Engineering an obesity epidemic

Salt Sugar Fat, by Michael MossHow would you react if I told you it wasn’t your fault you’re fat?

Not entirely, anyway. Not the way that the medical profession or society at large would have you believe.

At least part of your spare tire — and the cause of the obesity epidemic generally — is because the processed food industry has engineered it for their own needs. That is the central theme of Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. This comprehensive look at the food industry by Michael Moss is a brilliant bit of journalism.

Through the manipulation of the key ingredients of sugar (which our brain reacts to in ways that are similar to cocaine), fat (which we’re hard-wired to crave) and salt, the processed food industry has beefed up their own profits while increasing the gross tonnage of the population at large.

Of course, it’s the profit motive that drives the industry, not some evil desire to turn us all into Fat Albert. Moss’s examination of the industry is at times extremely positive. It’s clear that he admires the creativity, ingenuity and business acumen of many of the central players in this drama that is promising to shorten the life spans of our children. His reportage is scrupulous, fair, and peppered with insight. I’m not surprise he’s already won a Pulitzer. He should get one for this book too.

At times the book seems repetitive, but that is a minor flaw, given how comprehensive and wide-ranging his reportage into this secretive industry is, and how generally readable the narrative is.

The other major theme that I pulled out of the book is that while the food giants have hooked us on sugar, salt and fat, they have also hooked themselves on the profits those key ingredients generate. They are going to fight tooth and Tootsie-roll too keep our foods laden with them, and work against any efforts to make their foods more healthy. And now that the North American markets are saturated (pun intended), they’re looking to other countries. I found one of the anecdotes about an ex-Coke executive walking around a bario in Brazil kind of heart-breaking and enraging at the same time.

“The people here need a lot of things, but a Coke isn’t one of them.”

Yet the company has created smaller serving bottles for poor neighborhoods in countries like Brazil, so that everyone can afford the 20-cents they need to get a taste of “the real thing.”

While the book is informative, it is not a self-help book. There are no prescriptions for how to use this information to save your own waistline, except for the obvious one:

If your food was made by a food processing company, you probably shouldn’t be eating it!

Fuck it, I’m having a donut

Professor QuippyNews out of the journal Obesity (I buy it for the photos), shows that being moderately overweight actually improves your odds of not dying early.

Compared with people in the “normal” range of the BMI — the misused and misguided body mass index, which charts your height and weight and determines if you are “normal”, overweight or underweight — people who were moderately overweight were 17 percent less likely to die than people in the normal range.

This is really more of a condemnation of the BMI than it is anything else. One of the study’s primary authors and a researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Oregon, David Feeny, said: “I think this is part of an accumulation of evidence that indicates that organizations like Health Canada… should rethink the evidence on their classification of BMI categories.”

According to the Globe and Mail:

Feeny speculates that overweight people might survive longer because their extra heft gives them more resilience when they become old or ill. Since people lose fat faster than muscle, having that bit of extra weight might help in preventing frailty.

No word yet on how much beer you have to drink to live longer. But… fingers crossed!

Alltop and humor-blogs.com are both a bit beyond the norm too. More on this story at the Globe and Mail.

Professor Quippy: Scoring Pizza & Bad Stomach Chemicals

Professor QuippyResearchers have discovered that you can blame your pudgy middle on bad chemicals.

According to researchers at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, a hormone secreted by the stomach can cause junkie-like behavior when you see food.

Pizza? Score! Chicken wings? Groovy! Chocolate cake? Drop that man!

The guilty culprit is not your lack of willpower, it’s the hormone ghrelin, which is made in your stomach. As you get hungry, ghrelin levels rise and when you’ve eaten, they wane. In the study, volunteers were given a shot of ghrelin and then shown pictures of scrumptious, irresistible food. Their brains lit up just like a junkie’s.

Alain Dagher, a neurologist at McGill, says this is probably an evolutionary mechanism that encouraged our distant ancestors to bulk up on tasty calories whenever they had a chance (which probably wasn’t very often.) Fast forward a few thousand years, to the Era of Addictive Chicken, and this spells an obesity epidemic.

According to the New Scientist: “Several pharmaceutical companies already have their sights set on ghrelin, as drugs that block the hormone may quell hunger and fight obesity.”

The problem? If you turn off the hormone, it may affect other parts of your brain. Like, the segment of your cerebellum that makes you happy. The part that prevents you from falling into a deep, sponge-cake-like depression. And then killing yourself.

So, a danger of suicide, but at least you wouldn’t be fat anymore.

Humor-blogs.com is hopped up on laughter. Alltop too.