Category Archives: Drive-by Feedings: Toxic Food Landscape and Obesity

Drive-by Feedings: Toxic Food Landscape and Obesity

Instant gratification paired with assault marketing will undo the best of intentions.
1.Tasty, Cheap and Easy
2.Food Deserts or Food Swamps?
3.Entitled to Junk Food
4.Sold on Junk Food
5.Eating as Entertainment

How Microbes Make Us Fat

Obesity is now classified as a disease in the United States.

Who will benefit from this semantic change remains to be seen: more diagnosis, more coverage for nutrition counseling and thinner bodies, hopefully. A likelier scenario, albeit a cynical one, may be this: more bariatric surgery and more diet drugs entering the pipeline with full coverage by insurance companies and government.

Probiotics are deeply involved in this disease and should demand attention too.

What we know: Lean and obese people harbor different types of microbes. The microflora of obese people  include fewer Bacteroidetes and more Firmicutes than lean people. When they lose weight, microbes change too.
review article from in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings explores the role of gut microflora in obesity.


How do gut microbiota contribute to obesity?
At least three ways: more energy taken from food, more fat cells are made, and the triggering of inflammation.

One recent study reinforced this line of thinking. Inflammation was reduced in rats fed a strain of Lactobacillus gasseri for 24 weeks. The strain significantly prevented body weight gain, fat accumulation and pro-inflammatory gene expression in the adipose tissue.

Changing gut microflora may be a new approach to treating obesity. But don’t hold your breath on reimbursement or subsidies for your yogurt.

That would be too sensible.

Mexico’s Tax on Sugary Drinks Lowers Sales by 12%

Yes, taxes on soda work: “researchers estimate that Mexico’s 10% tax on soda and other sugary drinks will prevent about 189,300 new cases of Type 2 diabetes, 20,400 strokes and heart attacks, and 18,900 premature deaths over 10 years”. Melissa Healy for the Los Angeles Times reports.

Ballot initiatives in California and Colorado are set to join other United States cities including Philadelphia and Berkeley in setting new taxes on the sugary drinks.

With obesity rising unabated, these taxes may do what we can’t do for ourselves.


Instagram or Insta-kilogram

Visions of tasty foods bombard us constantly on social media, television and in magazines. Our foodie culture is overloading our senses and our abilty to just say “no.”

Our brain has evolved to find nutritious foods and reject poisonous substances. Taste, smell and texture team up with our sense of vision to find them.

The flood of images–called gastroporn– may contribute to our obesity epidemic. A new discussion is worth reading: Eating with our eyes: From visual hunger to digital satiation in Brain and Cognition by Charles Spence and colleagues in October of 2015.

The authors review the role that viewing images may have on neural activity and whether it may lead to increased hunger.

One interesting take is the trend of taking pictures of food at home and restaurants. 

The authors conclude:”Given the essential role that food plays in helping us to live long and healthy lives, one of the key challenges outlined here concerns the extent to which our food-seeking sensory systems/biology, which evolved in pre-technological and food-scarce environments, are capable of adapting to a rapidly-changing (sometimes abundant) food landscape, in which technology plays a crucial role in informing our (conscious and automatic) decisions.”

Latino Toddlers Fatter than Playmates

Data mining has uncovered a disturbing trend: Latino children become fat much earlier than black or white playmates. A full 20% of boys are overweight by age four.

What’s going on here? These kids aren’t shopping, cooking or deciding their menus.

Using national data sets culled from 40,000 children over 12 years, researchers teased the differences from race, sex, and insurance status variables.

Gilbert C. Liu and colleagues reported their findings as The obesity epidemic in children: Latino children are disproportionately affected at younger ages in International Journal of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in March 2015.

In contrast, white and black children reached that high percentage closer to 7 and 9 years of age.

“Moreover, significant proportions of Latino children become overweight before entering grade school, suggesting that grade-school-based obesity prevention is too late for this high-risk population. Our study contributes to a growing body of evidence that indicates an increased risk of overweight in Latino preschoolers, and our study is distinguished by its large body of longitudinal data.”

Other studies point to this disparity: (See references here.)

NHANES: overweight prevalence in Mexican American children estimated to be between 13.1% compared to 8.6% for black and 8.8% for white

 WIC: overweight prevalence in more than 2 million preschoolers: Hispanic is 17.9% compared to 11.7%, for black and 11.4%, for white.

 Fragile Families and Child Well-being: of 2452 children, ages 3 years, nearly 26% of Hispanics were overweight compared to16.2% blacks, 14.8% for whites.

This data suggests, strongly, that school programs to combat obesity may come too late.

Tackling the problem starts with one big question: why so many Hispanics? Early research suggests possible answers:

  • Thrifty genes soak up calories when plentiful
  • Cooking practices
  • Exercise habits
  • Body image

The authors conclude:

 “Further studies should focus on the emergence of further metabolic and cardiovascular risk factors and on developing targeted prevention and intervention strategies in young children, their families, and the communities in which they live.”

Does Fructose Make Us Lazy?

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), once hailed for its low cost and long shelf life, is under fire for its link to obesity and metabolic disease.
The debate gets murky however because fructose (half of HFCS) is the very same molecule in fruit. Yet no one is blaming a high fruit consumption for our global obesity epidemic.
Rather the problem stems from two areas:
!–More fructose in the food supply as HFCS replaced 50% of all the table sugar since 1970. HFCS poured into soft drinks, sport drinks, pastries and countless processed foods like pizza and catsup.
2–Metabolic changes:
—Fructose may not satisfy appetite. Key appetite hormones including insulin, leptin and ghrelin respond differently than they do to glucose.
—Fructose may signal the appetite centers in the brain in a different way than glucose does.
—Fructose may change resting energy expenditure, causing weight gain.
Also, a new study found less activity when mice were fed 18% of energy intake—comparable to the average human diet today.
After 77 days of supplementation, the animals fed fructose showed a significant reduction in physical activity compared to the glucose-fed controls. Body weight, liver mass and fat mass were also higher.

Catarina Rendeiro and colleagues from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Illinois reported their findings in a paper titled Fructose decreases physical activity and increases body fat without affecting hippocampal neurogenesis and learning relative to an isocaloric glucose diet published April 2015.

This disturbing news warrants further study. And at the very least, we should be working to oust HFCS from our menus.

Food Fights in School Lunch

More than 30 million students eat subsidized or free lunch every day in the United States.

Are taxpayers getting what they pay for: a well-nourished group of avid learners? Or, as some groups and nutritionists charge, are they loading up children with excess calories and extra pounds as well as fattening the coffers of the nation’s junk food purveyors?

The disturbing truth to what the grown-ups are fighting about behind the lunch counter is reported by Nicholas Confessore in How School Lunch Became the Latest Political Battleground for The New York Times on October 7, 2014.

The School Food Lunch program was originally launched as a way to bolster the health of the nation’s soldiers, not students as would be expected. Confessore writes:

“In one sense, the school-lunch program was all too successful. No longer was the military having trouble finding well-fed young American men and women. By 2009, according to the Department of Defense, more recruits were being turned away for obesity than for any other medical reason. The recruits, as a letter signed by dozens of retired generals and admirals put it, were “too fat to fight.”

Enter Michelle Obama. Her campaign to reform those recipes and requirements provided by the schools has met unexpected opposition by the “lunch ladies” AKA School Nutrition Association and their lobbyists.

Read Confessore’s compelling account of how politics and special interests are sabotaging our children’s best interests. It appears that the warm bodies of our “lunch ladies” with big smiles and dowdy hairnets have been snatched by well-pensioned government bureaucrats in the thrall of big business.


Wasted Wealth of Fruits and Vegetables

Eat your vegetables!  It’s not a new message but one that is more urgent today given the soaring numbers of obese children. An innovative push in the United States focuses on Farm to School (F2S) activities where locally-grown fruits and vegetables (FV) find a place on cafeteria menus.

Great idea. Yet many millions of tons of food are wasted every year—much of it tossed in the trash from a student’s tray. (See the April 2014 article in the Los Angeles Times newspaper about $100,000 worth of food wasted in Los Angeles Schools every DAY).

Are student’s benefiting at all?

Research done at the University of Wisconsin in Madison asked if a F2S program would change knowledge, attitudes, or consumption of fruit and vegetables as well as short-term BMIs.

Third through fifth-grade pupils at 12 schools were tested. The researcher found:

  • Small increases in dietary knowledge and attitudes toward eating fruits and vegetables
  • Increased FV access and consumption in school lunch.
  • No change in total energy intake.
  • Increase in energy from fruits and vegetables, indicating calorie displacement.
  • No change in BMIs.

The author concluded that F2S programs could play a part in supporting community health.

Lowering obesity rates will take a while. But putting more beans and berries in a child’s tummy has rewards far beyond weight loss.

Fruits and vegetables are rich in phytochemicals, prebiotics, fibers both soluble and insoluble, antioxidants, flavonoids and of course vitamins and minerals. Potato chips and soda look bankrupt in comparison.

Book Stores and Beaches Do Mix

Thanks to all who attended my pseudo-TED (Truly Enlightening Discourse) talk in Santa Monica on Saturday at Barnes & Noble on 3rd Street Promenade.I know it wasn’t easy given that the awesome SoCal beach was just two blocks away. There are still a few signed copies of Globesity: 10 Things You Didn’t Know Were Making You Fat available at the store (call 310 260 9110 to reserve or order). Hannah, thanks for the deck work. Frank, thanks for the lovely event set-up.

FYI: TED’s mission statement:

“We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other…”

Community of curious souls. I’d be honored to be part of that.

Pulitzer Prize Goes to Series on SNAP

As obesity soars and enrollment in the governmental Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has skyrocketed to I in 7 Americans, one must ask: are they connected?

Today Columbia University awarded a Pulitzer Prize to The Washington Post’s Eli Saslow for his explanatory series on the USDA program formerly known as Food Stamps. In one segment, he follows a young Texan mother and her children as they navigate the pressures and health challenges of extreme poverty. On disability, Blanca Salas who is also diabetic allows Saslow to accompany her to the doctor’s office. Blanca injects insulin for her diabetes and her 13-year old daughter Clarissa is showing signs of pre-diabetes while 9-year-old Antonio shares her cholesterol medication.

Eating habits are unhealthy: Hot Cheetos with cheese and Diet Coke among other junky snacks and fast food. Exercise is non-existent: it’s too dangerous to go outside after a certain hour.

Read the story “Too much of too little” here. It strikes at the heart of a disturbing paradox: obesity in the hungry in America.



Best Weight Control Methods

Diets don’t last. But weight management implies a control that can extend over a lifetime.

A recent analysis of 37 studies in Obesity Reviews which included more than 16,000 participants found some practices which may help with your own weight control. The average weight loss over one year was 6 pounds.

Interestingly, the following were related to program effectiveness:

  • Calorie counting
  • Contact with a dietitian
  • Behavior change techniques

Note that supervised exercise and in-person meetings were not instrumental in success.

Sounds basic, but that’s what works.