The whys of rising obesity | Harvard Gazette

Harvard nutrition expert Walter Willett compared the marketing of junk food to kids with an earlier era’s child labor practices, saying that young people have been “exploited” by both systems. He said such food marketing is an important factor in America’s obesity epidemic.

“Children are being exploited, same as sweatshops,” Willett said. “This is a natural consequence of a capitalist food supply.”

Willett, speaking today at a Forum at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), said that much of the blame for the obesity epidemic should go to food industry researchers who have done their jobs all too well. Under pressure from the ever-competitive food industry, the researchers perfected not just the preferred tastes of prepared foods, but also their packaging and advertising.

Marketing strategies aimed at children influence a population this is not only vulnerable to such messages, but is also establishing long-lasting dietary habits.

Panelists on the forum webcast included Willett, who chairs the HSPH’s Nutrition Department; Michael Rich, an associate professor at HSPH and Harvard Medical School (HMS) and director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Harvard-affiliated Children’s Hospital Boston; Dariush Mozaffarian, associate professor of epidemiology at HSPH and associate professor of medicine; and former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler, now a professor at the University of California at San Francisco. The hour-long panel, called “Why We Overeat: The Toxic Food Environment and Obesity,” took place before a small studio audience in the Kresge Building and drew Internet viewers from as far away as Australia.

The discussion cast a strong light on America’s children, 17 percent of whom are obese and 5 percent of whom are in a new category called “severely obese,” according to panel moderator Meredith Melnick of the Huffington Post, which co-sponsored the event.

While food industry marketing plays an important role in the obesity epidemic, panelists described several other important factors that are increasingly causing experts to view the epidemic not as a collective failure of personal willpower but as the offshoot of an unhealthy food environment. Among the concerns are changing eating habits, where people no longer eat just at mealtimes, and the tendency to eat while watching television.

Television is a factor in the fattening of America, the panelists said, displaying what public health officials call a “dose-response” relationship with obesity — meaning the more television we watch, the fatter we get. The amount of time children spend interacting with screens on televisions, computers, cellphones, and other devices has risen dramatically, Rich said, to more than seven hours a day. But it is television time — with focused attention, exposure to advertising, and “mindless eating” — that has proven a key obesity factor, Rich said.

Although sedentary lifestyles often share part of the blame for the epidemic, Mozaffarian said that is largely unwarranted. People today, he said, are no less active than they were in the 1970s, before the epidemic began to take hold. Rather, he said, the blame lies squarely on changes to the American diet since the early 1980s.

In that time, portion sizes have increased, and consumption of sugary drinks has soared. One important factor in the changes, he said, was well-intended. The anti-fat messages of the ’80s drove many people concerned about their health to avoid fat in foods, and instead to increase their carbohydrate intake. The problem, Mozaffarian said, was that much of those carbohydrates were in the form of highly processed starches that in the body behave in much the same way as sugar.

Willett and Mozaffarian rejected the idea that genetics plays a role in the epidemic. Though some experts have pointed to the body’s ability to hold onto calories as an ancient defense against famine, the two pointed out that the current crisis is a new development, one largely not suffered in our grandparents and great-grandparents’ time, when obesity rates were a third what they are today. Genes, they said, don’t change that quickly.

Panelists disagreed about the significance of America’s high-sugar diet, with Kessler saying that sugar combines with too much salt and fat in irresistible products that amount to a food “carnival.” Mozaffarian, however, said the focus on any particular component of food can be misleading. Instead, he said, people should focus on eating whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains.

“It’s really the kinds of food that’s important,” Mozaffarain said. “We focus a lot on what not to eat; we need to focus on what’s good to eat.”

Willett suggested something akin to the Mediterranean diet, which Mozaffarian pointed out has more fat in it than the typical American diet. Without some sort of regulation to force a change, however, Willett was pessimistic that a solution is near.

“If we have no restraints, the problem isn’t going away. It’s only going to get worse,” Willett said.

Fantastic New TV-program on Obesity: Toxic Sugar |

Is sugar toxic and the cause of the obesity epidemic? Here’s a great new Australian TV-program called Toxic Sugar.

It’s arguably the best 18-minute introduction ever made on the true causes of the obesity epidemic. The program features the #1 enemy of the sugar industry: professor Robert Lustig. Also appearing: science writer Gary Taubes and obesity expert professor Michael Crowley.

See it and then tell your friends. This needs to be seen by a lot of people.

Here’s a few comments:

Low fat, high sugar

Misguided low-fat advice is blamed for the increase in sugar intake. For example: low-fat mayo has six time more sugar than normal mayo. And let’s not even talk about sweetened low-fat yoghurt. “You might as well eat candy” says professor Crowley. The sugar is hiding everywhere today. Says Lustig:

…virtually every food item in the store that has a food label, it has some form of sugar!

By the way: did you have a glass of fruit juice this morning? If you did, you are aging seven times faster! Source: once more the quotable dr Lustig (I’ve no idea where he got that exact number).

Carbs – insulin – fat

What’s the problem with carbs? Too much bad carbs (like soda) easily leads to the secretion of too much of the hormone insulin, making your body store more fat.

Trying to control your weight – by just eating less and exercising more – in that situation will be a life-long uphill struggle. Eventually almost everybody loses.

The “set point” misconception

I have one objection towards the end of the show. Crowley claims that the body has a weight set point. Lose weight and the body will try to return to the original weight. This is a common misconception.

The truth is that the body tends to return to your original weight IF AND ONLY IF you return to your original lifestyle! There is no quick-fix that works forever.

To lose weight long-term you need a long-term lifestyle change. Avoiding excess sugar is a great first step.

Blaming the food industry

The program ends by laying the responsibility for the obesity crisis on the shoulders of the food industry.

While that may be partially true we can never expect them to solve this problem. It’s never going to happen. Read the excellent book “Salt, Sugar, Fat” and you’ll appreciate why: they simply can’t stop producing profitable junk food by themselves. If they try another company will quickly steal their market share.

The entire industry has to be forced to change.

Where to start

Here’s what you can do: See the video above and then spread it to your friends, so that they too understand. That’s a great start.


It’s the Insulin, Stupid

Why Calorie Counters are Confused

Yes, a Low-Carb Diet Greatly Lowers Your Insulin

What Happens If You Eat 5,800 Calories Daily on an LCHF Diet?

The Official Disease of the 2012 London Olympics!

Why Calorie Counting is an Eating Disorder

The #1 Cause of Obesity: Insulin

Fat Forecast: Disaster

Fat profits: how the food industry cashed in on obesity

When you walk into a supermarket, what do you see? Walls of highly calorific, intensely processed food, tweaked by chemicals for maximum “mouth feel” and “repeat appeal” (addictiveness). This is what most people in Britain actually eat. Pure science on a plate. The food, in short, that is making the planet fat.

And next to this? Row upon row of low-fat, light, lean, diet, zero, low-carb, low-cal, sugar-free, “healthy” options, marketed to the very people made fat by the previous aisle and now desperate to lose weight. We think of obesity and dieting as polar opposites, but in fact, there is a deep, symbiotic relationship between the two.

In the UK, 60% of us are overweight, yet the “fat” (and I include myself in this category, with a BMI of 27, slap-bang average for the overweight British male) are not lazy and complacent about our condition, but ashamed and desperate to do something about it. Many of those classed as “overweight” are on a near-perpetual diet, and the same even goes for half of the British population, many of whom don’t even need to lose an ounce.

When obesity as a global health issue first came on the radar, the food industry sat up and took notice. But not exactly in the way you might imagine. Some of the world’s food giants opted to do something both extraordinary and stunningly obvious: they decided to make money from obesity, by buying into the diet industry.

Weight Watchers, created by New York housewife Jean Nidetch in the early 1960s, was bought by Heinz in 1978, who in turn sold the company in 1999 to investment firm Artal for $735m. The next in line was Slimfast, a liquid meal replacement invented by chemist and entrepreneur Danny Abraham, which was bought in 2000 by Unilever, which also owns the Ben Jerry brand and Wall’s sausages. The US diet phenomenon Jenny Craig was bought by Swiss multinational Nestlé, which also sells chocolate and ice-cream. In 2011, Nestlé was listed in Fortune’s Global 500 as the world’s most profitable company.

These multinationals were easing carefully into a multibillion pound weight-loss market encompassing gyms, home fitness, fad diets and crash diets, and the kind of magazines that feature celebs on yo-yo diets or pushing fitness DVDs promising an “all new you” in just three weeks.

You would think there might be a problem here: the food industry has one ostensible objective – and that’s to sell food. But by creating the ultimate oxymoron of diet food – something you eat to lose weight – it squared a seemingly impossible circle. And we bought it. Highly processed diet meals emerged, often with more sugar in them than the originals, but marketed for weight loss, and here is the key get-out clause, “as part of a calorie-controlled diet”. You can even buy a diet Black Forest gateau if want.

Diet 2
We think of obesity and dieting as polar opposities, but there is a deep relationship between the two

So what you see when you walk into a supermarket in 2013 is the entire 360 degrees of obesity in a single glance. The whole panorama of fattening you up and slimming you down, owned by conglomerates which have analysed every angle and money-making opportunity. The very food companies charged with making us fat in the first place are now also making money from the obesity epidemic.

How did this happen? Let me sketch two alternative scenarios. This is the first: in the late 1970s, food companies made tasty new food. People started to get fat. By the 1990s, NHS costs related to obesity were ballooning. Government, health experts and, surprisingly, the food industry were brought in to consult on what was to be done. They agreed that the blame lay with the consumer – fat people needed to go on diets and exercise. The plan didn’t work. In the 21st century, people are getting fatter than ever.

OK, here’s scenario two. Food companies made tasty new food. People started to get fat. By the 1990s, food companies and, more to the point, the pharmaceutical industry, looked at the escalating obesity crisis, and realised there was a huge amount of money to be made.

But, seen purely in terms of profit, the biggest market wasn’t just the clinically obese (those people with a BMI of 30-plus), whose condition creates genuine health concerns, but the billions of ordinary people worldwide who are just a little overweight, and do not consider their weight to be a significant health problem.

That was all about to change. A key turning point was 3 June 1997. On this date the World Health Organisation (WHO) convened an expert consultation in Geneva that formed the basis for a report that defined obesity not merely as a coming social catastrophe, but as an “epidemic”.

The word “epidemic” is crucial when it comes to making money out of obesity, because once it is an epidemic, it is a medical catastrophe. And if it is medical, someone can supply a “cure”.

The author of the report was one of the world’s leading obesity experts, Professor Philip James, who, having started out as a doctor, had been one of the first to spot obesity rising in his patients in the mid-1970s. In 1995 he set up a body called the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF), which reported on rising obesity levels across the globe and on health policy proposals for how the problem could be addressed.

It is widely accepted that James put fat on the map, and thus it was appropriate that the IOTF should draft the WHO report of the late 90s that would define global obesity. The report painted an apocalyptic picture of obesity going off the scale across the globe.

The devil was in the detail – and the detail lay in where you drew the line between “normal” and “overweight”. Several colleagues questioned the group’s decision to lower the cut-off point for being “overweight” – from a BMI of 27 to 25. Overnight, millions of people around the globe would shift from the “normal” to the “overweight” category.

Professor Judith Stern, vice president of the American Obesity Association, was critical, and suspicious. “There are certain risks associated with being obese … but in the 25-to-27 area it’s low-risk. When you get over 27 the risk becomes higher. So why would you take a whole category and make this category related to risk when it isn’t?”

Why indeed. Why were millions of people previously considered “normal” now overweight? Why were they being tarred with the same brush of mortality, as James’s critics would argue, as those who are genuinely obese?

I asked James where the science for moving the cut-off to BMI 25 had come from. He said: “The death rates went up in America at 25 and they went up in Britain at 25 and it all fits the idea that BMI 25 is the reasonable pragmatic cut-off point across the world. So we changed global policy on obesity.”

James says he based this hugely significant decision, one that would define our global understanding of obesity, partly on prewar data provided by US insurance company Met Life. But this data remains questionable, according to Joel Guerin, a US author who has examined the work produced by Met Life’s chief statistician Louis Dublin.

“It wasn’t based on any kind of scientific evidence at all,” according to Guerin. “Dublin essentially looked at his data and just arbitrarily decided that he would take the desirable weight for people who were aged 25 and apply it to everyone.”

I was interested in who stood to gain from his report and asked James where the funding for the IOTF report came from. “Oh, that’s very important. The people who funded the IOTF were drugs companies.” And how much was he paid? “They used to give me cheques for about 200,000 a time. And I think I had a million or more.” And did they ever ask him to push any specific agenda? “Not at all.”

James says he was not influenced by the drug companies that funded his work but there’s no doubt that, overnight, his report reclassified millions of people as overweight and massively expanded the customer base for the weight-loss industry.

James rightly points out that he needed the muscle of drugs companies to press home the urgency of the unfolding obesity problem as a global public health issue, but didn’t he see the money-making potential for the drug companies in defining obesity as an “epidemic”?

“Oh, let us be very clear,” he says. “If you have a drug that drops your weight and doesn’t do you any other harm in terms of side-effects, that is a multibillion megabuck drug.”

The Men Who Made Us Thin
Former GSK sales rep Blair Hamrick with Jacques Peretti. Photograph: Brendan Easton/BBC/Fresh One Productions/Brendan Easton

I asked Gustav Ando, a director at IHS Healthcare Group, how important this decision to define obesity as a medical epidemic was for the industry. “It really turned a lot of heads,” he said. “Defining it as an epidemic has been hugely important in changing the market perception.” The drugs companies could now provide, Ando explained, “the magic bullet”.

Paul Campos, a legal expert with a special interest in the politics of obesity, saw the decision to shift the BMI downwards as crucial not just in making a giant new customer base for diet drugs but in stigmatising the overweight. “What had been a relatively minor concern from a public health perspective suddenly was turned into this kind of global panic,” he told me. “I think when you look at this issue what you see is a combination of economic interests with cultural prejudice which led to a toxic brew of social panic over weight in our culture.”

But guess what? The drugs wheeled out to clean up the “epidemic” didn’t turn into the blockbusters the industry had hoped for.

Since the 1950s, the great dirty secret of weight loss was amphetamines, prescribed to millions of British housewives who wanted to lose pounds. In the 1970s, they were banned for being highly addictive and for contributing to heart attacks and strokes. Now drugs were once more on the agenda – in particular, appetite-suppressants called fenfluramines. After trials in Europe, the US drugs giant Wyeth developed Redux, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in spite of evidence of women developing pulmonary hypertension while taking fenfluramines. Dr Frank Rich, a cardiologist in Chicago, began seeing patients who had taken Redux with the same symptoms. And when one, a woman in Oklahoma City, died, Rich decided to go public, contacting the US news show Today.

“That was filmed in the morning and when I went to my office, within an hour later I got a phone call from a senior executive at Wyeth who saw the Today piece and was very upset. He warned me against ever speaking to the media again about his drug, and said if I did some very bad things would start happening, and hung up the phone.”

The Wyeth executive concerned has denied Rich’s version of events. But once legal liability cases began, evidence emerged from internal documents that Wyeth knew of far more cases of pulmonary hypertension than had been declared either to the FDA or to patients. Redux was taken off the market and Wyeth set aside $21.1bn for compensation. The company has always denied responsibility.

But with Wyeth out of the game, obesity was now an open door for other drugs companies.

British giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) found its antidepressant Wellbutrin had a handy side effect – it made people lose weight. Blair Hamrick was a sales rep for the company in the US tasked with getting doctors to prescribe the drug for weight loss as well as depression, a move that would considerably widen its market and profitability. In the trade, this is called “off-labelling”.

“If a doctor writes a prescription, that’s his prerogative, but for me to go in and sell it off label, for weight loss, is inappropriate,” says Hamrick. “It’s more than inappropriate – it’s illegal; people’s lives are at stake.”

GSK spent millions bribing doctors to prescribe Wellbutrin as a diet drug, but when Hamrick and others blew the whistle on conduct relating to Wellbutrin and two other drugs, the company was prosecuted in the US and agreed to a fine of $3bn, the largest healthcare fraud settlement in US history.

Drug companies had attempted to capitalise on obesity, but their fingers got burnt.

Still, there was a winner: the food industry. By creating diet lines for the larger market of the slightly overweight, not just the clinically obese, it had hit on an apparently limitless pot of gold.

Diet 3
In the late 1990s the cut-off point for being “overweight” went from a BMI of 27 to 25

There now exist two clear and separate markets. One is the overweight, many of whom go on endless diets, losing and then regaining the weight, and providing a constant revenue stream for the both the food industry and the diet industry throughout their adult lives. (As former finance director of Weight Watchers, Richard Samber, put it to me – “It’s successful because the 84% [who can’t keep the weight off] keep coming back. That’s where your business comes from.”) The other market is the genuinely obese, who are being cut adrift from society, having been failed by health initiative after health initiative from government.

As Dr Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Centre for food policy and obesity at Yale University, explained, the analogy must now be with smoking and lung cancer: “There’s a very clear tobacco industry playbook, and if you put it next to what the food companies are doing now, it looks pretty similar. Distort the science, say that your products aren’t causing harm when you know they are.”

But the solution to obesity could also follow the cigarette trajectory too, according to Brownell. It was only after a combination of heavy taxation (price), heavy legislation (banning smoking in public places), and heavy propaganda (warnings on packets; an effective, sustained anti-smoking advertising campaign; and most crucially, education in schools) was brought to bear on a resistant tobacco industry that smoking became a pariah activity for a new generation of potential consumers, and real, lasting change took place. Similar measures, Brownell says, could provide an answer to obesity.

And it’s funny, that analogy with smoking. Because deep in the archive at San Francisco University is a confidential memo written by an executive at the tobacco giant Philip Morris in the late 1990s, just as the WHO was defining obesity as a coming epidemic, advising the food giant Kraft on strategies to employ when it started being criticised for creating obesity.

Titled “Lessons Learnt From the Tobacco Wars”, it makes fascinating reading. The memo explains that just as consumers now blame cigarette companies for lung cancer, so they will end up blaming food companies for obesity, unless a panoply of defensive strategies are put into action. You might conclude that there was a good reason why the food industry bought into dieting – it was nothing personal, it was just business.

Jacques Peretti presents The Men Who Made Us Thin, 9pm, BBC2, Thursday 8 August.

Soft drinks and obesity: What do we want from Coca-Cola?

Soft drinks and obesity: What do we want from Coca Cola?

Responding to our justifiably increasing preoccupation with widespread obesity, the Coca-Cola Company has released a masterful television ad on the subject. They characterize their own efforts, and invite us all to “come together” to combat this scourge. The whole “come together” concept receives great emphasis, with evocative images from the (presumably) good old days of: “I’d like to buy the world a Coke …”

Predictably, the collective response of my friends and colleagues in public health has been less than warm and bubbly. Sensing a blend of propaganda, evasion, hypocrisy, and desperation in Coke’s efforts, my clan has largely reacted with their own blend of dismissal, derision, and disgust. In essence, they have invited us all to lose this lunch, and roll our eyes.

I confess, I am sorely tempted to join them. But before we can lose our lunch, we are perhaps obligated to chew on it. And before rolling our eyes, we may need to read the writing on the wall — fine print, and all.

Before that chewing and reading begins, I do want to insert a disclaimer. I am the furthest thing from a food industry apologist. I have devoted years of my life to the development of programs for children and adults alike that reveal the all-too-often lamentable truth about the so-called “food” supply. At every opportunity, I have highlighted the fact that “betcha’ can’t eat just one” was far more than a clever ad campaign; it was a threat to public health, backed up — at least in the case of Kraft — by nutritional biochemists and neuroscientists using functional MRI scans to determine how to maximize the number of calories it takes for us to feel full. And I have noted repeatedly, as I will continue to do, that as we got fat and our kids got diabetes — somebody was chuckling about it all the way to the bank.

Nor do I have even a little love for the Coca-Cola Company. I consider their flagship offering a chemistry experiment in a cup. I haven’t had a soda in some 35 years since I first saw that light. Coca-Cola has systematically opposed public health campaigns to reduce soda consumption, deflected criticism, denied epidemiologic truths, and distorted their own contributions to epidemic obesity. I have — at least in moments of private rage — considered them an evil empire. Regarding my brief encounter with their CEO, I can only say I felt the dark side of the Force was strong with him.

And when it comes to polished and compelling ads that obscure any semblance of truth, Coca-Cola has an impressive track record. They have given us polar bears enjoying Coke as they frolic in their winter wonderland.

This is wrong in so many ways it’s hard to know where to start. For one thing, polar bears don’t drink soda. For another, that’s not likely to help them much — because we are blithely destroying their winter wonderland. And guess what? Concocting chemical potions in factories to drink out of plastic bottles when a glass of water would do nicely is part of the reason — as such industrial activity contributes to global warming and the melting of Arctic ice on which the livelihood of real polar bears depends. So, no — Coke is not offering polar bears a drink. It’s part of the reason they may have nothing left to eat. But, of course, only part of a much bigger reason.

Reacting to Coke’s misleading depiction of polar bears, the Center for Science in the Public Interest engaged musician Jason Mraz, to give us the “real” bears. I fully support this campaign to show what might happen if polar bears actually did drink Coke. But of course, these aren’t “real” bears — because as noted, polar bears don’t drink soda. So, the “real” issue is that we may not be smarter than the average bear after all. Bears are still eating and drinking what bears should eat and drink — to the extent we aren’t making it impossible for them. We, on the other hand, have been drinking Coca-Cola out of ever-larger containers.

This just isn’t about bears and the choices they make. It’s about us, and the choices we make. And we apparently have some hard ones. We have water, but choose to drink Coke. We have broccoli, but choose to eat bologna. There are no bears involved. We have met the enemy — and it is us.

Yes, we are also the victim. Yes, the food industry really has manipulated us with foods engineered to specifications born of functional MRI scans. But come on: Does anyone think Coke is good for them? Does anyone not living under a rock think you can drink a gallon of that stuff daily and not suffer any consequences? Is there really anyone left who has not heard the rumors about sugar? And does anyone bemoaning the unbearable (pun intended) burden of a soda tax truly not know where to find a water fountain?

Coke is quite right about one thing: We are all in this together.

Consider that when McDonald’s — another good contender for the food industry’s evil empire award — gave us McLean Deluxe, we didn’t buy it. The product expired not for want of supply, but for want of demand. Folks, that’s not McDonalds’ problem. It’s yours, and mine. It’s our kids’ problem.

Similarly, remember Alpha-Bits cereal? If you haven’t seen it lately, here’s why — courtesy of some inside information. Post reduced both the salt and sugar content, actually making the product more nutritious — and people stopped buying it. Sales plummeted from about $80 million a year, to $10 million.

Most product reformulations that allegedly give us better nutrition are actually lateral moves — fixing one thing, breaking another. Salt is reduced, but sugar is increased. Sugar is reduced, but trans fat is increased — and so on. I have an intimate view of all this, courtesy of my work with the NuVal program, which has established a detailed nutrient database for over 100,000 foods it has scored. All too often, banner ads implying better nutrition are entirely misleading. Low-fat peanut butter is substantially less nutritious than regular. Multigrain breads may or may not be whole grain.

But on those rare occasions when the food industry actually gives us better products, we don’t buy them.

Which brings us back to Coke: What, exactly, do we want from them?

As I see it, against a backdrop of a growing burden of national and global chronic disease in which they are complicit, Coke has four options. They can (1) ignore the public health problem, and keep on keeping on; (2) acknowledge the public health problem, but say it’s not their problem — and keep on keeping on; (3) confess their corporate sins and absolve themselves with ceremonial suicide; or (4) change.

Choices one and two have pretty much run their course. Shareholders are unlikely to bless option three. Which leaves us with option four: change. Change their product formulations. Change their inventory. And change their messaging. Stop talking about frolicking polar bears, and start talking about obesity. And while we have cause to be suspicious about Coca-Cola’s motives, that’s just what the new ad appears to be doing.

Yes, they sell us chemistry experiments in a cup. Yes, they help us become fat diabetics. But they are also a large company, employing a lot of people. If we simply want to drive a stake through their corporate heart, the result would be a lot of newly-unemployed people, still prone to obesity and diabetes while drinking Pepsi, or Mountain Dew, or Dr. Pepper, while perusing the want ads.

And yes, the new ad about obesity is only in response to mounting pressure from a concerned public, and restive federal authorities. But is it bad or surprising that supply-side changes are responsive to a changing demand? The business of business, after all, is business — and keeping the customer satisfied.

If we want truly meaningful changes in the quality of our food and drink, we will in fact require changes in both supply and demand. It won’t help if they build it, and we don’t come. There are ways to propagate a shared taste for change, and such a course might allow for substantial improvements in the public health without blowing up the Fortune 500.

Admittedly, the new Coke ads addressing obesity are slick. Stunningly slick. In other words, they are just plain good — working over the chords of emotional response exactly as intended. A testimony to what really deep pockets and top advertising talent can do. This could be just another reason to hate Coke, I suppose.

But on the other hand, the simpler times when Coke was an innocent pleasure are not a Madison Avenue fabrication; they actually happened. We baby-boomers lived through them. There was a time before ultra-uber-gulps and widespread childhood obesity, and soda seemed an innocuous pleasure — whether or not it ever really was. If that has changed over time, then so must we — and so must Coca-Cola.

What would such change look like? Probably something like the new ad.

As a closing aside, I attended the meeting of my local school district wellness committee this week, as they took on the task of complying with Connecticut nutrition standards. The gentleman who runs the high school store noted that by complying with the new regulations, he would lose business to the array of fast-food outlets accessible to the students just across a parking lot. And, I suspect he’s exactly right.

I share my colleagues’ visceral opposition to everything Coke. But I think we may be letting our abdominal viscera get the better of vital organs situated higher up. Soft drinks do exist; they are big business. Doing something about that involves hard choices.

Change — incremental change — is the most promising and plausible of them. So we have to allow for it if what we want is progress. If we won’t accept change without calling it hypocrisy, then we don’t really want progress. We want revenge.

David L. Katz is the founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center.

How the food industry sneaks MSG into your diet

Food used to be such a simple thing to deal with. In our earliest guises we foraged through the undergrowth for nuts, berries, fungi, shoots and leaves as we steadily munched our way through the day without the concerns of office deadlines, overtime at the factory or making sure we don’t miss the next instalment of our favourite soap opera.

After the Second World War food was rationed in the UK and Europe as part of the socialist rebuilding scheme which got the affected countries back on their feet financially. Meat and potatoes really were the order of the day and were supplied by local farmers, meaning that preservatives and the like were not required.


The post war meal consisted of meat, potatoes and greens - all organic.

Today however we live in a world which is more or less dominated by food companies and their machinations. There are crazy things happening behind the veil of happy looking advertising and claims of ‘healthy’ products, and despite occasional consumer backlash over what goes into mass produced food, those sneaky companies just keep finding new ways to mask their conniving methods of keeping us hooked on their brands.

Food is no longer just food, it’s become a science. Since the end of localised farming and the advent of centralised, mass food production our groceries have become laced with a whole mess of chemicals designed (supposedly) to make them taste better, preserve them and keep them fresher on the shelf for longer.


Science has turned food into 'Frankenfood'.

Ice cream, for instance, now contains ‘firming’ agents which stop artificial colours running or cream and water separating in transit. Worst of all though are the many ways in which the food industry hides its most potent weapon – processed free glutamic acid.

Processed free glutamic acid is the sharp end of Monosodium Glutamate [MSG], an ‘excitotoxin’ chemical which confuses the body into thinking it is receiving healthy proteins when in fact it largely isn’t. Protein receptors in the tongue trigger a series of physical responses to MSG which include increased glutamate in the blood stream which leads to increased insulin levels, bypassing the Hypothalamus (the part of the brain which informs the body it has eaten enough, meaning we don’t notice our belly is bloated and full ) and deployment of Amp-Activated Protein Kinase [AMPK] which increases our need for food while slowing us down so as not to cause cell damage within the body (lethargy and prolonged hunger). Read our article on how MSG affects the body for more information on this.


Is that cocaine? No, it's MSG but there's not really a whole lot of difference. Except that MSG is potentially more harmful.

Make no mistake, MSG is a dangerous chemical which makes food addictive and leads to type II diabetes, thyroid failure, has been linked to cancer and is a major player in the growing obesity pandemic.

The public wised up to MSG for a time and after some clever PR exercises food companies said they would stop, or at least limit and label when using it. The public sighed a sigh of relief and celebrated their victory.

The food companies stewed and came back with an alternative. ‘We can’t use Msg’, they said, ‘But we can use its core element…’

As an example of how they found a loophole in the system, Walkers produced a range of potato chips called ‘Sensations‘ and their Sweet Thai Chilli flavour claims to be gluten free, but better still, in large bold letters on the back of the packet are the words “DOESN’T CONTAIN MSG”.

“Hurrah” we cry as we study the ingredients; potatoes, vegetable oil and salt in the chips. No harm there (aside from the fact that the potatoes are undoubtedly Genetically Engineered). So what’s the fuss then?


Walkers sneaked Processed Free Glutamic Acid into their Sensations brand while claiming they don't contain MSG.

The ingredients for the flavouring are listed separately and this is where companies have become clever. Halfway through the list is an ingredient called Hydrolized Soy Protein [HSP]. HSP is extracted from soy beans (one of the biggest GE products) and is processed to contain our friend Processed Free Glutamic Acid – the dangerous part of MSG.

So yes it’s true, Sensations do not contain MSG, but they do contain the most potent part of MSG, the bit which does all the damage.

To this end, food companies are laughing at us because they know that a big fat ‘Contains no MSG‘ sticker will make us feel safe while they continue to poison us and, furthermore, feed the pharmaceutical industry at the same time – an industry which also uses Processed Free Glutamic Acid in its products.


Neural malfunction is a direct result of consuming MSG and Processed Free Glutamic Acid.

Additionally there are certain acids, enzymes and proteins which when combined will create the same effect as MSG; in much the same way as The Joker used his ‘Smilex’ chemical in the Tim Burton Batman film.

To get you started on the road to avoiding MSG and its poison ‘Processed Free Glutamic Acid’ barb

here is a list of ingredients which have the same effect as MSG:

  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Maltodextrin
  • Hydrolyzed pea protein
  • Sodium caseinate

These are amongst the most common. Then we have products found in milk solids:

  • Carrageenan
  • Guar gum
  • Locust bean gum.


Additionally, anything containing the word ‘Hydrolized’ means it has been processed to contain Processed Free Glutamic Acid, as do ingredients like (for instance) Tomato Protein, which means the tomato has been hydrolized.

More expensive but still suspect ingredients include:

  • Disodium guanylate
  • Disodium inosinate


Even organic food isn’t safe from the scourge of MSG as the following chemicals also cause the same physical reaction:

  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Yeast extract
  • Textured soy protein


Soft drinks also contain ingredients which do the same thing and these include:

  • Aspartame
  • Neotame
  • AminoSweet (the food industry rebranding of Aspartame)


At this stage it’s worth mentioning that some vaccines contain MSG and derivatives, such as:

  • Varivax–Merck chicken pox vaccine (Varicella Virus Live – contains L-monosodium glutamate and hydrolyzed gelatin)



Even vaccines, pesticides and fertilizers contain Processed Free Glutamic Acid.

Where the food and chemical companies have really gotten dirty is by adding Processed Free Glutamic Acid to pesticides and fertilizers because it remains within the edible part of the plant and is therefore assimilated by us when we eat it, meaning that there is a greater risk of type II diabetes and obesity by eating non-organic fruit and vegetables.

Some wax used to coat citrus fruit also contains MSG, as do shampoos, deodorants and soaps.

All in all, buying food has become a minefield because products which claim not to contain MSG still contain the core element which causes obesity, diabetes, cancer and other related ailments. The food companies will continue to disguise Processed Free Glutamic Acid until it is outlawed completely.

That’s where you come in.

Please share your thoughts on the food industry using MSG to make their products addictive by leaving a comment.

Read about the battle against childhood diabetes, information about Type II Diabetes, how Type II Diabetes increases the risk of cancer in women, how obesity causes other illnesses, and Jamie Oliver’s rallying call to fight global obesity.




New study reveals obesity propaganda in the media

Propaganda is rife in the war on Obesity and a recent study by an Italian doctor, Roberto Refinetti, has highlighted just how damaging poor information and weak theories can really be.

Refinetti who is based at the University of South Carolina, Salkehatchie, conducted a study on different sized dogs, from lean and healthy to overwieght. In his study which was carried out in collaboration with various scientists at the University of Messina, Sicily, Italy, he discovered a link between body weight and body temperature that led him to believe that leaner dogs with a higher body temperature remained lithe due to their higher temperature.

Dr Roberto Refinetti has published a very misleading study about the causes of obesity. Silly man.

“We don’t fully know the causes of the obesity epidemic that the U.S. is experiencing,” said Refinetti. “One possible cause that hasn’t been studied is the relationship between a lower body temperature and obesity.”

Actually, we do know the causes of obesity, and not just in America.

There has long been a link between highly processed foods which are high in sugar, fructose, starch or white flour and the growing number of obesity cases.

Before we, as a race of scientists, started introducing excessive sugar or alternative sweeteners into foods which makes them addictive, our global population carried far less obesity cases. Then food companies cracked onto the notion that more sugar equals more sales and repeat custom.

The super-size meal was born and the rest is history.

So much sugar and MSG on display. Have you ever felt satisfied or healthy after eating McDonalds?

Of course other chemicals play their part in the obesity battle too. MSG is a terrible component which confuses the brain into believing it is not full, as well as making it think the food tastes sensational. The outcome is accidental binge eating because the eater doesn’t realise they are full.

[adsense]This intake of chemicals and sugar leads to all kinds of problems including indigestion, tiredness due to the body being unable to break food down at its normal rate, and it can also lead to eating disorders.

Food provides energy for the body but if overfilled or bad combinations are consumed (such as carbohydrates heavy or high amounts of carbohydrates and animal protein) the body then uses that energy to digest instead.

Dr. Refinetti, a doctor of psychology (not food or diet), has in the meanwhile shared his sage like knowledge on the subject of obesity and its possible causes by further adding, “The way to reduce energy intake is to eat less, but that means you feel hungry, and a common way to increase energy expenditure is to exercise, but many people lack the motivation.”

Dr Roberto Refinelli must have a degree in this.

Hate to pick you up there Doc but you’re only halfway there with the truth which is that if you eat the right types of food you can eat until you’re full and still feel satisfied. Excess amounts of junk food, fried stuff and bread will soon have you piling on the pounds if you don’t exercise heavily because they release sugar quickly into the body. A lack of a workout will allow that sugar to turn to fat within the body and hey presto – you’re obese.

His closing statement is perhaps the most ignorant and misleading of all.

“Although not yet replicated in humans, these results suggest that human obesity may be caused by a small reduction in the temperature at which the body maintains itself.”

If the world was built on ‘may be’ and ‘suggests’ then I’d be a multimillionaire philanthropist with a travel penchant and the funds to perpetuate that lifestyle having had several best selling books published. Sadly I’m only halfway there because the world isn’t like that, and these kinds of misleading reports and studies only serve to show us how far major food companies are going to throw us off the scent of their over-processed, obesity inducing fare.

The key to a long, happy and healthy life.

If you want to avoid falling victim to obesity and its brethren (heart disease, diabetes and cancer) then eat some fresh, organic fruit, try a smoothie for breakfast, cut out potato chips and white bread, go for a walk every day for 20 minutes and introduce some lovely leafy greens into your diet. The more raw fruit and vegetables you eat the better you’ll begin to feel.

Changing your body shape starts with changing your mind.

Your opinion is valuable to us so please leave a comment with your thoughts on Doctor Refinetti’s ‘findings’ or obesity related matters.

Read about Sugar and how it wrecks your body, alternative lifestyles which satisfy and keep you slim, changing your mind set about the way you eat, how to detox yourself and learn about Hatha yoga, a gentle way to lose weight and stay fit.





Gwen Olsen speaks out against Big Pharma

Gwen Olsen may not be a household name but once you’ve heard what she has to say it’s a name that’ll stick in your mind for a long time to come.

Olsen spent 15 years working in ‘Big Pharma’, for companies like Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Abbot Laboratories. During that time as a sales representative she worked hard to push her employers’ products into the public domain in order to reap massive profits, but as time wore she discovered an alarming truth which pricked her conscience into speaking openly about it.

What she discovered is that Big Pharma is not in business to heal the sick and provide cures for the ailing; it’s in business to profit from the sick and the only way to do that is by keeping people sick.

She learned the dark truth about the pharmaceutical industry after the suicide of her niece who was given a prescription of psychiatric drugs – drugs which she didn’t need to take.

Olsen soon learned that mixing the drugs can have a terrible reaction within the mind and body of the consumer but the drug companies are only interested in selling more and more products, keeping the public fed on the line that they need the drugs she was peddling all those years.

One of the most shocking discoveries she made was that most of the psychiatric drugs she was selling were barely more effective than placebos and to all intents and purposes the public were being sold candy.

But it was when that ‘candy’ was mixed with other drugs it became a real problem.

What Big Pharma really wants

The truth is very simple; if Big Pharma was really in business to cure people they’d actually put themselves out of business. As a collective the manufacturers of these unnecessary drugs make around six times more money every year than any other Fortune 500 industry, so it’s in their best interests to lie to the public and lean heavily on doctors to continue selling their products.

The third biggest killer in the US is adverse side-effects from prescription drugs, and only heart disease and cancer kill more people. The two biggest killers have only become prevalent since the growth in the food and drug industries which should tell you something about the contrary effects they have.

[adsense]Heart disease and cancer could be eradicated quite easily through natural diets, avoiding GM foods, steering clear of unnecessary medication and taking in some regular exercise, and of course by doing so you eliminate the need for taking potentially dangerous drugs. Next time you’re prescribed a pill by your doctor, ask them what’s in it, what it might do and if there isn’t a natural alternative you could take instead. It’s in your best interests not to accept everything you’re told.

The problem now is that the pharmaceutical companies sponsor universities and many health care lectures are carried out by people from the drug companies, so in effect the doctors of tomorrow are being brainwashed into believing their suppliers before they even get out into the world of medicine.

The FDA is supposed to act as a shield for human health but due to the magnitude of Big Pharma’s power, they are often forced to compromise ideals in favour of supporting the heavily profitable drug industry; with pressure also coming from congress to keep the tax dollars rolling in.

Gwen Olsen today

In 2000 Gwen abandoned her work in the pharmaceutical industry to take up a position within the natural foods industry; firstly with Nature’s Way as an Accounts Manager, then as a Regional Sales Manager with Gaia Herbs.

She now spends her time writing, speaking at seminars and working as a natural health consultant and you can learn more about her work at

Please share your thoughts on the drug industry by leaving a comment.

Read about why raw food is so good for your health, how exercise is better for easing depression than drugs, and some of the ways drug companies want to keep you ill like putting statins and uranium in the water supply and perpetuating flu epidemics.