What Not To Count

I’m continuing with my thoughts on Time magazine’s June 7, 2004 special issue “Overcoming Obesity” and reflecting on the progress that has been made and not been made on the topic.

The lead article asks: “So why is this [obesity] happening? The obvious, almost trivial answer is that we eat too much high-calorie food and don’t burn it off with enough exercise.” The articles in this issue do mention other connections to obesity such as genetics, the biochemistry of hunger/fat metabolism, fast/junk food, food psychology, and a metabolic disorder—“what they are finding is an exquisitely fine-tuned system of chemical and neurological checks and balances that regulate what we eat and how much our bodies store fat.”

Even with these additional connections being made to obesity, “calorie” and “eat less, exercise more” appear in the issue’s various articles:

  • “How about eat less, move more, and eat your fruits and vegetables.”
  • “If you’re dealing with obesity, people have to eat less.”
  • On a woman’s weight loss: “. . . what she did was buy a couple of books that listed  the nutritional value and calorie content of the food she ate.”
  • “After reaching their goal, most long-term losers followed a single general strategy toward nutrition: limiting the calories and to a lesser extent the amount of fat in their diet.”

For a moment, let’s return to high school science—what is a calorie? According to Webster it’s “the amount of heat required at the pressure of one atmosphere to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree Celsius.” Our calorie obsession is based on turning us into a calculation.

Why the calorie focus? We are creatures of habit. For more than half a century, we’ve been repetitively told and have heard calories, calories, calories. Think about the TV/magazine ads highlighting this aspect of foods. Exactly how many 100-calories food/snacks exist today? This approach makes all calories seem equal. But does your body treat 100 calories of potato chips the same way it treats a 100-calorie apple? I don’t think so.

In The Schwarzbein Principle, Diana Schwarzbein, M.D. reminds us that a one-hundred calorie snack doesn’t equal one hundred calories worth of available energy: “If the snack is composed of carbohydrates, your body has to use the hundred calories for immediate energy or store that energy as fat. But if the snack is made up of protein and fats, your body can use these foods first for building materials (cells, enzymes, hormones and so on), leaving fewer calories to be used as energy or stored as fat.”

Schwarzbein also provides nine points on why you can’t lose body fat by restricting calories. One of these points: “If you continue with the low-calorie diet, your body is forced to take material from bones and muscle to keep your brain and kidneys going.” Not something I would be comfortable with doing. Think of damage we’ve caused to ourselves by our obsession with low-calorie dieting.

With the above point in mind, Gary Taubes, in Good Calories, Bad Calories, reminds us of the contradiction of “eat less, exercise more:” “Though more strenuous exercise would burn more calories, it would lead to a significant increase in appetite. This is the implication of the phrase ‘working up an appetite.’”

The time has more than come to drop the antiquated, decades-old “eat less, exercise more” mentality and turn our attention to other potential causes such as genetics, the biochemistry of hunger/fat metabolism, fast/junk food, food psychology, and a metabolic disorder.

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Percentages Escalating

Recently, while sorting through my files, I came across a special issue of Time magazine from June 7, 2004:

Time Cover

The issue is a fascinating read as well as a measure of how far we have or have not come regarding obesity in America.

The lead article states: “There’s no doubt that the obesity epidemic is real and our collective health is getting worse.” Also, included in this piece is the statement: “But the following pages will make it clear that there is plenty of hope.”

From a 2016 perspective, one can ask how much hope?

Some of the obesity statistics from this Time issue:

  •  Fully 2/3 of U.S. adults are officially overweight.
  •  About 1/3 of the above can be classified as full-blown obesity.
  •  In kids 6-19, 1 in 6 (15%) are overweight, and an additional 15% are heading that way  (notice no mention is made of obesity in this age bracket).
  • The total medical cost for obesity-related disease is $117 billion/year.

Roughly six years later, information from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-10 states:

  • More than 2 in 3 adults (68.8%) are considered to be overweight.
  • More than 1 in 3 adults (35.7%) are considered to be obese.
  • 1/3 of children and adolescents 6-19 are overweight or obese.
  • 1 in 6 of children and adolescents 6-19 are considered to be obese.

As the above 2009-10 figures point out, the number of overweight and obese American adults and children reflects an increase from the Time statistics.

More recently, figures from a 2014 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study state: 36% of adults and 17% of children are obese.

Bringing additional focus on the above information, obesitycampaign.org states: “If the rate stays constant by 2030, 51% of Americans will be obese.” While, according to the Trust for American Health: “20 years ago, no state had an obesity rate above 15%—today 41 states have an obesity rate over 25%.”

Interestingly, the figures for the yearly total medical costs vary widely. Some of the calculations I came across are:

  • In 2005, the Harvard School for Public Health estimated the cost to be $190 billion.
  • In 2008, the total cost was $147 billion (a $30 billion increase over the Time’s estimate), and an absenteeism from work cost of $6.38 billion.
  • A 2011 Gallop Poll points out obese people miss an estimated 450 million days of work each year compared with healthy [sic] workers—for an estimated cost of $153 billion annually in lost productivity.

The above statistics show we have not made progress curtailing the rates of obesity. If these rates continue to rise, the Trust for American Health’s estimate that 51% of Americans will be obese by 2030 will become as reality as well as Dr. David Katz’s, current President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, prediction that “today’s kids may be the first generation in history whose life expectancy is projected to be less than that of their parents.”

Sorry for the above bombardment of statistics. Has the promise of “plenty of hope” in the Time article disappeared?

In this post, I’ve concentrated on a general overview of the facts/figures/percentages regarding obesity. In future ones, also based on Time’s special issue on obesity, I’ll narrow my focus.

Transparency—Pending

Pepperidge Farm, Swanson’s Foods, Bolthouse Farms, Pace, Prego, Spaghetti O’s all have something in common—they are owned by Campbell’s. Yes, the makers of the chicken noodle and tomato soups many of us ate while growing up.

The above brands also have something else in common; Campbell’s plans to begin disclosing if genetically modified foods (GMOs) are in their products.

Denise Morrison, their chief executive, stated: “We are operating with a ‘Consumer First’ mindset. We put the consumer at the center of everything we do.” She went on to say: “In addition, we have declared our intention to set the standard for transparency in the food industry.”

Connecting with the above, Morrison also said: “Today, consistent with our purpose, we announce our support for mandatory national labeling of products that may contain genetically modified organisms (GMO) and propose that the federal government produce a national standard for non-GMO claims made on food packaging.”

The above quote is interesting, because of the pending legislation, “The Safe and Accurate Food labeling Act” (H.R. 1599), that the House of Representatives passed in July 2015 (still to be voted on in the Senate). Among other things, this legislation would ban states from passing laws requiring the labeling of GMO foods. Interestingly, this act has been referred to by opponents of the legislation as the Deny Americans the Right to Know Act (DARK Act). With her above remark, Morrison is opposing both the above legislation and the major food companies supporting H.R. 1599.

We have no way of knowing what brought about Campbell’s shift—oh, to be a fly on the wall to know their thinking. I would have loved it if Campbell’s had also issued a challenge to Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, General Mills, ConAgra, Nestlé, and other food companies, to follow Campbell’s example regarding the labeling of GMO ingredients.

As you know from my previous posts (October 12, 2015, “The Right To Choose” & September 21, 2015, “GMO & GE—Different Names, Same Process”), I strongly believe in transparency and having the right to know what’s in our food.

Morrison also stated: “I want to stress that we’re in no way disputing the science behind GMOs or their safety. The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence indicates that GMOs are safe, and foods derived from crops using genetically modified seeds are not nutritionally different from other foods.”

No mention is made to which research she is referring to or who sponsored this research—was it the food industry or was it independently conducted? Also, Morrison fails to mention the scientific research showing that GMOs are not safe to eat.

I possess a “yes/but” mindset of Campbell’s announcement.

Yes, since I am opposed to GMOs, I am pleased by Campbell’s announcement and will follow their progress over the next one to two years to see if they’re fulfilling their promise “to set the standard for transparency in the food industry.”

But, in this ongoing discussion and in light of Morrison’s endorsement of GMOs, we need to be provided with and have access to all the facts and information concerning this important topic.

Again, contact your senators to let them know your stand on H.R.1599.

“Begin It”

In the spirit of the beginning of 2016, please take a moment to read the following quote from William Hutchinson Murray’s The Scottish Himalayan Expedition:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then, providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”

You just have to take action. As I have mentioned in the past, begin with a small, positive change and then, watch the ripple effect that change has on your life.

Again, Happy New Year!