need to encourage our suburban neighborhoods to grow food instead of grass. The rest is up to us individually.

TMAN418 has rather limited

TMAN418 has rather limited knowledge of studies concerning losing weigh. You do not lose weight in exercising and in counting calories. This is merely a recipe for failure. Stop counting calories and start using animal fats with your proteins.
Limiting sugar intake is the first step to a better life meaning living with a minimum of carbohydrates as carbohydrates become sugar in your body. Avoid fresh fruit, it is water and sugar. Use green vegetables grown above the ground. Start using animal fat, butter and olive oil with your vegetables proteins and eggs. Almost immediately your hunger pangs are gone just as your longing for sweets even alcohol. You do not get fat from the right kind of fat. This is how to lose weight without hunger, you will find diabetes 2 disappearing, asthma the same.

Weight loss is NOT

Weight loss is NOT rocket-science. There is 0% complication and there is 0% need in a strategy for losing weight. You have to burn more calories than you eat. Your body must get used to eating a fewer amount of calories. I know this because I went through a weight loss program. It wasn't really much of a program. I just ate less, ate better, and I stopped sitting around all day and exercised. I dealt with hunger in the short term but after awhile my body didn't mind eating less than it burned, and I went from 185 lbs with no muscle at all to 160 with lots of lean muscle and a six pack and veins on my arms. Do you honestly think that a morbidly obese person who is accustomed to eating 15,000 calories a day is going to easily accept a 1,500 calorie diet? Of course they won't. But they'll just have to deal with it if they don't wanna die from being fat.

You are correct on the carbs, but very wrong on the fruit. Fruits have necessary nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. The water and sugar inside of them are good for you, as long as the fruit isn't contaminated. The idea that we should avoid fruit is ridiculous, even if you don't do any exercise. I ate plenty of fruit, still lost weight.

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