From the monthly archives: "October 2011"

The Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity report I discussed last post discloses the youth market-grab that soda manufacturers are carrying out in an attempt to secure future sales. For a product like soft drinks, it’s all about brand loyalty, and people set their preferences early on. The big guns in the current soda marketing campaign are Coca-Cola Co and Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc, the report found.

Successful companies study their markets and invest in wooing their top consumers, something to think about if you (or your child) fall into one of the following categories:

  • Black children and teens saw 80-90% more ads than white children, including twice as many for the 5-Hour Energy drink and Coca-Cola’s vitamin water and Sprite.
  • Hispanic children saw 49% more ads for sugary drinks and energy drinks on Spanish-language television, and Hispanic teens saw 99% more ads.
  • In 2010, teens saw 18% more TV ads and heard 46% more radio ads for energy drinks than adults did.
  • 21 sugary drink brands had YouTube channels in 2010, with more than 229 million views by June 2011. Coca-Cola was the most popular brand on Facebook, with more than 30 million fans.
  • The most-visited websites operated by soft drink brands were and Capri Sun, which is owned by Kraft Foods Inc.
According to the CDC, 15% of children are overweight or obese, and no doubt in my mind that sodas are a major player in that phenomenon. Although I agree that sodas are not the stand alone cause of obesity, using that as a reason to dispute the validity of the above report makes about as much sense as excusing cigarette smoking for its role in lung cancer because air pollution is also a factor.
Susan Neely, Chief Executive Officer for the American Beverage Association said that member companies are “delivering on their commitment to advertise only water, juice and milk on programing for children under 12.”
But Yale’s Kelly Brownell, co-author of the report, says otherwise. He states that there has been a lot of research on the issue of marketing unhealthy food to children. Today’s report, he said, is the first that analyzed data from several firms, including Nielsen Holdings NV, to measure the full picture of youth exposure to marketing and advertising. He also said it is important to consider the online interaction children have with brands, especially since they tend to stay on computers longer than they watch TV commercials.
For anybody falling into one of these groups targeted by soda manufacturers–children, teens, and especially black and Hispanic youth–just understand how you are being wooed, and educate yourself on the risks of consuming large amounts of soft drinks. Understand that ingesting that much sugar (ten teaspoons per can) can lead to excessive weight gain, obesity, diabetes and other metabolic disturbances, as well as rotten teeth. And mind you that all of these body changes occur over an extended period, so just because you don’t see the physical effects happening right now, don’t think they won’t in time. Just take a look at some the adults around whom you might wonder exactly how they’ve morphed into what they have–and realize that could be just what you have to look forward to if you continue your soda habit.
I’m pleased this report has come out, although it’s nothing new in soft drink marketing. Makers of liquid sugar have been wooing kids from the start.  But now we are all watching.  We’ll see where it goes.

In my recent obesity debates, I noticed a disturbing trend among many proponents of fantastical new theories on obesity, which included some doctors: They were adopting a “obesity is far too complex to blame a singular (or few) product/action” position. As I remarked in an earlier post, I think this poorly thought out opinion only perpetuates the problem.  No less erroneous than the genetic theory of obesity, denying the obvious simply gives the obese person a reason to pull themselves, and their lifestyle habits, out of the equation. As a result, it ensures that obesity will remain a lucrative disease entity in need of a cure (à la cancer).

Case in point: In response to a recent report coming out of the Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, that has showed soft drink manufacturers to be stepping-up advertising to children and teens, particularly blacks and Hispanics. The American Beverage Association, whose members include soft drink companies, disputed the study’s findings. Said the group’s Chief Executive Officer Susan Neely in a statement,

“This report is another attack by known critics in an ongoing attempt to single out one product as the cause of obesity when both common sense and widely accepted science have shown that the reality is far more complicated.”

Uh huh…listen up obesity enablers: Aspects of obesity may have some complexity to them, but how it originates physiologically in the individual isn’t complex. Any right-minded person not driven by profits or ego (doctors…) simply cannot deny that imbibing ten teaspoons of sugar (contents of one can of soda) will lead to metabolic and hormonal changes that ultimately cause obesity.  If you’re this person, forgive me but…you’re an idiot.

This may not be news, but soda fountains have been found to be rife with fecal bacteria. Just another reason to bypass drinking that nasty stuff. This story is nearly two years old, but the heebie jeebies remain. I was reminded of this grossness, while researching another piece, and wanted to share my thoughts.

If you hadn’t heard the story when it broke January of 2010, here are the details of the study conducted in a region of Virginia:
  • 48% of beverages obtained from soda fountains contained fecal coliform bacteria, 11% contained E. coli (which are mostly harmless, but some can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia), and 17% had Chryseobacterium meningosepticum (which could sicken newborns or adults with weakened immune systems).
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking-water regulations require that all samples test negative for E.coli.
  • Many of the soda beverages from the dispensers fell below U.S. drinking-water standards, according to the findings.
  • It is premature, however, to draw broad conclusions about all soda fountains from a localized study.
  • The samples were contained in petri dishes and the bacteria multiplied within 48 hours, so much so that they became visible to the naked eye as 300 to 400 tiny dots.
  • Researchers were uncertain how the bacteria got inside the beverage machines, but very likely from unclean hands or rags used to wipe down machines.
  • National Restaurant Association and American Beverage Association both assured public that eating out and using soda fountains were safe.
  • A 1998 outbreak was linked to soda fountains after 99 soldiers in a U.S. Army base were hospitalized with gastroenteritis.
Okay, my thoughts: First, scientist have to practice caution with what they claim, so if they haven’t tested something in particular, they can’t make unsupported declarations about it. But I can! Fecal matter on soda fountains are probably from poorly washed hands. The only other explanation that it might be from the rags used to clean the machines is no great comfort. Either way, it’s unhygienic and disgusting.
Next, if soda fountains are contaminated, then so are the water dispensers. So I could easily say, just don’t drink the soda…but now were treading into deeper waters. If the drinking water also at risk, it really doesn’t make me feel comfortable. I guess bottled water is going to be in order. Cha-ching for the restaurants. Or maybe bring your own bottles…or, better yet, eat at home.

Finally, it’s true that this study was done in one small area in Virginia, but my guess is that if a nationwide study would be conducted, they might find similar results. You see, the problem is that soda machines have to be messed with (I worked in the restaurant biz for many years as a student)–the syrup needs to be changed, as does the carbonated water. Anything that needs to be handled frequently always has an increased risk. Further, soda machines are very often maintained by busboys and wait staff. Whereas kitchen employees may be extra cautious about hygiene, servers and bussers may not. And if it’s self-serve…ugh, even worse.

I am sure when the story broke, most restaurants heard the news and went through the extra-diligence to make sure cleanliness became godliness. But that was two years ago. Staffs turn over, and memories are often short; so whether or not the same hygiene is practiced today would be left to be seen. Saying that, I know that at most places where I’d worked hygiene was of paramount consideration.
My major message here is that sodas are nasty across the board. They are bad for your health, and when dispensed in a restaurant, they are at risk for contamination. Yuck! I am pleased that neither me nor my children drink that crap. I would advise you to stay away as well. Thought you’d want to know.

The serratus anterior is an oft-neglected muscle of the shoulder girdle, simply because the average person doesn’t know about it.  As a result, it can get weak disrupting shoulder joint biomechanics.

The serratus anterior attaches to the shoulder blade (scapula) and the thoracic cage (essentially the upper and mid-back).  It’s main function is to act as a scapular stabilizer; in other words, when we do shoulder movements, particularly reaching over head, the scapula must get locked into place against the t-cage, allowing unimpeded movement.

When serratus anterior muscle gets weak, stabilization is lost, and it can lead to a number of dysfunctions, including shoulder impingement (very painful), and degeneration (even more painful).  The classic postural sign of a weak serratus anterior is the shoulder blade protruding at its medial border, or the edge closest to the spine.  “Winging,” as it’s called, is not an uncommon sight among thin women (in fact, I observe it quite regularly here in Hollywood and Beverly Hills), but plenty of men have it too.

The answer to a weak serratus anterior is to strengthen it with an exercise called a press-through (aka push-up with a plus).  The actual movement is called protraction of the shoulders, which is the exact opposite of retraction (pulling the shoulders back).  I prefer the weight-bearing version for the use of gravity to help strengthen the muscle, but some people are not strong enough initially to do that.  For those that need to build up to the weight-bearing press-through, there are two alternate versions they can do.

And some people have difficulty just initiating the protraction movement altogether.  For these people, the neurological connection to the muscle and that movement has been disrupted.  The wall version of the press-through is what I recommend to re-establish this neurological connection.

Watch the video below to see a demonstration of the best serratus anterior exercise (weight-bearing press-through), as well as instruction on doing the two alternate versions.  Remember to build up to doing the weight bearing exercise, as this will ultimately give you the strength you need to maintain proper shoulder biomechanics.  As a plus, you’ll reduce winging, which will look better as well.

*Severe and one-sided winging should be checked by a doctor as it could signify a neurological lesion of the long thoracic nerve.

Put down that can of Diet Coke, dear reader.  It can be harmful to your health. So says a study conducted earlier this year, that showed diet soda drinkers to be at an increased risk for stroke.

Some believe that by drinking the diet variety of soft drinks, they bypass the harmful effects of sugar, thereby making a healthier choice in their beverage selection. But many of us have suspected that diet sodas have hidden harms, despite the inability of nutrition researchers to find them. Some recent studies, however, have shown that diet soda drinkers not only gain weight, but they do so even more than drinkers of regular soda. Doh! And now stroke.

Researchers followed 2,564 people in the large, multi-ethnic Northern Manhattan Study (NOMAS). They collected soda drinking habits and followed the subjects for 9.3 years on average. They found that people who drank diet soda every day had a 61% higher risk of vascular events than those who reported no soda drinking. Researchers accounted for participants’ age, sex, race or ethnicity, smoking status, exercise, alcohol consumption and daily caloric intake. And even after researchers also accounted for patients’ metabolic syndrome, peripheral vascular disease and heart disease history, the increased risk persisted at a rate 48% higher.

Researchers believe the reason for the increased stroke risk has to do with sodium intake. A separate study showed that an increased intake of sodium also increased the risk of ischemic stroke (when a blood vessel blockage cuts off blood flow to the brain). Diet sodas contain between 35 and 40 milligrams of sodium per can. Not a massive amount by any means, but when multiplied by the numbers that many individuals imbibe in one day, and the sodium intake starts to approach dangerous levels.

The second study showed that individuals who consumed more than 4,000 milligrams of sodium a day had twice the risk of experiencing a stroke when compared to individuals with an intake of less than the recommended limit of 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. Only a third of participants met the current U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans that recommend daily sodium intake fall below 2,300 mg, or about a teaspoon of salt. Only 12% of subjects met the American Heart Association‘s recommendations to consume less than 1,500 mg a day. Average intake was 3,031 milligrams.

Well I’m sure you can imagine me shaking my head in contempt. I just don’t have tolerance for the liquid sugar habit picked up by the majority of Americans. If you can’t see the writing on the wall–sodas (both regular and diet) cause negative health consequences like obesity, diabetes, rotten teeth and now stroke–then so be it. But stop thinking that diet soda is a healthier alternative to regular soda, because it’s not.

Montel Williams is back in the news.  The former Emmy Award winning daytime talk show host is praising Israel, not for its politics or Palestinian relations, but for it’s medical marijuana practices.  What?!?!  You heard right, Montel, the patient rights activist, is in Israel on a fact-finding mission to learn about its medicinal cannabis practices. He is meeting with legislators, scientists and physicians.

Montel Williams was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1999 and has promoted alternative therapies in the past, like chiropractic (booyah!), but today it’s medical MJ.  And he believes the U.S. can learn something from Israel.  “We need to get out of the dark ages and into the new ages,” he told The Associated Press. “Not every patient can use cannabis, but for those who can–why deny it?”

In Israel, certain doctors can prescribe cannabis and even disperse them from their offices.  It is regulated, and many doctors prefer it as a lesser of evils when compared to narcotics for pain relief.  According to Itay Goor-Aryeh, the head of the pain management unit at the Sheba Medical Center in central Israel, “Those patients, if they do not get cannabis, they will get morphine-like drugs and other harmful drugs. I think that in many ways, cannabis is tolerated and is less addictive that morphine-based drugs.”

Well, no duh!  Thank you Montel Williams for bringing this issue to the forefront and adding some credibility to the cause.  As a beneficiary of medical cannabis, Montel is in a perfect position to discuss the advantages of marijuana (and it’s active compound, THC) in a serious and meaningful way.

Yes, Montel Williams, 55, says he has been taking cannabis on a daily basis.

“For me, there is nothing else that can do what it does,” he said. “It helps me suppress my pain … When I am not using cannabis I am thinking about my pain every 45 seconds.”

And bravo to the Israeli medical profession for it’s adoption of a benign yet advantageous drug that has much potential for pain relief, and maybe more.

I agree with Montel, the U.S. government could learn a thing or two from Israel in this regard.  If we don’t start investigating cannabis as a pharmacological option, and instead we keep vilifying it, we may never know its full potential.  Fortunately, they are doing the research in Israel, so we may get our answers regardless.

Montel Williams is a hero to me.  He’s been a champion for many of the same causes I have taken on in my own life, and for that I commend him.

Interesting happenings in the world of medical diagnostics, a new wave of responsibility and changing paradigms. A small but significant movement is being made away from routine screenings. Bravo! It’s about time.  Nothing like a good ol’ politicized “health care crisis” and a few creative thinkers to right a decades long wrong of over-using screening diagnostics.

For years, the school of thought in western medicine was to screen for diseases liberally, so that illness could be caught early-on and addressed. But just recently, some medical groups have cautioned against certain routine screens, warning that these tests have just as many harms as benefits. Today, experts recommend less screening for prostate, breast and cervical cancer, with the rationale that these tests do not necessarily change the overall outcome, and in some cases can actually lead to worse outcomes for the patient. Wow!

In the case of prostate cancer, it has been found that the widely used PSA (prostate specific antigen) test does not save lives, but can lead to aggressive treatment which is often unnecessary. The influential United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), which evaluates evidence and publishes screening guidelines, said that PSA screening often leads to what can be disabling treatments for men whose cancer otherwise would never have harmed them.

The same group two years ago recommended less mammography for women, particularly those under 40, whom the group says gain little if any benefit from the test. For women between the 50-74, the group recommends a mammogram every two years instead of yearly. As for cervical cancer screening, the group recommends Pap tests be done every three years now instead of annually.

According to the New York Times,

A new analysis of mammography concluded that while mammograms find cancer in 138,000 women each year, as many as 120,000 to 134,000 of those women either have cancers that are already lethal or have cancers that grow so slowly they do not need to be treated.

A little known fact is that we develop cancers all over our bodies throughout our lifetime. Thanks to our immune system, which does its own innate screening and surveillance continually, many cancers never progress enough to be a threat. Screening thus leads to premature human intervention, when leaving the body to its own accord is the most prudent approach (sound familiar?).

Evidence accumulated over the last ten years shows how little benefit these screening tests actually provide. Although not a total wash, widespread screening helps in very small numbers, not worth the risk or cost. One study has concluded that $5.2 million must be spent on screening to prevent one prostate cancer death, and the authors pointed out that that numbers is probably even higher than that when including all costs.

Despite the growing evidence, changing the early detection screening paradigm will not be easy. When doctors are groomed in a culture of prevention (at least according to the obsolete medical model still dominating western health care), no matter how convoluted the version, and that culture then seeps into the mainstream consciousness to such a degree that the public expects diagnostic screening, it will be a difficult hill to climb to change things. No matter how erroneous the principle behind wide-spread cancer screening, in terms of practicality for doctors, weaning the public, getting over the fears of legal liability and just breaking habit will take time.

I am personally pleased by this spark of light igniting in medicine. It is part of the new paradigm I have been pushing for the last decade. My message is not that medicine is bad, or that a great conspiracy by the pharmaceutical industry and greedy doctors is in play (although a small movement has formed today pushing just this notion), but that we are following a faulty paradigm in health care. Our emphasis over the last half-century has been to direct the processes of the body, which are normally controlled by Innate. And if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: The body knows how to run itself. Yes, it occasionally needs help, but not to the degree with which we apply medical intervention. The latest findings by the USPSTF, and the push toward decreasing some screening test is a step in the right direction.

Lat pull downs and chin-ups are favorite exercises of bodybuilders and other athletes.  Aside from the fine aesthetics of a well developed latissimus dorsi (the V-shape of a man’s back), low back stabilization benefits also apply.

But chinning-up without stretching these massive muscles is a mistake, and it can lead to back pain, shoulder pain and even difficulty breathing.  In the video below, I demonstrate the best lat workouts and stretches for pain relief and prevention.  Further, stretching the lats just feels good.  It’s one of my personal favorites.

Whether you have low back pain, a chronic shoulder pain or just tightness from working out, the stretch I demonstrate in the video will be sure to open you up and make both your upper and lower torso feel tops.  Enjoy.

The FDA has issued a recall on Turkish pine nuts from bulk containers at Wegmans Food Markets, and also food items such as pesto, salads or baked goods that may have been prepared with the pine nuts.  Agency officials report that the pine nuts are imported from Turkey, and have sickened at least 42 people with Salmonella in seven states including California, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington.  Two people have been hospitalized for salmonellosis.

The CDC has reported 42 people sickened in five states–Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia–and implicated pine nuts purchased in Wegmans bulk bins and prepared foods that included Wegmans pine nuts as an ingredient as the source of the outbreak.  The CDC mentioned Caprese salad and asparagus with pine nuts sold at Wegmans stores as possibly being contaminated with Salmonella.

recall by the Wegmans grocery store chain was limited to 5,000 lbs of pine nuts sold in the bulk foods department of most of its stores in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia between July 1 and Oct. 18, 2011.  The CDC said labs in Virginia and New York have isolated the Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak strain from retail samples of Turkish pine nuts collected from a Wegmans store and from pine nuts and homemade pesto at outbreak victims’ homes.  Federal, state and local health authorities are continuing to use the national PulseNet monitoring system to identify other reports of Salmonella infection that may be part of this outbreak. 

As I’ve reported in this blog, we’re seeing increases in the number of food-borne illness every year, and they will continue to rise.  This latest recall of pine nuts on the heels of a cantaloupe listeriosis outbreak that has been the deadliest in modern U.S. history.  As of this writing, the 26-state outbreak is still in effect, and it might be some time before we can assess the final damage.  But, I digress–today, we’re talking pine nuts.  Make sure to check your cupboards for the Wegmans brand, and if you unsure…toss ’em.  It ain’t worth the puke.

Another small victory for marijuana proponents, as the California Medical Association (CMA), is calling for cannabis legalization. The state association, which represents more than 35,000 physicians statewide, has taken an official position that despite its questionable medicinal value, marijuana should be made legal and regulated like alcohol or tobacco.  The CMA is the first major medical association to take that stance.

According to Dr. Donald Lyman, the Sacramento physician who wrote the group’s new policy, the change in position stems from frustration over California’s medical marijuana laws. As he explains, doctors are in a difficult position as more patients start to ask about marijuana’s medical benefits, particularly for pain relief, but which is still an illegal substance under federal law. Dr. Lyman believes that the question of whether marijuana has medicinal value can only be determined by legalization and research.

But this latest statement by the CMA has stirred much controversy.  John Lovell, spokesman for the California Police Chiefs Association said, “Given everything that we know about the physiological impacts of marijuana–how it affects young brains, the number of accidents associated with driving under the influence–it’s just an unbelievably irresponsible position.”

Other doctors associations have voiced concerns as well. Dr. Robert DuPont, M.D. and professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School, said the association’s call for legalization showed “a reckless disregard of the public health. I think it’s going to lead to more use, and that, to me, is a public health concern. I’m not sure they’ve thought through what the implications of legalization would be.”

But the rationale from the CMA has merit.  Although they acknowledge some health risks to using marijuana, they believe that the consequences of criminalization outweigh the hazards. Dr. Lyman says current laws have “proven to be a failed public health policy.” He cited increased prison costs, the effect on families when marijuana users are imprisoned and racial inequalities in drug-sentencing cases.

I tend to agree with the CMA, though I think they are taking the politically safe, yet smart, route by doubting benefits of marijuana use and playing up the risks, so as not to encourage recreational drug use, but also by pointing out, and rightly so, that the drug is benign…and it may have greater benefit than we know!  But we’ll never find out if we don’t open that smokey door.

Listen, I’ve said this repeatedly in this blog: There is no doubt that marijuana carries with it side effects (2 am Taco Bell runs for instance) physiological changes, but when compared to alcohol and tobacco–it’s lite-weight. The warnings by police enforcement officials is about as convincing as Reefer Madness. C’mon. Regulate it, tax it, punish driving under the influence, and you’ve got an open revenue source. No way it’ll lead to more chaos than booze…or pharmaceuticals…c’mon.

I am convinced that the ol’ MJ will be legalized in California within ten years, maybe sooner.  And as Cali goes, so goes the nation. That’s what the Heshers say, anyhow.

I wanted to address something I touched on last post–obesity as a condition of prosperity.  The obesity epidemic that we are witnessing today in western society is only possible in an environment of abundance.  I am not talking individual wealth here, but prosperity of nations; and American obesity statistics, and pretty much that of the rest of the world, support this claim.  Obesity is rampant in North America and Europe, with Japan and South Korea having the highest rates in the east.

But wait, what about the rising powers of China and India?  They are experiencing rapid economic growth, but have they an obesity epidemic?  According to a recent report, extreme fatness is making its way to India.  As India’s economy grows, the middle class increases as well, and western fast food companies are smelling opportunity like they haven’t since, well, 1950s America.

And which demographic do you suppose the fast-food industry is targeting?…You got it–youngsters.  Let’s go to the Hop… Reports disclose that one in three children in private schools in New Delhi are obese compared with one in ten in government schools.

“Obesity is emerging in India which has serious implications for metabolic health in the future,” says researcher Seema Gulati. “Schoolchildren are attracted to the way it (junk food) is advertised,” she said. “They feel it is something that is high status. They want to try it out.”

Exactly…convenience, good taste, high status, western, bourgeois, you know…you’ve been there America, but now look atcha: 30% obesity in most states.  That’s not overweight…that’s obese…and it’s crazy.  And I’m certain the trend will continue in the East, as Asian countries get more powerful.

Brazil is there already, and India is on its way…China anyone?  We’ll see.  A major 2010 study called “The Rise of Asia’s Middle Class” by the Asian Development Bank warned that in the next 20-30 years Asia will be faced with “an increasing number of chronic diseases on a scale previously unseen”.

Obesity is a natural consequence of prosperity.  As money flows, so does the drive for convenience, and nothing more convenient than ready-made food for the go.  Wealth comes from work–lots of it–and this means limited time.  We Americans know that lifestyle all too well–the burning candles, chasing sensory stimuli and seeking greater and greater conveniences–and how it can lead to greater excesses.  Ultimately these excesses cause problems, like rising chronic diseases and epidemics of addiction: food, drugs, sex, and so on.

Hey I’m not knocking any of it…just pointing out the truths of the bigger picture.  We can waste time looking for new and novel causes of obesity–heck, lots of money to be made there–but if we really wish to make a dent in the obesity numbers, then understanding how the condition arises and develops over time is a hell of a lot more useful than trying to create new fantasies about genes and hormones, especially as we see it unfolding in other cultures mirroring our own.  Let’s put two and two together, find real solutions to help those that truly want them, and then maybe we might even pave the way for others to understand and resolve their own issues.  But it won’t happen anytime soon if we continue to foolishly blame outside forces when the problem is completely man-made.

Over the last several posts I have discussed a few aspects of obesity that I think are important in understanding the condition. There is no doubt that obesity is a multi-factorial issue in adults—I’ve always contended that. But I do not feel that way when it comes to kids, because children often do not have the same mental factors, which I believe play such a strong role in chronic obesity (the factor most involved in the I-just-can’t-seem-to-lose-weight-no-matter-what-I try-syndrome). More on this in a future post.

But we already defined obesity—a medical condition in which excess body fat has accumulated to the extent that it may have an adverse effect on health, leading to reduced life expectancy and/or increased health problems—so the question should now be: How has obesity become epidemic? How have so many people gained weight to such degree as to be detrimental to their health? The numbers today are harrowing–in the U.S. no state has a prevalence of obesity less than 20%, with some states having 30% or more of their population obese.

This is a fairly new phenomenon, as the numbers in the U.S. have gone through their most dramatic increase only over the last twenty years. This is one reason I do not buy into the genetic or hormonal-cause theories. Gene pools just don’t change that quickly, especially not with regard to a trait that has neither survival nor reproductive advantages.

One major benefit we are experiencing as a result of the current obesity epidemic is that we have learned quite a bit about human physiology, particularly with regard to changes in autonomic function. What is particularly interesting is to see how the body responds to an extreme change in condition—in this case, excess weight gain. Once again, we see the incredible intelligence inherent in the human body. The body responds to a perceived stress in a very predictable way: It tries to reestablish balance, and it does so through the autonomic nervous system (ANS).

These observations have some in the field excited that they have now found the true underlying cause of obesity. However, ANS changes, and their associated hormonal imbalances, are not the cause of obesity. Neither are emotional or economic stressors the cause of obesity. While these issues are very likely factors in the long-term maintenance of obesity—the reason why “weight stays relatively constant”—they are not, in and of themselves, what causes obesity. Taking in more energy (calories) than we use is the primary cause of obesity. And this phenomenon is predominantly due to one or more of the following factors:
  • Eating more than is needed (we’ve all done this at one time or another, so it shouldn’t be too hard to conceptualize how it could happen repeatedly, over time, leading to a form of conditioning)
  • Eating nutritionally-poor foods (more than occasionally)
  • Chronic inactivity

Yes, hormonal issues like hypothyroidism can cause weight gain, so can medication side-effects, and genetics probably leaves some people more susceptible than others. But these factors are not responsible for the 20-30% obesity rates in the U.S. No way.

So, once again, how has obesity become epidemic in the U.S. and other western societies? As far as I can see obesity is a consequence of prosperity. When food is abundant, when we do not have to grow, hunt, trap or kill our own food sources, when high-energy foods (not in vibrancy, but calories: think pizza) is just a phone call away, 24-7, what do you think is going to happen? Poor nations don’t have obesity epidemics. Oh they may have obese people…but not an epidemic. Think about it. Obesity is mostly a condition of abundance.

Obesity is also a consequence of population growth. The more mouths we have to feed in rich, industrialized nations, the more we have to manufacture foods that will preserve long-term storage, transport and shelf-life. Simple as this: To feed millions of people, foods are tweaked to prevent their perishing, and as a result we get chemically- and preservative-laden foodstuff, as well as the now prevalent yet highly controversial genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). Ingesting these food-like substances, as I like to call them, in large quantities or over long periods can lead to excessive weight gain.

Sorry to the foolish skeptic, but sodas do cause weight gain. It is no surprise to me that obesity has run concurrently with both American power and prosperity in the world, but also with the explosion of the food industry, particularly in the development of processed  foods (and junk food, and fast food, and soda consumption…)

As I’ve hinted in a previous post, I also believe a very strong mental component is involved in the obesity epidemic. No doubt the psychological makeup of society is contributing to this massive inflation. The coddling of the obese—by searching for an it’s-something-outside-of-you cause—is no small factor in making obesity an epidemic. Next post, I will discuss weight loss and what I think is a better approach to decreasing the prevalence of obesity in modern society.
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