By Dr. Mercola
While hard to believe, the most recent statistics1 indicate Americans just keep getting fatter. As of 2015, nearly 40 percent of adults, over 18 percent of teens and nearly 14 percent of young children were obese, not just overweight. Severe obesity has also increased, now affecting nearly 8 percent of adults; a 2.3 percent increase since 2007/2008. As reported by the authors:
“Among adults aged 20 years and older, obesity was defined as a body mass index (BMI …) of 30 or more and severe obesity was defined as a BMI of 40 or more … Among youth, obesity prevalence was 16.8 percent in 2007-2008 and 18.5 percent in 2015-2016 … Obesity prevalence among children aged 2 to 5 years showed a quadratic trend, decreasing from 10.1 percent in 2007-2008 to 8.4 percent in 2011-2012 and then increasing to 13.9 percent in 2015-2016 …”
Public Health Messaging Is Not Working
According to The New York Times,2 public health experts have expressed alarm by the rise in obesity despite education efforts. The NYT also added:
“The latest data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey comes at a time when the food industry is pushing back against stronger public health measures aimed at combating obesity. In recent NAFTA negotiations, the Trump administration has proposed rules favored by major food companies that would limit the ability of the United States, Mexico and Canada to require prominent labels on packaged foods warning about the health risks of foods high in sugar and fat.”
Indeed, U.K. pediatricians are now warning that the nation’s trade deal with the U.S. “could lead to even higher rates of obesity through the import of American foods high in fat and sugar,”3 and that America’s hostile stance toward countries with stricter food rules4 to support healthier eating habits threatens the U.K.’s anti-obesity efforts. Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health told The Guardian:5
“We’re concerned by the evidence of U.S. hostility in trade talks toward countries that want to set their own domestic agenda on reducing sugar intake, particularly the push [from the U.S.] to keep traffic light labeling voluntary. We can’t allow trade talks to undermine efforts to tackle childhood obesity. Children’s health outcomes are much worse in the U.S. than in many other comparable countries, and we don’t want to import these along with the sugar.”
Processed Food Is a Major Driver of Obesity
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The survey data didn’t reveal the reasons for the continued weight gain in the U.S., but there can be little doubt that processed food consumption continues to be part of the equation. According to Euromonitor,6,7 sales of fast food in the U.S. grew by nearly 23 percent between 2012 to 2017, and packaged food sales rose 8.8 percent.
The increase in processed food sales may well be a major part of the obesity epidemic, as one of the easiest ways to curb obesity is simply to eat real food. A real food diet will also help protect against chronic diseases such as cancer. ScienceAlert8 recently discussed the findings of an interesting study9 showing just how quickly a fast food diet can trash your health.
Researchers simply asked 20 Americans and 20 indigenous South Africans to switch diets, and then measured biomarkers to evaluate the biochemical changes. Remarkably, within two weeks of eating primarily burgers and french fries, the South Africans showed changes in biomarkers that are indicative of colon cancer. The Americans, on the other hand, showed a significant reduction in biomarkers of cancer risk.
What this suggests is that diet alone may be a significant contributing factor to colon cancer, and helps explain why Americans have a 13 times higher rate of this type of cancer compared to people living in rural South Africa. Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock’s now classic documentary “Super Size Me” also vividly demonstrated the consequences of eating a fast food diet.
After just four weeks, Spurlock’s health had deteriorated to the point that his physician warned him he was putting his life in serious jeopardy if he continued the experiment as dramatic weight gain was not the only rapidly emerging side effect. Unfortunately, the food and beverage industries often trick people into making really unhealthy choices. The “diet” food and beverage niche is a perfect example.
‘Diet’ Foods and Beverages Make You Fatter
In October 2017, three separate class-action lawsuits were filed against Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo., Dr Pepper Snapple Group and Dr Pepper/Seven Up Inc., charging them with false advertising for the deceptive use of the word “diet.”10,11,12,13,14 The class-action lawsuits also charge the beverage makers with violating FDA and New York state food labeling rules, both of which explicitly prohibit labeling that is “false or misleading in any particular.”
Low- or no-calorie artificial sweeteners are typically used to sweeten so-called “diet” foods and beverages in lieu of calorie-rich sugar or high fructose corn syrup. The idea is that consuming fewer calories will result in weight loss. However, research has firmly refuted such claims, showing that artificial sweeteners actually produce the complete opposite effect. By lowering appetite suppressant chemicals and encouraging sugar cravings, artificial sweeteners actually raise your odds of weight gain.
Studies have also shown artificial sweeteners promote insulin resistance and related health problems just like regular sugar does, so claims that “diet” soda and snacks are a safe and healthy option for diabetics are false as well. According to the complaints, the beverage makers should be aware of the published evidence against artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, which proves it actually worsens obesity and related health problems.
With this knowledge, it stands to reason that continuing to promote no- or low-calorie beverages as “diet” products is a willfully deceptive act aimed to deceive people who want to manage their weight. As stated by attorney Abraham Melamed15 “What’s been going on is clearly deceptive advertising. In our opinion, it’s one of the biggest consumer scams in the last 50 years, and it has to stop … hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of consumers … are being deceived on a daily basis.”
Unfortunately, the case against The Coca-Cola Company was recently dismissed.16,17 According to William Alsup, judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the plaintiff “failed to demonstrate that reasonable consumers were being misled.”
To properly demonstrate that Coca-Cola’s diet claims were misleading, the plaintiff would have to show evidence of causation between diet soda consumption and weight gain and not just correlation. For now, the remaining class-action lawsuits (one against PepsiCo and one against the Dr Pepper Snapple Group/Dr Pepper/Seven Up Inc.) are still active.18
The Role of Hormone Disrupting Chemicals
Aside from metabolically harmful artificial sweeteners, processed foods are also a major source of hormone-disrupting chemicals implicated in obesity and related health problems. In one recent study,19 fast food meals were found to significantly raise participants’ levels of phthalates, endocrine-disrupting chemicals that have been linked to impaired fertility, diabetes, reduced IQ, cancer and more. The source of the chemicals are the wrappers, packaging, takeout boxes and gloves used by servers.
Overall, people who had eaten at restaurants, cafeterias and fast-food joints the previous day had 35 percent higher levels of phthalates than those who ate food from home. This echoes previous research, which found people who ate fast food on a regular basis had about 40 percent higher phthalate levels than those who ate most of their meals at home. Among teens, the correlation was even stronger. Teens who ate the most fast food had 55 percent higher phthalate levels than those who ate mostly home-cooked meals.
They also found that 61 percent of the study sample had dined out the previous day, making the findings particularly relevant for a majority of people. As noted by senior author Ami Zota, assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute School of Public Health:
“What you eat is important, but this shows where it’s purchased is also important20 … This study suggests food prepared at home is less likely to contain high levels of phthalates, chemicals linked to fertility problems, pregnancy complications and other health issues.
Our findings suggest that dining out may be an important and previously under-recognized source of exposure to phthalates for the U.S. population. Home-cooked meals can be a good way to reduce sugar, unhealthy fats and salt. And this study suggests it may not have as many harmful phthalates as a restaurant meal.21“
Junk Food Companies Declared War on Public Health
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In previous articles, I’ve discussed how Coca-Cola Company financed the now defunct Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN) to confuse and mislead the public about soda’s influence on obesity — funding that remained hidden until outed by The New York Times. Now, an essay22 published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health reveals how Coca-Cola used GEBN as a “weapon to change the conversation about obesity.”
Codirector for U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) and coauthor of the paper, Gary Ruskin, said it “reveals The Coca-Cola Company’s true intentions to go to war with the public health community over obesity and who is responsible for it.”23 The paper is based on internal industry documents obtained by USRTK via freedom of information act (FOIA) requests. As reported in the abstract:
“Here we allow the words of Coca-Cola employees to speak about how the corporation intended to advance its interests by funding the GEBN.
The documents reveal that Coca-Cola funded and supported the GEBN because it would serve as a ‘weapon’ to ‘change the conversation’ about obesity amidst a ‘growing war between the public health community and private industry.’ Despite its close links to The Coca-Cola Company, the GEBN was to be portrayed as an ‘honest broker’ in this ‘war.’
The GEBN’s message was to be promoted via an extensive advocacy campaign linking researchers, policymakers, health professionals, journalists and the general public. Ultimately, these activities were intended to advance Coca-Cola’s corporate interests: as they note, their purpose was to ‘promote practices that are effective in terms of both policy and profit.’ Coca-Cola’s proposal for establishing the GEBN corroborates concerns about food and beverage corporations’ involvement in scientific organizations and their similarities with Big Tobacco.”
Cornell University — A Major Industry Supporter
Similarly, academics and researchers at prestigious schools are also “bought” by industry to present the industry’s agenda under the cloak of independent thinking and research. As reported by Alternet:24
“One repeat offender is Cornell University, several of whose professors have been lured into the propaganda machines of Big Ag and Big Food. One professor, Brian Wansink, the director of the university’s Food and Brand Lab, is facing allegations of self-plagiarism and possible data misrepresentation in multiple papers and studies.
The Journal of Sensory Studies even retracted one of Wansink’s studies because it contained a “major overlap” with another study he published. Cornell is a prestigious Ivy League school. So when their professors support junk food, pesticides and GMOs, it can have a damaging and potentially lasting impact worldwide.”
The article goes on to list “six ways Cornell has become a PR agency for Big Food and Big Ag.” This includes professor Tony Shelton writing a pro-GMO special report at the request of Eric Sachs, science and policy lead for Monsanto. Emails obtained by USRTK reveal Shelton and seven other academics were approached to write a series of papers, each being furbished with a topic and background information by Sachs.
The Cornell Alliance for Science (CAS) also appears to be a PR front for the chemical technology industry, even though it claims to have no industry relationships. Tip-offs include the fact that CAS’ articles tend to present a largely unbalanced view of genetically engineered (GE) crops, focusing on alleged benefits while staying mum on the many questions and problems raised by truly independent researchers.
Three Cornell academics also write for GMO Answers, a website funded by members of the Council for Biotechnology Information, which include Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Bayer, Dow AgroSciences, BASF and others.
Wansink, along with Cornell professor David Just, have also opposed bans on super-sized sodas, arguing that such bans would disproportionately affect the poor — a stance that contradicts research25 by Columbia health policy and management professor Y. Claire Yang, which suggests a ban on large-sized sodas would affect all income levels equally, and primarily target (and benefit) the overweight. Previous research26 has also highlighted the role of larger serving sizes in the U.S. obesity epidemic, showing it’s been a significant factor.
Health Starts With Real Food
As noted in a 2016 report by the British National Obesity Forum,27,28 a low-carb, high-fat diet — and eating less by cutting out between-meal snacks — appears to be the answer to the obesity epidemic. The benefits of this type of diet are also the primary focus of my book, “Fat for Fuel,” and my complementary online course, which guides you through seven engaging lessons to teach you how your body works at the molecular level, and how different foods affect your body.
Traditional weight loss advice suggests all you need to do is count calories, eat less and exercise more. Somewhat better recommendations specifically recommend cutting down on sugar. However, while many will initially lose weight doing this, it usually doesn’t take long to gain the weight back.
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There’s a better way. A great many of the disease epidemics facing us today could be turned around by educating people about the benefits of a diet high in healthy fats, moderate in protein and low in net carbohydrates (total carbs minus fiber), either alone or in combination with intermittent fasting and/or longer water fasts.
It’s important to realize that all calories are not created equal, and this is why counting calories doesn’t work for weight loss and health in the long run. The metabolic effects of calories differ depending on their source — a calorie from a Twinkie is not equivalent to a calorie from an avocado or a nut. That said, excessive snacking is a significant contributing factor to obesity, so, to lose weight and keep it off, you may need to reduce your meal frequency.
The quality of your food is also of prime importance. As mentioned earlier, eating real food, not processed fare, is a foundational aspect of weight management and optimal health. Cooking from scratch using whole, unadulterated, unprocessed and ideally biodynamically grown ingredients is really the only way to avoid a majority of harmful additives and contaminants that contribute to weight gain and ill health. Also remember to choose grass-fed/pasture-raised beef, poultry and dairy.
Real Food Resources
If you live in the U.S., the following organizations can help you locate farm-fresh foods:
Sources and References
- 1 JAMA March 23, 2018 doi:10.1001/jama.2018.3060
- 2, 7 New York Times March 23, 2018
- 3, 5 The Guardian March 18, 2018
- 4 The Guardian December 4, 2017
- 6 Euromonitor June 2017
- 8 Science Alert March 28, 2018
- 9 Nature Communications April 28, 2015, article number 6342
- 10 Classaction.org October 17, 2017
- 11 Top Class Actions LLC October 18, 2017
- 12 Bigclassaction.com October 17, 2017
- 13 New York Post October 18, 2017
- 14 CBS DFW October 19, 2017
- 15 CBS October 19, 2017
- 16 Food Navigator March 29, 2018
- 17 Reuters February 28, 2018
- 18 Top Class Actions March 19, 2018
- 19 Environment International March 29, 2018 [Epub ahead of print]
- 20 Environmental Health News March 29, 2018
- 21 Newsweek March 29, 2018
- 22 Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Science organisations and Coca-Cola’s ‘war’ with the public health community: insights from an internal
- 23 USRTK.org March 15, 2018
- 24 Alternet August 25, 2018
- 25 Eurekalert June 12, 2013
- 26 American Journal of Public Health 2002 February; 92(2): 246–249
- 27 British National Obesity Forum Report on Obesity
- 28 Reuters May 23, 2016
- 29 The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund
- 30 The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, State by State Review of Raw Milk Laws