While the problem with obesity in our society is caused by many factors working together, there is one major cause which is mentioned by almost no one -- the decline in the nutritional value of our food. Much of what we think is food is actually a food substitute -- a non-nutritive ingredient that mimics the characteristics of a real food so that food manufacturers do not have to pay the cost of using the real food. The major example of this is high-fructose corn syrup. It is a fact that the rise in obesity over time in the US tracks in parallel with the rise in the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup.
A book just published documents how substitute foods are sold to the public -- Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud (by Bee Wilson, ISBN 978-0-691-13820-6). Ms. Wilson documents how food consumers have been lulled by the existence of the FDA and the US Dept. of Agriculture into thinking that their food is safe. In fact, consumers assume that if something is sold in a supermarket or manufactured by a well-known company, it can't be bad for them. The problem is that much processed food, while not strictly speaking unsafe, is so nutritionally deficient that people can eat LOTS of it but still be undernourished.
One thing we must address is the need for better quality food, for food that contains more natural vitamins and minerals, for food that is grown in good soils under the proper conditions, for animals that are raised without artificial growth stimulants -- when food quality is low and food is nutritionally deficient, our bodies respond by craving more food. We eat a great many high-calorie foods that are nevertheless inadequate to supply our bodies' needs for micronutrients. I believe that one could argue convincingly that when people have food that is fulfilling their nutritional needs (not just for calories, but for minerals and vitamins as well) they eat less than if they are trying to compensate for nutritionally deficient foods.
There is a direct connection between the industrialization of the food supply (and high-fructose corn syrup again is the posterchild for this), the decline in the nutritional quality of food, and the overconsumption of food. The author of Supersize Me showed just how a fast food diet can cause obesity. He received a superabundance of calories, but his health actually declined because he was undernourished! Many of our children are in this exact same situation -- eating a lot, but not getting the nutrients they need. Calories are not the only nutritional aspect of food. We need to pay more attention to getting the best quality of food to feed to our children. That means turning away from industrialized and pre-processed foods, eating more raw foods, eating organic vegetables (because the use of manufactured fertilizers depletes soils in micro-nutrients), and avoiding meat of animals raised in feed lots where they are fed corn, antibiotics and growth hormones!
As a reviewer of non-fiction science books, I read and review 50-75 such books a year, but Ms. Wilson's is the first book that completely changed my behavior. The first time I went to shop for groceries after finishing Swindled, I took twice as long because I was reading so many labels, and found myself rejecting formerly habitual purchases in favor of unprocessed whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and locally-grown meats.
Yes, exercise is important, getting kids away from televisions and computers is important, engaging kids in outdoor activities is important -- but equally important is ensuring that what we feed our children actually nourishes them -- that they are actually satisfied by eating real food, prepared at home without fake ingredients.
posted 4 years, 7 months ago
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