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Selling Obesity—Food as a Cheap and Legal Drug

Today, a growing majority of people have changed their food choices according to illogical and misdirected concepts from the food industry, which has resulted in wasted food and money and a threat to public health. Each pound of body fat represents wasted food whether it is on the waistline or in the landfill. All the while, the food industry has enjoyed watching Americans gain weight while they reaped the financial rewards.

During the past 60 years, the U.S. food industry has been remarkably successful in merging small family farms into giant corporations while families that previously cooked at home now buy and consume almost half their meals prepared outside the home. The food service sector of the U.S. economy generates trillions of dollars in sales annually and accounts for 13% of the U.S. gross national product (GNP) while employing 17% of the nation’s labor force [1, p. 11]. Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University, points out in Food Politics that the public spends $800 billion annually on food and drink with $90 billion going to alcoholic beverages [1, p. 11].

Economic pressures in agriculture, poor government policies, and the food industry sponsorship of nutrition professionals, their continuing education programs, and publications have produced the obesity crisis. Dr. Nestle outlines how food companies influence government nutrition policy through lobbyists and political action committee contributions to candidates [1, p. 12]. She also describes how health-care professionals, including dietitians, are influenced by corporate-sponsored education and research activities through consulting payments, lectures, memberships on advisory boards, and sponsorships of professional journals.

The very nutritional professionals who were supposed to teach and guide the policy makers to make better public health policy in order to help avert the obesity crisis were won over by the food industry. At a recent American Dietetic Association’s Annual Meeting—now the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics—more than 30 food, beverage, and nutrition supplement companies provided sessions with sponsored speakers who offered attendees free gifts and/or coupons for patients. No wonder it is hard to determine what is healthy when nutrition professionals are industry promoters instead of creative thinkers.

Joseph Mercola, doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO), illustrated the food industry ties to the most widely known academic institution in the field of nutrition—the American Society for Nutrition (ASN). Three academic journals including the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition are published by the organization. In June 2015, Michele Simon, a public health law attorney for 20 years, was interviewed by Dr. Mercola in his online newsletter. She stated, “Food, beverage, supplement, biotech, and pharmaceutical industry leaders are able to purchase cozy relationships with the nation’s top nutrition researchers” [2] and revealed the disturbing ties between the ASN and the primary purveyors of obesity and chronic diseases [3].

The obesity crisis has been caused by three significant changes in our food and nutrition policy during the past 50 years. Each one of these factors needs to be modified individually and nationally if the obesity battle is to be won.

High-fat and high-sugar foods need to be replaced with unprocessed real foods that do not contain additives and preservatives, artificial colors, and flavors.

Alcohol consumption provides empty calories that may increase the government taxation bottom line but only causes inflammation in the brain and liver.

Sedentary lifestyles need to be modified and Americans educated to put away their electronics long enough each day to increase oxygen uptake and muscle movement for improved nutrient and waste recycling in every cell of the body.

Food is necessary to human survival yet many people have problems controlling the quantity and quality. Obesity extracts a tremendous cost in the form of disease risk and physical encumbrance. The addictive properties of food can trigger compulsive eating behaviors in a drug-like manner [4, p. 39].

Neurobiological effects of sugar and simple carbohydrates described by Haddock and Dill in Food as a Drug lead to habitual and difficult to control reactions similar to drug addiction. The addict becomes dependent on the mood or behavior effects of the drug or sugar [4, p. 20]. One explanation is that high-carbohydrate meals alter tryptophan levels that stimulate 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) synthesis. The elevation of 5-HTP level leads to carbohydrate ingestion. When protein is consumed, the tryptophan and 5-HTP decrease, and the individual craves carbohydrates again, leading to the overeating cycle

[4, p. 39].

Questions about whether sugar and high-glycemic carbohydrates can act as potent psychoactive drugs in the obesity model abound. Convincing obese individuals that they are powerless to control their intake of sugar and high-glycemic carbohydrates may lead to feelings of deprivation and low self-esteem, but that only increases the parallel between foods and drugs. Sweet cravings were associated with opiate addiction by Willenbring et al. in 1989. The opiate antagonist naloxone has been shown to be helpful in reducing sweet and high-fat snack preferences [4, p. 130].

Schulte et al. propose that highly processed foods share pharmacokinetic properties—such as concentrated dose and rapid rate of absorption—with abused drugs. The fat and high-glycemic carbohydrates are rapidly absorbed into the blood creating an addiction-like eating behavior [5]. Professor Sidney Mintz sheds light on how sugar became such an addictive substance in Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. As a food anthropologist he writes

In 1000 ad, few Europeans knew of the existence of sucrose, or cane sugar. But soon afterward they learned about it; by 1650 in England the nobility and the wealthy had become inveterate sugar eaters, and sugar figured in their medicine, literary imagery, and displays of rank. By no later than 1800 sugar had become necessity in the diet of every English person; by 1900, it was supplying nearly one-fifth of the calories in the English diet ... That human beings like the taste of sweetness does not explain why some eat immense quantities of sweet foods and others hardly any [6].

The thesis of Dr. Mintz’s work was to identify that food choices are related to availability and that preferences are identified at the center of an individual’s self-definition. Food advertisements—especially those of the high-sugar soda producers—focus on the self-identity issue.

Winning the battle against high-fat and high-sugar foods is not an easy task when food companies like Coca Cola, the world’s largest producer of sugary beverages, fund studies stating that the new “science-based” solution to the obesity crisis is to maintain a healthy weight by getting more exercise and not worrying about calories [7]. The company backed a nonprofit organization of professors at three U.S. universities called the Global Energy Balance Network whose message was meant to divert criticism away from the role sugary drinks have played in the obesity crisis.

In Soda Politics, Marion Nestle described the research organization as a “front group for Coca Cola’s agenda to confuse the science and deflect attention from dietary intake” [7].

Coca Cola and the other carbonated beverages contain 10 teaspoons of sugar in a 12 oz. can. That is more sugar in one can of soda than what the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends in an entire day. (WHO recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day.) The high amount of fructose corn syrup, refined salts, and caffeine found in many sodas can contribute to high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

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