Some Feel Doubt about “Sin Taxes”

TaxesIn “The Tax Conundrum,” Childhood Obesity News quoted Dr. Kelly Brownell, who differentiates meaningful change from programs that, while praiseworthy, are widely considered to be mere window-dressing, like healthy eating campaigns and corporate social responsibility initiatives.

When Dr. Brownell speaks of meaningful change, he is talking about putting some rules around marketing, regulating nutritional labeling, and most of all, taxing harmful and useless products like sugar-sweetened beverages.

The assumption is that the money gathered by the government will be used to reduce obesity. The people who worry that it will not be used in that way have plenty of evidence. They only need to point to what has happened with tobacco taxes. Whenever citizens have the chance to vote for a nicotine tax, they are probably under the impression that the money will be used for medical expenses, education and prevention, quitting programs, and the like.

In other words, since cigarettes cause public health problems, the people who smoke them are made to kick in a little extra to help pay for the damage. It sounds reasonable. But as time goes by, some citizens begin to feel they have been subjected to a bait-and-switch tactic. If they take the trouble to find out where the tax money went, they see it ending up in all kinds of places.

Where Tobacco Tax Money Goes

Currently, the average cigarette tax is $1.60 a pack, but it is higher in many states: in Arizona, it sits at $2 per pack and in Washington it’s at just over $3 per pack. Nevada’s tax was a mere 80 cents per pack, up until July 1, when it leaped to $1.80. Ray Hagar reports:

It is expected to raise an additional $192 million for the state in next two-year budget cycle…All of the new funding from the tax increase is destined for the state’s projected $7.4 billion general fund…Much of the new cigarette taxes could go to education funding…

As Californians smarten up and smoke less, their state sinks deeper into insolvency. Preschool and early childhood services are on the chopping block. Deepa Fernandes writes:

Eighty percent of tobacco taxes go directly to fund programs for children under five…The funds were spent on such services as pre- and postnatal programs, nurse home visits for at-risk families, and quality improvements to preschools.

These designations were made, by the way, with voters’ approval, which makes a certain amount of sense. Why spend it on people with cancer who are just going to die anyway? The problem with this sort of allocation is that anyone who cares about young children might feel it is their patriotic duty to smoke.

Kansas has been struggling with the tax question, too. The state is staring a $700 million budget deficit in the face. The governor wants to put $100 million in the general fund by raising sales taxes on liquor and tobacco. But the tobacco industry, which naturally does not want its products to be taxed, sent lobbyists to the state Senate. Their job was to convince the legislators that all the talk about health benefits is a lot of hooey. The state just wants to put a bandaid on its fiscal crisis.

The state government has an answer for that. Because of the higher tobacco tax, people who might have started smoking will not start. The state reckons it will save 15,000 residents from dying of tobacco-related illnesses. And of course the state won’t be spending on health care for any of them. But the actual revenue that is actually collected, that will be going for other things.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Thinking Forward: The Quicksand of Appeasing the Food Industry,” NIH.gov, 07/03/12
Source: “State’s largest-ever cigarette tax hike burns smokers,” RGJ.com, 07/03/15
Source: “With tobacco tax revenues in decline, hunt is on to find another way to fund free preschool,” SCPR.org, 03/27/15
Source: “Opponents of tobacco tax say it’s all about the money,” KHI.org, 03/24/15
Image by DonkeyHotey

Snacks and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND)

Healthy Summer SnackKids Eat Right Month” is now over. KERM seems to be the invention of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), recently suspected of being an “astroturf” (as opposed to “grassroots”) group whose decisions seem to be unduly influenced by corporations. In fairness, it must be said that the article is tagged, in a tiny-sized font, as an advertorial. These are tips for the conscientious parent:

  • Shop smart
  • Cook healthfully
  • Eat right
  • Plan wisely
  • Get moving
  • Consult an expert

Who but a crank would object to any of that? Even the short elaborations on each point seem innocuous. The sixth tip recommends hiring a registered dietitian nutritionist, or RDN, to set the family’s lifestyle on track, but that level of routine self-promotion is only to be expected. So far, this piece of prose gives no indication of an unholy alliance with corporate cupidity. It ends with a heartfelt call to action:

As a parent, you are highly influential, and habits formed early on could potentially last a lifetime. Take steps to steer kids to a path of good health.

Still nothing to complain about. A visit to eatright.org, the AND’s website, shows a front-page article called “Teach Your Teen about Food Labels,” a video about hydration, and many other features. If anything worrisome is here, it might most logically be found in the snacking area, perhaps in “4 Toddler Snacking Mistakes” by Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD.

The first suggestion is brilliant and the second contains a strategy that just might work. In “Mistake 4: Grazing All Day” the writer recommends putting snacks on a schedule, because routine is psychologically reassuring. The third suggestion really resonates: separate the definitions of snack food and treat food. Treats are for special occasions, and not for every day. Snacks are bonus eating opportunities, but consist of serious food nonetheless. Kuzemchak writes:

Many snack foods that are marketed to kids are full of refined flour, added sugar and salt. Those foods are OK to eat occasionally, but they don’t provide the nutrients your child needs the most (such as calcium, iron and fiber)…
Smarter Strategy: During most snack times, serve the same kinds of foods you serve at mealtime, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains including whole-wheat tortillas or bread as options, sources of protein such as hard-boiled eggs and hummus, and dairy foods such as yogurt and cheese.

To build on the writer’s premise, all these things are much easier if parents do them from the beginning. Starting with the first child is so much more effective, because she or he may not adapt well to change. When an older sibling is used to seeing junk food all over the home, it won’t be easy to provide a pristine environment for the second child.

“Empower Your Grade-Schooler’s Snacking” seems free of corporate influence in any specific way. However, the suggestions do assume a certain amount of leisure time and disposable income that are not enjoyed by every household. The recommendation is for pre-washed, ready-sliced vegetables, stowed in clear plastic wrap or transparent containers, placed on a refrigerator shelf in the child’s sightline. But some people don’t even have kitchens. The last suggestion could certainly be seen as benefiting corporations, but not any one in particular:

Buy food in single-serve containers for grab-and-go eating—for example, milk, raisins, juice, fruit cups, pudding and baby carrots.

Those single-serve containers can be pricey.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Tips for ‘Kids Eat Right Month’ this August,” Reporter-Times,com, 07/21/15
Source: “4 Toddler Snacking Mistakes,” eatright.org, 08/12/15
Image by Linda Åslund

The Sugar Addiction Story

Foodbeast infographic150 pounds per year—that’s how much sugar the average American was eating a few years ago. Or maybe it was 130 pounds, according to a fascinating infographic on this page, a section of which is shown in the illustration. A more recent estimate claims the average per capita consumption could be as much as 170 pounds per year. It is silly to quibble over how accurately the number of pounds is calculated, because even a small fraction of the lowest estimate would still be far too much.

It is not only obesity we should be worrying about—it’s any kind of health problem that occurs due to a weakened immune system, which is most of them. Our white blood cells react to a can of soda by losing as much as half their ability to kill invading bacteria. The post “Sugar Critics Still Going Strong” mentioned Dr. Nancy Appleton, who has continued to compile her list of ills caused by the white drug. For the complete, mind-blowing array, see “How Sugar Affects Your Health—146 Ways,” at a website called “Allergies & Your Gut.” Their motto is, “Good gut health is central to our overall well-being,” a subject which Childhood Obesity News has been exploring.

Our post “Attitudes About Sugar Addiction” spoke of Sugar Addiction Awareness Day, which falls on October 30, the day before Halloween, and not by coincidence. We looked at what causes foods to be hyperpalatable, hedonic, or addictive, and made the following suggestion:

If you find it difficult to get excited about the sugar addiction problem, try a thought experiment. Read the labels on every food item in your kitchen, and whenever you encounter one of the many terms for sugar, mentally substitute the word “methamphetamine.”

Sugar, Addiction, and Sugar Addiction” looked at the trickery used in food product labeling, a novelistic description of addiction, a real-life description of a man addicted to soda, and some lab studies with rats.

Sugar’s Addictive Grip” mentioned the lab rats who happily gave up their cocaine addiction for sugar. This post saluted Dr. Douglas Hunt, who diagnosed his own addictive bondage to sugar, and Dr. Theron Randolph, one of the first doctors to declare that addiction is addiction, with pretty much the same mechanism whether the addictor is alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, or sugar.

This fit in with the anecdotal accounts from self-identified, former sugar addicts who realized that when they unhooked from sugar, nicotine cravings also left them. In a cultural framework where cigarette addiction is acknowledged as incredibly difficult to break, this is a meaningful discovery. It was also a significant revelation when someone discovered that naltrexone, a pharmaceutical developed to break opioid and alcohol addiction, also worked on sugar.

Sugar Addicts Speak Up” included a quotation from a doctor who admitted to being a sugar addict, and mentioned a well-known actor who wrote and performed a monologue about breaking his bondage to the substance.

Sugar Addiction Takes More Hits” discussed Laura Singer’s indie film Sweet Nothing: America’s Addiction to Sugar and some of the people who have risked the crackpot label by issuing warnings about the white drug. The post also recalled William Dufty, author of Sugar Blues, who proved to be an early adapter when back in 1975 he called out Coca-Cola as a product with the potential to ruin entire civilizations.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Image by Foodbeast.com

Some Obesity-Related Children’s Books

Reading to ZacharyThere is always so much to cover that Childhood Obesity News occasionally misses the chance to comment on a book when it is first released. One such volume is Tuna Breath: A 275-Pound Teenager’s Coming of Age Story, which seems to have generated some controversy. The author, Doug Pedersen, describes Tuna Breath as a self-improvement book disguised as a memoir. He was a “super-fat kid” with a “binge eating life” who wrote the book from a belief that his words would prove inspirational. Armchair Librarian Nenia Campbell begs to differ. Her review begins:

I found this book deeply upsetting. It peddles some very dangerous views about weight loss, life choices, and physical appearance that could prove very harmful to susceptible individuals.

One objection Campbell makes is that it can’t really be called a “coming of age” story because there is very little childhood material. Her main problem is that Pedersen conducted himself like an anorexic teenage girl, severely under-eating and engaging in other dangerous practices. His account of a hitch in the Marines is very off-putting, and (although Campbell doesn’t mention this) his vulgar vocabulary might alienate some readers. The reviewer is genuinely and justifiably alarmed at Pedersen’s next career choice—coaching the mothers of overweight kids.  She goes on to say:

Usually, with books like these, I donate them to a local high school so kids can at least read them, but I’m not going to do that because I really do believe that the views in this book could be very harmful to a susceptible adolescent struggling with body image.

A sample chapter can be found at BookDaily, so the reader can judge.

More Obesity-Related Books

In 1998, Benny Hardouin published a book written for kids age 4 and older, Cumulus the Puffy Cloud: A Story About Dealing With Childhood Obesity, which does not seem to have generated a single review anywhere.

But Who Invented Vegetables?,  published by Stuart Ballan in 2007, had more success. Determined to make the book widely available, the Israeli author convinced a major corporate entity to get on board. He describes the result:

Supersol, one of the largest Israeli supermarkets, placed Who Invented Vegetables? between the actual vegetables…The supermarket promoted the book with the slogan, “Buy 5kg of vegetables, and get the book at a discount,” and 10,000 copies sold in a few weeks.

Ballan is seriously perturbed about many things, including: the tendency of parents to use food as a pacifier or bribe; the general decrease in physical activity accompanied by the increase in screen time; the military unpreparedness a nation suffers when so many potential recruits are obese; and the needless toll that the obesity epidemic has taken in both money and lives.

He is particularly irritated by the grocery store trick of displaying fatty, sugary treats at the eye level of small children, and it would be interesting to know whether Supersol made any policy changes in that area. At any rate, the encouragement spurred Ballan to reach out to elementary schools, where he visited kindergarten classes to give readings from the text. Of that experience he wrote:

Words cannot express the satisfaction that by the end of a book reading, I could motivate 90% of a class of 4 to 6 year olds to not only be eating vegetables, but also be clambering over me, “begging” for more.

Incidentally, for a book we can heartily recommend, see Michael Prager’s Fat Boy Thin Man.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Tuna Breath: A 275-Pound Teenager’s Coming of Age Story,” 2013
Source: “Tuna Breath,” Blogspot.com, 06/30/14
Source: “Supermarkets to slow the ‘train of obesity’?,” TimesOfIsrael.com, 05/19/15
Image by James Emery

One Young Man’s Struggle With Obesity

CalebJarvisIn the study of obesity, the hard sciences count for a lot. Yet every version of hard science has its drawbacks. Scientists can study lab mice under rigorously controlled conditions and make discoveries that might point the way toward ending obesity. Still, no matter how precise the microscopes or how stringent the algorithms, the truth is inescapable. While the subjects might share many characteristics with humans, they are small rodents.

The soft sciences also have an enormous role in understanding the obesity epidemic. The marketing of fast food, for example, is a frankly vicious competition between techniques of mind control. One approach to improved general health involves teaching kids how to look at advertising and recognize its manipulative illusions.

A popular and effective journalistic convention is the close biographical study of an individual. Sometimes that notion is expanded, as in the film Bite Size,  which brought together the stories of four teenagers. Today, Childhood Obesity News looks at an example of the more basic format—one reporter, one subject, and a story in print. Louise Knott Ahern interviewed 17-year-old Caleb Jarvis about being an obese youth.

The writer begins by admitting that every obese kid is unique, having arrived at her or his predicament by a different path. Furthermore, her subject “isn’t interested in being anyone’s poster child.” Talking about his obesity bothers Caleb so much that he asks for a meeting at school rather than at home. Of course his parents are well aware of his physical condition, but discussing it with a reporter in their presence seems impossibly embarrassing.

The Early Years of an Obese Youth

The story relates how Caleb started to be conscious of his obesity in 5th grade, when shame set in. In middle school his personality alternated between reticence and boldness, and in the bold phases he became something of a class clown, to divert attention from his physical condition. At the same time, he resented feeling like a stereotype. Ahern quoted him:

When you’re the fat kid, he says, you’re supposed to fit into a role. You’re supposed to be either the bully or the clown, either mean or jolly…I don’t want to be defined by this.

In high school, Caleb found satisfaction in playing football, where size is an advantage. He discovered a talent for singing, and performed in the school’s theatrical productions, where he experienced another kind of belonging. He found himself playing typical fatlogic mind games, like swearing that he’d never let himself top 300 pounds. Then, when that happened, he mentally moved the disaster point to 400. Among addicts, this is a familiar pattern. An alcoholic reasons that, as long as he doesn’t pour a drink before 5:00 PM, everything is okay. Gradually, the marker is moved back, until he decides that the real red flag is drinking before noon.

Recent Updates to Caleb’s Obesity Story

This story, published four years ago, inspires curiosity about what its Caleb Jarvis is doing these days. The answer is that he is going to college. He is easily found on Twitter, where his current weight is not published, but he still looks big. His contributions range from self-reflective to flippant, with occasional evidence of a sly and irreverent sense of humor. One of the most recent tweets notes:

I’m living with three girls this year so I oughta be able to get somebody to make me a sandwich anytime I want one.

Another tweet wishes someone would come over and wait for a UPS delivery so he can go out and find food. Another promises to love his future child unconditionally—except, “I will not have a sissy vegetarian living in my house.” Originating from a different mood, one communication asks, “Why am I not striving to be the best version of myself every single day?” This one is heartening:

GIRLS: If you feel pretty with make up on, wear it. If you feel pretty without it, don’t wear it. Don’t let other women tell you what to do.

This tweet reflects the sensibility of someone who knows what it’s like to be stereotyped, and does not wish to subject anyone else to that fate; someone who knows how it feels to be a different person inside than outward appearance would indicate. Childhood Obesity News congratulates Caleb for the courage he showed as a teenager in making his story public, and wishes him health and happiness.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “’I don’t want to be defined by this’
LansingStateJournal.com, 09/24/11
Image by Caleb Jarvis

Coca-Cola Supports Fatlogic and Consultants

Buzios, Rio de JanerioIf a website deals with obesity, it can’t go too long without mentioning the Coca-Cola Company and its works and ways. Childhood Obesity News recently remarked on the ground-breaking scientific research that Coke is funding. They claim to have already proven that calories don’t count, and their munificent financial backing of the Global Energy Balance Network guarantees that further studies will continue to demonstrate that, in terms of obesity, what a person eats or drinks does not matter.

According to the party line, health requires only the time, ability, and inclination to exercise all the calories off. This news was greeted with skepticism and cries of confirmation bias. Word on the street is that Coca-Cola deliberately seeks out researchers who are constitutionally incapable of finding any significance in caloric intake. Anahad O’Connor reported in the New York Times:

A recent analysis of beverage studies, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, found that those funded by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, the American Beverage Association and the sugar industry were five times more likely to find no link between sugary drinks and weight gain than studies whose authors reported no financial conflicts.

After mentioning questionable relationships between certain corporations, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and The American Society for Nutrition, O’Connor throws down another example of corruption by revealing that dietitians can be bought. A few bad apples have succumbed to temptation and touted Coke and other products as healthful snack choices. Using their access to news organizations and social media influence, they not only originate stories, but refute research that doesn’t fit with the corporate message.

In return, food manufacturers shower them with such perks as free continuing education, which does not sound very culpable unless the seminars are held, as many are, at pricey vacation resorts. When experts are questioned about pro-junk food articles, sometimes they even forget whether they received compensation. The fruits of their journalistic labors may or may not be identified as paid propaganda. Candice Choi writes:

One column is marked at the bottom as a “sponsored article,” which is an ad designed to look like a regular story. It ran on more than 1,000 sites, including those of major news outlets around the country. The other posts were not marked as sponsored content, but follow a similar format.

But wait, it gets better, in the sense of even becoming even more ludicrous.

PepsiCo Inc. has also worked with dietitians who suggest its Frito-Lay and Tostito chips in local TV segments on healthy eating. Others use nutrition experts in sponsored content; the American Pistachio Growers has quoted a dietitian for the New England Patriots in a piece on healthy snacks and recipes and Nestle has quoted its own executive in a post about infant nutrition.

Compliant experts also co-opted American Heart Month and Black History Month, using these awareness campaigns to spread the word about the snack-time appropriateness of a can of Coke. In a stunning display of fatlogic, the company pushes the idea that sugar-sweetened beverages are harmless if consumed from “mini” cans (which, by strange coincidence, cost more per ounce than larger cans). Critics employ such phrases as “opaque sponsored content” and “media ethics.” They diagnose this trend as blatant abuse of authority, since the entire structure of modern society depends on training and requiring the public to trust experts.

But according to the corporate point of view, as long as they call the professional accomplices “consultants” and make the required disclosures, everything is hunky-dory. Except, on at least one occasion—a major one—disclosure was not made. The Global Energy Balance Network put up its website with no mention of which pockets the funding came from. The University of Ottowa’s Dr. Yoni Freedhoff inquired, and the oversight was corrected. But the chief characteristic of scammers and con artists is that they always have another trick up their sleeves.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets,” NYTimes.com, 08/09/15
Source: “Coke as a sensible snack?,” StarTribune.com, 03/16/15
Image by Taylor White

Fast Food and Obesity

foodies welcome

Research at Washington University showed that fat lab mice have in their intestines more Firmicutes, which are a type of bacteria. Thin mice have more Bacteroidetes. When both groups of mice are given the identical amount and type of food, the Firmicutes mice extract more calories from the food and grow fatter. Extrapolating from this, it is possible that patients who insist that they are eating sensibly, yet remain obese, are not lying.

Dr. Tim Spector teaches genetic epidemiology at King’s College, London. His new book, The Diet Myth: The Real Science Behind What We Eat, is all about how our chosen diet affects our inner colonies of bacteria, for better or worse. His particular interest is fast food, an interest shared by another family member. A report from WRVR.com tells how…

…his 23-year-old son put himself on a strict diet of fast food for 10 days as part of his dissertation project. It stripped his gut microbiome of about a third of its 3,500 bacterial species. Bacteria that have been linked obesity flourished.

The story goes on to recall a 2014 study that recruited 20 subjects in rural South Africa and 20 African Americans in the U.S. to swap diets. In other words, the South Africans switched to meats and fried foods, while the Americans switched to root vegetables and cornmeal porridge. The report says:

After only two weeks of diet “Westernization,” the microbiomes of Africans were producing about half the levels of a molecule called butyrate, which has been linked to lower inflammation, as before their diet intervention. In contrast, the microbiomes of Americans started churning out about twice as much butyrate after they went on the healthier African diet. The Africans also acquired more bacteroidetes, the same group of obesity-associated bacteria that took over Spector’s son’s microbiome.

The astute reader will have noticed an apparent contradiction regarding the role of bacteroidetes, which is not within the scope of this post to explore. Study of the gut microbiome is in its infancy, and the mysteries greatly outnumber the certainties. Any reader who wishes to grasp the full, bewildering spectrum of possibilities being explored can glean a notion of the complexity from “Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes,” which includes a further list of recommended reading.

Sugar Strikes Again

A book called How to Quit Drinking Without AA by Jerry Dorsman, reminds us that…

…your body converts alcohol to sugar, and physical addiction to this sugar contributes to dependence on alcohol. Consuming foods high in refined sugars may sustain this physical addiction, making it more difficult to give up alcohol or stay on a sobriety plan.

Fast food, of course, is mentioned as an obesity villain because of its abundance of refined flour, which the body also converts into sugars. It also contains a massive amount of saturated fats, which certain species of gut bacteria are known to like. When laboratory mice received transplants of lean bacteria, they could stay at a normal weight as long as saturated fats were absent. But as soon as special food pellets laced with saturated fats were introduced to their diets, they lost the ability to fight off weight gain.

This points to two conclusions. One, it is unlikely that junk food manufacturers, even with the intention of turning the spotlight away from their culpability in causing childhood obesity, would want to sponsor research on the gut microbiome. They would be reluctant to back such research because of the many indications that their products are the very ones that the useful bugs shun.

The other conclusion is that even if lean bacteria transplants work on humans, manipulation of the microbiome is no magic bullet. People can mess up that fix, just like they mess up their expensive and traumatic bariatric surgery. Anyone who wants to retain the title of “formerly obese” will still need to work very hard, with the help of such programs as W8Loss2Go, and extensively re-train themselves to become followers of a very different lifestyle.

Bonus Fact:

From Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ, by Giulia Enders, here is a little contribution to the re-education of children and teens who are fighting obesity. When the stomach “growls” or “grumbles,” it’s not a sign of hunger.

The small intestine loves to clean and it’s very busy all the time, moving things forward. When we haven’t eaten for a while, the small intestine is like, ‘Okay, no need to digest. Everything that’s still here, I’m going to wipe it out,’ so it creates this muscular wave.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!


Source: “Microbes: The Trillions of Creatures Governing Your Health
,” SmithsonianMag.com, May 2013
Source: “How fast food could wreak havoc on your gut microbiome,” WRVR.com, 05/27/15
Source: “Foods to Avoid for Alcoholics,” Livestrong.com, 11/03/10
Source: “Say hello to your little friends: Making sense of gut bacteria,” TheGlobeandMail.com, 06/07/15
Image by Dr. Pretlow

 

Another Partial Sugar Roundup

 

Tsar Bomba mushroom cloudIn reviewing the Childhood Obesity News posts concerned with sugar, we suggested that the discovery of how to extract and refine sugar from plants might be the cultural equivalent of humankind’s discovery of how to obliterate itself with nuclear weapons. Both have inspired a lot of controversy and caused a lot of deaths. Equally regrettable is the fact that both radioactive weaponry and refined sugar have been responsible for making many human lives unproductive and miserable because of the illnesses they cause.

In a post titled “How Addictive is Sugar?” we mentioned a website called My Addiction, which lists almost 30 known addictions. Sugar is in its own category on the site, not even included with the rest of food. We mentioned addiction specialist Dr. Joel Rice, who calls sugar “the most commonly used white drug,” and says that it is the most prevalent addictor of all. He also predicts that 85 percent of the American population will be overweight by 2030.

Sugar Junkies Out Themselves” discussed the social acceptability of sugar addiction. It is the substance abuse problem to which most people most readily admit. In fact, talking about one’s pathological dependence on sweets is, in some circles, considered pretty darn cute. We also talked about how difficult it is to eliminate sugar from one’s diet, because it appears in almost every variety of processed food. It appears in nearly three-quarters of packaged foodstuffs under 60 different aliases. What on earth is it doing in ketchup? What is it doing in salad dressing? In bran cereal? Only the manufacturers know.

The Gateway Drug: Sugar, Part 1” introduced Dr. Frank Lipman, who pointed out that most people don’t believe sugar is addictive, and certainly deny that they are personally addicted to it—until they try to quit. Then, the veil of illusion is torn away and the ugly truth becomes apparent. Dr. Lipman comes right out and says it: “Sugar is the first addiction for almost everyone with addictions later in life.”

When doing painful things to babies, medical professionals sometimes use sugar as an analgesic. The only good thing that can be said for that is that it’s probably slightly better than morphine. For more information on the problems that result from such an early introduction, readers are referred to Dr. Pretlow’s guest post on the Fooducate website, titled “Food Supplements and Childhood Obesity.”

A lot of suffering stems from the fact that children learn very young that the answer to pain, anxiety, and other experiences is a substance. Specifically, a sweet substance. As they grow a little older, sugary treats are what they often get in lieu of parental attention, and as a reward for good behavior or as a bribe to circumvent bad behavior. Going forward, the body’s natural fondness for sweetness is reinforced by adding the emotional layers that pile up when a treat is used as a substitute for other things.

In the sequel to that post we further explored the idea that the much-discussed “gateway drug” posited by some addiction specialists is actually sugar. One consequence of this relationship is that, as Dr. Mark Hyman says, alcoholics tend to recover only from alcohol, but not from sugar, whose only advantage is that it is legal.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Image by Andy Zeigert

 

Where Are the Roots of Addiction?

delicious (237_365)

From profiling the microbiomes of many people, science has learned that only about one-third of each person’s internal bacteria are like other people’s. As Honor Whiteman explains for MedicalNewsToday.com:

…two thirds of the gut microbiome is unique to each person, and what makes this unique is the food we eat, the air we breathe and other environmental factors. Some studies have even suggested the makeup of the gut microbiome is influenced by genes.

Wency Leung of The Globe and Mail summarizes another astonishing fact about the tens of thousands of species that live inside us—there are no “good guys” or “bad guys.”

Rather, the microbiome is now understood to be a complex and bustling community, where even potentially disease-causing strains can be useful neighbours and friendly ones can turn against us.

Individual microbiomes are like fingerprints! They are all different, and even organisms of the same kind can act in different ways and have varying effects on the metabolisms of their hosts. By taking antibiotics, we can cause a mass extinction event among the microbiota, but aside from killing them, we can’t really control what they do—not consciously, anyway. But one theory holds that our genes can say Yea or Nay to quite a few questions. Consider the Enteric Nervous System:

The ENS and its connection to the brain also causes foods to affect your mood. For example, fatty foods can make you feel good because they contain fatty acids that are detected by the gut wall, which then sends out feelings of comfort to the brain.

Research has suggested possibilities to explain how the microbes get their way. Julie Beck wrote for The Atlantic about potential mechanisms that the critters might use to induce in us the sensations that we describe as cravings:

They may change the expression of taste receptors, making certain foods taste better; they may release hunger-inducing hormones; or they may manipulate the vagus nerve (which connects the stomach to the brain) to control their hosts’ eating behavior.

In a piece titled “Your Gut Bacteria Want You to Eat a Cupcake,” Beck mentions how individuals who are “chocolate desiring” and those who are “chocolate indifferent” may eat identical diets and yet have different microbial metabolites in their urine, and what that appears to mean.

Psychologist and evolutionary biologist Athena Aktipis teaches at Arizona State University, where she studies how the gut, with its links to the nervous system, endocrine system, and immune system, could be sending out signals that influence our physiologic and behavioral responses. These, presumably, would include addictive behavior, whether the behavior involves hard drugs, alcohol, or food. How could this happen? Maybe through the vagus nerve, “which connects 100 million nerve cells from the digestive tract to the base of the brain.” Aktipis writes:

Microbes have the capacity to manipulate behavior and mood through altering the neural signals in the vagus nerve, changing taste receptors, producing toxins to make us feel bad, and releasing chemical rewards to make us feel good.

Given all this, is it possible that the particular arrangement of intestinal fauna in each individual could be responsible for the development of addictive behaviors? Can the little critters make a person shoot heroin into his or her own antecubital vein? Can they make a person eat a pound of cheese for a bedtime snack?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The gut microbiome: how does it affect our health?,” MedicalNewsToday,com 03/11/15
Source: “Say hello to your little friends: Making sense of gut bacteria,” TheGlobeandMail.com, 06/07/15
Source: “Get to Know Your Microbiome for Health & Wellness,” CarpeVitaInc.com, 06/05/15
Source: “Your Gut Bacteria Want You to Eat a Cupcake,” TheAltantic.com, 08/19/14
Source: “Do gut bacteria rule our minds?,” UniversityofCalifornia.edu, 08/15/14
Image by Tim Pierce

An Open Letter to Justin Williamson

JustinWhile we can’t set these words to music, we hope Justin Williamson will take them to heart anyway. The outstandingly talented, morbidly obese youth has embarked on a path of changing his life and inspiring others to do the same. As Dr. Pretlow says, “This teen has quite a voice!” That he can belt out a song is undeniable, and Childhood Obesity News looks forward to Justin’s success in achieving a healthy weight, along with his dream of singing and acting on the Broadway stage. Now, here are some words for the singer from Dr. Pretlow.


As an intelligent young man who has gone to school, you must be familiar with the basic tenets of nutrition. Like so many others who struggle with excess weight, you have also realized that facts about nutrients and calories are not enough. The task in front of you involves learning a whole new way of life, and I have no doubt of your ability to put in the work and reap the rewards. You have already made a great start.

There are many coping skills and practices that can help. When you feel the urge to eat, relax and concentrate on your breathing for a while. Put off snacking for five minutes, then for five minutes more. Soon, you will be able to aside whole chunks of the day. Eliminate snacking in the morning, then in the afternoon, then evening and night. At home, ask your family to cooperate by not bringing in high-calorie treats, and by keeping food put away so the sight of it doesn’t trigger the urge to eat.

Learn to recognize any vicious circle that is impeding your progress. For instance, don’t let a slip turn into a slide. If you make a mistake and indulge too much, don’t let remorse tempt you into overeating even more to relieve the bad feelings. Forgive yourself and move on. Each time you are able to break a vicious circle, the small victory will make the next battle easier.

Find a variety of physical activities that you can do, and vary them to avoid boredom. Find access to a swimming pool. Even walking around in the shallow end can be useful exercise, and the buoyancy is a delightful preview of how it will feel to weigh less. Even the most dedicated artist can’t spend every waking moment practicing and performing. Cultivate other interests that hold your attention and divert your thoughts from eating. Cultivate activities, such as whittling or drawing or doing needlepoint (like football player Roosevelt Grier), that keep your hands busy.

Write your problems down and “think out loud” to yourself on paper. Find a source of professional help, like cognitive behavior therapy or some other type of counseling, to build your life-coping skill set. Of course, you will need to identify your problem foods and withdraw from them, one by one. This is totally possible, and cravings will soon go away. You will need to weigh the amounts you eat at mealtime, and gradually decrease them.

When the W8Loss2Go smartphone app launches, you might want to give it a try, because it is designed to help in all these ways and more. Something you can do right now is to download the booklet “Addiction Model Intervention for Obesity in Young People.” Another thing you can do right now is visit the Weigh2Rock website, where thousands of young people have found inspiration, useful tools, ideas, facts, answers, companionship, and understanding.

“Saving Justin” is a worthy goal. In one way you are incredibly fortunate, because of the very thing that has brought you into the public eye. Your determination to become a professional entertainer has almost magical power, and because of it you enjoy an advantage over multitudes of unmotivated youth who don’t even know what incentive would light their fires. You are far ahead in another way, too, because you already know that helping others is an effective way to help yourself. For you and for them, there is hope, and a way out.


Someday, Dr. Pretlow would enjoy hearing Justin sing “Over the Rainbow.” The choice brings a bittersweet memory of another vocalist, Israel “Iz” Ka’ano’i Kamakawiwo’ole, whose rendition of that song is beloved by millions. The world-famous Hawaiian singer, whose physique was almost cubical, reached a weight of over 750 pounds and died from a heart attack at age 38.

A tragedy of this kind is not inevitable. With the help of the Saving Justin team, and most of all through the courageous young man’s determination to save himself, Childhood Obesity News is confident that Justin Williamson will achieve his dream.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Image by Saving Justin

Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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