The Genetics of Obesity – Recent Developments

Dude, you are way overweight

What is the relationship between research into the genetics of obesity—so-called “fat gene” research—and fatlogic? Is the science as meaningful as its proponents believe, or only a relatively minor piece of the obesity puzzle? Has progress in this field been co-opted by patients and untreated “fat acceptance” types who are all too happy to place responsibility anywhere but in their own hands?

Family studies pointed the way to realization that genes play a significant role in a person’s likelihood of becoming obese, but also left many unanswered questions. In 2012, the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics offered its readers an update on the current state of genomics and made a prediction:

Next-generation sequencing techniques are expected to fill the gap of “missing heritability” of obesity, identifying rare variants associated with the trait and clarifying the role of epigenetics in its heritability. Pediatric obesity emerges as a complex phenotype, modulated by unique gene–environment interactions that occur in periods of life and are “permissive” for the programming of adult obesity.

A study from Brigham Young University looked at the differences in Body Mass Index percentiles between identical twins, between non-twin siblings, and between random pairs of non-siblings. Professor Joe Price pointed out that while people are used to thinking in terms of “fat families and skinny families,” there is actually a lot of variation within families. Siblings with ostensibly the same basic heredity and upbringing turn out differently, and there must be a reason.

A Cumulative Effect

The 32 genes that had, up until last year, been identified as obesity risk factors could only account for somewhere around two percent of individual differences. This baffled researchers and led to the coining of the term “missing heritability.”

The study’s lead author, Clare Llewellyn, PhD, and others at University College London used a new method, Genome-Wide Complex Trait Analysis. The results suggest that concentrating on individual genes can be misleading. Instead, the researchers concluded that it is necessary to look at the additive effects of “multiple genes across the whole genome,” which can account for as much as 30% of individual differences. Dr. Llewellyn told the press:

These findings are important because they confirm that in children genes play a very important role in determining body weight. At present only a few genetic variants have been discovered…. These findings suggest there are hundreds of other genetic variants influencing body weight that are yet to be discovered.

Sadaf Farooqi, Professor of Metabolism and Medicine at University of Cambridge, has discussed similar findings. His work was part of the UK10K Project, an extensive research initiative that had already discovered several genes linked to early onset childhood obesity.  He discusses the synergistic effect of genes on obesity:

Some children will be obese because they have severe mutations, but our research indicates that some may have a combination of severe mutations and milder acting variants that in combination contribute to their obesity.

One thing about this quest for new genetic variants is important: it began, as far as possible, with a clean slate. The subjects whose genes are examined by the project are 1000 severely obese children – of whom none show any of the already-known obesity-related gene mutations.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!


Source: “Genetics of Pediatric Obesity,” aappublications.org, June 4, 2012
Source: “Trio of studies examine obesity in American families,” MedicalXpress.com, July 18, 2012
Source: “Genetic variants influence childhood obesity, say researchers,” News-Medical.net, March 27, 2013
Source: “ Study Identifies Four New Genetic Markers For Severe Childhood Obesity,” Time.com, April 12, 2013
Image by l’interdit

 

Inherited Fatlogic

Public Chat

A baby is helpless, a child is powerless, yet somehow these little creatures become obese. Are they doing it to themselves? No. The earlier obesity sets in, the harder it is to reverse, so fat toddlers become fat grade school kids, and then fat middle school students, and so on down the line.

By the time they are old enough to realize that they can take control of their own health, they don’t even know what health feels like. They are used to being unhealthy. What feels normal is what has always been. Fatigue and shortness of breath seem normal, and so do clothes that don’t fit right and all the thousand other annoyances and inconveniences of obesity.

The Inner Misunderstanding

The body gets used to doing things in habitual ways – like metabolizing nutrients. It grows a certain number of fat cells, and seems to resent being asked to shrink them. Genetic traits that come from parents may exacerbate the tendency to become obese.

Do Bad Genes Cause Big Jeans?

Like the body, the mind receives elemental building blocks from parents and other caregivers. We could fancifully call them mental genes, because of how faithfully they often survive the transfer from one generation to the next. Just like hair color, ways of thinking about food and body image are passed from parent to child.

Outside the home, another layer of socialization piles on as ideas of what is right and proper are transferred from neighbor to neighbor. That is what makes up a culture. Ethnicity is a combination of genetics and culture, and some ethnicities and cultures are known to be far more tolerant of full figures.

In 2012, a study showed that around two-thirds of low-income mothers believed their toddlers were too small – a belief not supported by BMI measurements and other statistical tools wielded by the scientists. Another study, commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control, found that boys are more likely than girls to think their weight is within normal limits when it’s not; and also:

Mexican American kids were more likely to suffer from “weight status misperception” compared with African Americans, who in turn were more likely to have it than white kids.

Heather Neal is a dietician who seemingly has done everything right, as far back as before her son was even conceived. Still, she has to face the fact that the boy is obese. In addition to coping with this reality, she is even more shocked by the opinions of others who do not see this as a problem. She writes,

I hear more people tell me it’s “normal” for him to be overweight because he’s “only two.” They’ll tell me babies and toddlers are supposed to be fat and chubby and roly-poly; that fat kids don’t grow into fat adults. While sometimes that’s the natural course for kids, overall, that’s just not true.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!


Source: “Overweight and obese kids are in denial about their weight, CDC says” LATimes.com, July 24, 2014
Source: “7 Things I’ve Learned from Having an Overweight Toddler” Babble.com, October 2014
Image by Michael Coghlan

 

Fatlogic Marches On

A Matched Set

Childhood Obesity News has been exploring fatlogic, the peculiar and counterproductive mindset that affects people the world over. Examples of fatlogic can be found in many places, but Reddit is a goldmine. Here we learn that some people suffer from a mysterious undiagnosed condition (which Reddit humorists mock by calling a “condishun”) that causes unlimited weight gain without causing any other health problems. Someone who has grown too obese to wash properly might convince himself that hygiene is not that important anyway – especially since nobody is apt to get close enough to mind. Only an obsessive anorexic would count calories, and who wants to give themselves OCD?

A person can fall prey to a deluded defeatism. Many people have heard that 95% of smokers who quit on their own will return to the habit, and they extrapolate this to a conviction that 95% of all people who attempt weight loss will fail – so what’s the use? Why even try? Or someone might think, “Tomorrow, I start a new program to treat my food addiction – so today, I’d better eat all the foods I will miss the most.”

Early Intervention is Key

Professionals who deal with the childhood obesity epidemic have many different theories and approaches, but on this they unanimously agree – prevention is much better than cure. The earliest possible prevention is the best of all.

Studies have shown that on a cellular level, a body acclimated to being overweight is difficult to persuade into metabolic normality. It wants to continue to do things the way it has done them in the past. As time goes on, the destructive biological processes become more powerful. For this reason, it is important not to let a child ever become accustomed to obesity. Many studies have shown how prenatal influences affect obesity, and once you start down that path, speculation can go back for generations, to the dawn of time.

Currently, science can’t do much about heredity. But the thought patterns that make up fatlogic can definitely be addressed and influenced. The mental component is such a big part of any problem, any solution, any success. How we think about things can make all the difference.

This animated graphic, created by N.A. Christakis and J.H. Fowler, is titled “The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network Over 32 Years,” but it was recommended by another website as an illustration of how fatlogic spreads. As one critic pointed out, correlation is not causation. Nevertheless, it is true that ideas can be contagious, and also true that some ideas – especially those of the self-justifying kind – can be hazardous to a person’s health.
A Reddit thread asked people to share their once-cherished fatlogic beliefs, and inspired this exchange:

brazil84 I believed that things like non-fat potato chips were helpful for weight loss.
PudgePlugger I thought Doritos were totally a healthy chip because, after all, 0g trans fat!
brazil84 Unfortunately food companies have gotten very good at enabling fatlogic.
PudgePlugger Doesn’t help when you’re just a kid and no one tells you it’s wrong.

Reddit user BlackThornOfLove believed:

That I was broken and the only way to lose weight was to starve.
That I’d be forever cursed to either starve or be fat… I wish someone had told me when I was younger that I’m not cursed, and if I ate like a normal girl, I would be the size of one.

But what happens when the perception of “normal” changes? A typical answer, from user momo_303, says:

I remember my middle school self thinking about my obesity and happily announcing that I found out what was wrong: I wasn’t fat, I was just an average sized American.

That reply goes a long way toward explaining the rationale for a lot of fatlogic. If a child looks around and most people within sight are overweight or obese, it is understandably easy to conclude that big is normal. In America, we are taught that the majority is right, and normalcy is good. The sight of so many obese people seems to mean that the vote is in, and fat is normal – so, what’s the problem?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “/r/fatlogic,” Reddit.com
Source: “The Spread of Obesity in Social Networks,” YouTube.com, February 4, 2010
Source: “What Fatlogic Did You Believe in the Past?,” Reddit.com, November 5, 2014
Image by Tony Alter

The Fatlogic Mindset

Fat Amy composite

Alex Brecher, who has successfully maintained a loss of more than 100 pounds for over a decade, vouches for the efficacy of lap-band surgery.

Having come across them so often himself, Brecher is uniquely qualified to expose examples of fatlogic. He does so with a briskly humorous approach and offers very sensible suggestions on how to detach from rationalizations that he calls “absurd excuses.” For instance, some Americans were brought up to believe that it’s right to eat everything in front of you, because children are starving in Africa. His response:

Yes, they are. There are also starving children in Asia, and in South America. It is extremely sad that hundreds of millions of children are starving. Do you know how many of them you will help if you clean your plate instead of throwing the extra food away? Zero.

Brecher encourages logical thought. Once a person realizes that the plate is too full, what are the alternatives? Throw away (or better yet, compost) the excess. Refrigerate the leftovers for later. Or, “Use your body as a trash can, and eat them.” Using one’s body as a trash can is not a good option under any circumstances. As Brecher points out:

If you’re really so eager to be in the “Clean Plate Club,” serve yourself less to begin with. And if you want to help starving children in Africa, make a donation using the money you save by not eating as much.

Brecher presides over the website BariatricPal, which contains a forum section where users can compare notes and share stories. Over the years, Childhood Obesity News has cataloged many of the unpleasant everyday humiliations that overweight people encounter. An online participant at BariatricPal offers a new one:

My blood pressure is fine, but they always have to get the next size up on the arm thing to check my BP. And now that I write this I feel stupid for getting so upset over that but it’s a little embarrassing to have this tiny size 0 Japanese girl attempt to take my bp only to try to shove my fat arm into the wrap and then have to go get a bigger size because it’s too small.

Opening a thread called “When you can’t even be honest with yourself,” we find a conversation about the pros and cons of openly discussing weight loss surgery. The formerly obese are likely to be very familiar with the difficulties of being honest with oneself.

Much more raw and confrontational than Brecher’s forum, the discussion website Reddit features an entire section in which fatlogic is explored in meticulous detail. Just a glance at the topic headings gives intriguing hints of the riches to be found:

  • Typical fatlogic at the doctor
  • Treating food like a friend
  • Fatlogic is thinking you know more than the experts at the CDC about the costs and effects of obesity
  • Did your high metabolism really ‘stop’ or did stuffing your face finally catch up with you?
  • In a shocking turn of events, researcher determines obesity is caused by eating too much
  • Why I choose to be fat
  • Obesity prevention efforts? LITERALLY THE NAZIS
  • The “I don’t have time” excuse
  • Stop me from succumbing to fatlogic
  • I’d rather be fat than skinny as hell looking like a victim.
  • Ultimate fatlogic
  • Fatlogic in a nutshell

These entries come from people who are intimately familiar with the dangers of being stuck in too much self-acceptance, and an unhealthy variety of it. Such a person might say, “Except for my diabetes, I’m perfectly healthy.” There might be an inability to see the connection between cause and effect. In the world of fatlogic, a knee problem has nothing to do with the poor abused joint being asked to carry 400 pounds from place to place.

A variation on an Abraham Lincoln quotation goes like this: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and you can fool all of the people some of the time. But you can’t fool yourself.”

Unfortunately, with the fatlogic mindset, it is all to easy to fool yourself, and many people do it unrelentingly.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: ““I’m Cleaning My Plate Because Children Are Starving in Africa…”and Other Terrible Excuses to Overeat,” BariatricPal.com, October 23, 2014
Source: “Almost cried today,” BariatricPal.com, October 29, 2013
Source: “When you can’t even be honest with yourself,” BariatricPal.com, October 18, 2014
Source: “/r/fatlogic,” reddit.com
Image by Fat Amy

 

Fatlogic Can Be Weird

Since when did Snacks get obese_

The Reddit website has a section called Fat People Stories, which features a special vocabulary. An obese person is a “hambeast” or “hamplanet,” and the obesity itself is referred to as a “condishun.” A state of mind known as the “hamentality” can include a skewed rationale called “fatlogic,” a fallacious sense of entitlement, downright rudeness, and other less-than-desirable characteristics. Many entries are mean-spirited anecdotes about how people have behaved badly in ways that may or may not be directly related to their excessive size.

But overweight and obese posters also tell deeply moving stories, making the Reddit section reminiscent of group therapy. These storytellers deserve praise for using Internet anonymity for a purpose other than trolling. Even when nobody knows your name, it takes a certain courage to be so vulnerable and so fearlessly self-assessing. The recounting of personal experience is sometimes the best gift a person can offer the world, and when it is delivered with a few good-natured laughs, so much the better.

More Harm than Good?

The subculture of casual and often crude sharing attracts criticism, and not everyone is a fan of self-deprecating humor. One blogger speaks of Reddit’s “sad network of fat-shaming.” Another blogger, Shiloh Marie, takes a more nuanced view:

In sum, Reddit says a hamplanet is a fat person who uses fat logic to justify not taking care of themselves, as well as not taking responsibility for their unhealthy body size and the impact it has on others, and therefore has no business sticking up for themselves against the ridicule and persecution because they brought it on themselves.

My definition of “hamplanet”? A derogatory term used to describe a fat person who refuses to accept discrimination and derision as part of their daily existence, who strives for positive self-image amidst a mine field of prejudice and thin privilege, and who insists that no matter what someone looks like, they deserve be treated with kindness and consideration.

“Fatlogic”

Reddit contributors as Queefing_Peanuts, gonz4dieg, and CarolineJohnson provide examples of the strange mental landscape in the world of Fat People Stories. Their comments on the sometimes cruel memes on the website often expose commonly held but irrational notions, often in a joking manner.

When you think about them, these notions really don’t make sense. For example, neither free food nor liquid food contains calories. Swearing to start a good habit tomorrow is exactly as valid as actually starting a good habit today. Furthermore, the intention to set foot on a new path tomorrow gives a person license to eat like a lumberjack today. Any amount of exercise deserves the reward of an eating binge, and the damage done by that festival of overindulgence will be cancelled out by washing it down with diet soda.

Scorn for Healthy Weight

The “hamentality” ridicules those who strive to keep their weight in the normal range. They are fools for being satisfied with “rabbit food.” According to this worldview, women who fret about their figures should realize that “only dogs want bones – real men want meat.” There is nothing wrong with being overweight in a world designed for anorexics. Anyone who tries to lose weight by depriving herself or himself of the good things in life is a self-hating masochist. Suspicion even extends to the formerly fat. Science has established the impossibility of sustainable long-term weight loss, so anyone who claims to have lost a large amount must be lying.

Sometimes, these strange beliefs stretch beyond Earth into the metaphysical. If all else fails, blame God. If someone is too big to hold a job or find a mate, how can a mere mortal argue with the divine plan?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Reddit’s sad network of fat-shaming,” DailyDot.com, November 22, 2013
Source: “Adventures on Reddit: How I discovered Hamplanets and lost part of my soul,” TheFatWord.com, March 19, 2014
Source: “The Twenty-Two Towering Tenets of Fatlogic,” Reddit.com, 2013
Source: “You Might Be a Hamplanet If,” Reddit.com, March 10, 2014
Image by FunkBrothers

Will Boy Scout Policy Change, and Should It?

Summit Bechtel Reserve

(For the groundwork of this discussion, please see yesterday’s “Boy Scouts of America Say No to Flab”)

Shown on this page is the Summit Bechtel Reserve, site of the 2013 Boy Scout Jamboree. Robert S. Wieder of CalorieLab reported that the Boy Scouts of America drew up plans for the event based on consultation with “pediatric health professionals.” (in quotes only because the article does not specify how many or what kind). The bottom line for the Scouts is that a kid in what has been designated the “morbidly obese” range (100+ pounds overweight) has no business climbing up ropes and can’t fit into a kayak anyway. The administration believes that it is important to avoid exposing inept children and youth to “unacceptably real dangers.”

On the other hand, some would say, the law now requires mainstreaming disabled kids in public schools, so why can’t the Boy Scouts mainstream all its members at this monumental event that only takes place every four years? But Wieder contends:

That means offering activities on several levels of physical challenge and difficulty, which means you are still confronted with exclusivity, with the overweight being unqualified to participate fully. The fat kids would still be singled out, still be susceptible to unkind comments.

Weider suggests that an attempt at compassion, such as theme-park style sorting of customers specific to the activity, could be even more hurtful and damaging to their psyches. He ponders:

The question is, is it better to admit morbidly obese Scouts to the Jamboree and then proceed to bar them from one exciting activity after another? I suspect the BSA execs felt it was simpler and safer to execute the wholesale ban than to have staffers and Scout leaders make judgment calls Scout by Scout and event by event.

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if the morbidly and otherwise unacceptably obese had their own section of the camp, where constant rejection would not be an issue? With all that space to spread out in, and all those good intentions, couldn’t the BSA rope off a special area of the Jamboree with activities that would benefit the most out-of-shape kids?

What if there was a merit badge for addiction recovery? What if one area of the grounds were set aside to teach identification of problem foods and how to withdraw from them and graduate into abstinence? Stress management? Coping skills for handling negative emotions? How to find and choose a good residential 12-step program?

On the Other Hand

An opposing point of view suggests that physical segregation could be seen as the ultimate in fat-shaming. In the unlikely event that the BSA would actually create such a facility, people would complain about that, too. Another objection would apply whether the obese were mainstreamed, separated, or entirely excluded: liability. The BSA is said to be worried about lawsuits, but that’s always a factor. It seems that for this event to exist at all, a certain amount of “waivering” must be in place. Otherwise, it would be all too easy for just a few unscrupulous con artists to bankrupt the Boy Scouts.

Here’s the Kicker

Despite the ban on kids and leaders and volunteers classified as morbidly obese, and despite the diligent evaluation of borderline cases, it seems that plenty of adiposity could still be found at the Jamboree. This discouraging report was published by David Coleman, an adult Committee Member whose own Troop 56 had trained for three months to get in shape:

At the Summit, we estimated we hiked approximately 35 miles in six days as well as participated in ten physical events such as skate boarding, BMX biking, mountain biking, white water rafting, rock climbing, demanding high-ropes courses and a trail clearing service project…Unfortunately, I observed countless other scouts and entire troops of obese kids who were at the base who could not enjoy the events because of their poor physical fitness.

Still, the methodology of excluding the most obese kids from even applying to go to the event did cause what Wieder called a “media uproar.” The attention was broad, but short-lived; the proverbial tempest in a teapot. The gigantic Jamboree only happens once every four years, so it will be interesting to see if the BSA handles this issue differently next time.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Media Uproar Over the Boy Scout Jamboree Obesity Ban,” CalorieLab.com, 07/23/13
Source: “Personal Fitness and Scouting,” Weebly.com, 8/21/2014
Image by Lisa Strader

 

Boy Scouts of America Say No to Flab

2013 National Scout Jamboree

In the summer of 2013, about 30,000 Boy Scouts and leaders attended a 10-day jamboree at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in West Virginia. The jamboree was planned as an “on foot” event (no motor vehicles allowed), and the new venue offered physical challenges that had not been available at previous Jamboree sites. The kids would be hiking a lot, climbing rocks, rappelling up ropes, riding bikes over mountainous terrain, rafting, kayaking, and even skateboarding. Applicants were warned that the experience would be physically grueling, and thus unsuitable for the morbidly obese.

Miranda Leitsinger reported for NBC News on the requirement that all participants be vetted beforehand:

The Boy Scouts used the CDC’s body mass index (BMI), a screening tool for obesity… For past jamborees, attendees filled out health forms, received a physical and got a doctor’s release, but the BMI was a factor added for this year’s event… Those applicants whose BMI was greater than 40.0 were not allowed to participate.

Those with BMIs between 32 and 39.9 could send in their application paperwork, which would be evaluated by Boy Scout staff for physical well-being and potential health risks. Understandably, the leadership was anxious to avoid any “serious health-related event.”

The organization’s decision makes a certain amount of sense. To be physically strong is, after all, one of the main tenets of scouting. More importantly, everyone was made aware years in advance that applying for attendance at the jamboree would require submission of BMI scores and that admission was not guaranteed. Indeed, this advance warning is said to have inspired many of the Scouts and their adult leaders to concentrate on getting in shape for the event.

Ostensibly Helpful

In a way, knowing that a bar had been set was effective in spurring many individuals to step up their fitness game. Even before it happened, the event could be credited with improving the overall level of physical health among Boy Scouts. We will never know how many kids lost out on the chance to take part in the Jamboree. The organization cannot provide accurate statistics or a rejection rate because most of the morbidly obese Scouts who would be ineligible for the event probably decided not to apply.

Accusations that the rules were unfairly exclusive could be finessed away. Most of the kids and leaders who would have been refused didn’t apply, and the organization cannot be blamed for rejecting applications that it never received. But some critics saw the Jamboree policy as institutionalized fat-shaming, even hypocritical and self-righteous fat-shaming dolled up in a disguise of helpfulness and concern. There was, to quote CalorieLab’s Robert S. Wieder, a “media uproar.”

Part of the Boy Scouts administration’s rationale is that health-related incidents would disrupt everyone’s experience, with ambulances tearing through the remote environment and helicopters circling in search of landing spots.

But the possibility of an accident or unforeseen medical emergency is not limited to the obese. In the Jamboree setting, with intense physical activity, something bad could happen to the healthiest kid. Surely, for a 10-day event attended by 30,000 people—most of them minors—the organization is already obligated to supply plenty of first-responder firepower. (For instance, as shown by the picture on this page, National Guard medics from the 1st and 150th Armored Reconnaissance Squadron of West Virginia provided backup.)

A common-sense comment appended to Wieder’s article by Valerie Keefe says,

Fat kids aren’t idiots. If they don’t think they can do an event, they won’t do the event. There are plenty of opportunities to provide alternate activities that will also test people’s limits.

Tomorrow, Childhood Obesity News will explore more aspects of this controversy.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Obese Boy Scouts left out of national gathering,” NBCNews.com, July 15, 2013
Source: “The Media Uproar Over the Boy Scout Jamboree Obesity Ban,” CalorieLab.com, July 23, 2013
Image by The National Guard

 

HCFS Product Liability Lawsuit Fizzled Out

Individual in a Suit

Childhood Obesity News has been thinking about product liability issues, and has found some very informative reportage from the website Law360 concerning events of last year, when several food companies and the Corn Refiners Association were sued on behalf of a 14-year-old girl.

The lawsuit asked for $5 million in damages; the product in question was High Fructose Corn Syrup (HCFS). According to the plaintiff, HFCS is not a natural product, but rather a manufactured toxin. The plaintiff also claimed that HFCS is falsely advertised as not only natural, but safe.

The plaintiff’s contention was that if you eat enough HFCS, you get a metabolic syndrome because your liver begins resisting insulin, your blood glucose levels go up, and your body starts making more insulin. After a while, according to this logic, all you want to do is eat, resulting in a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. In addition to making the product, the lawsuit argues, the manufacturers failed to warn the public of potential danger.

The manufacturers and Corn Refiners Association warned that suing them would “confuse consumers and mislead them about how to make the right choices for a healthy diet.” Sometimes when you hear something like this, it’s really hard not to do an eye-roll and drawl, “Oh, puh-leeeeze.”

As Megan Stride wrote on Law360:

The plaintiff’s attorney, J. Michael Hayes, told Law360 on Thursday that he believes the suit is the first such consumer product liability case to be filed against HFCS manufacturers over the sweetener’s alleged health effects.

Hopefully, it was not the last. But there is a strange twist that could have unintended negative consequences. Some food and beverage manufacturers have cut back on HFCS and returned to using cane sugar or beet sugar. (And as a smarty-pants kid of a past generation might have said, “Big whoop.” Sugar is one of the biggest poisons on the planet.)

The plaintiff brought up this fact as evidence that the companies know how bad HFCS is. This seems like an unhelpful wrinkle in legal logic. So now, the lawyers over at Big Food are justified in telling their clients, “Never discontinue a harmful ingredient or replace it with another, because some day the nanny state will use that against you in court.”

The best legal strategy is to throw the book at the bad guy and see what sticks. The charges here included “failure to warn; negligence; gross negligence; and willful, wanton and reckless conduct.”

Kat Greene covered the story’s denouement. A federal judge, opining that type 2 diabetes is multifactorial, would not hear the case. According to the judge, the plaintiff did not show a cause-and-effect relationship between the teenager’s diabetes and a lifetime of ingesting HFCS. Also, the notion of “market-share liability” did not impress the judge, and he would have preferred one defendant rather than a crowd.

The submitted paperwork did not persuade the judge that the product is unreasonably dangerous. Bottom line, the judge said that he was “not in a position to make findings of fact on the hotly debated health effects of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.” But isn’t that what judges are for? To pull in experts and figure things out?

Apparently, the suit was dropped and damages are no longer being pursued.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “ADM, Others Sued Over Alleged Corn Syrup Health Dangers,” Law360.com, June 20, 2013
Source: “ADM, Cargill Escape $5M Suit Linking Corn Syrup To Diabetes,” Law360.com, April 21, 2014
Image by Flazingo Photo

Obesity Lawsuits — This Could Get Interesting

McD

Despite the failure of the “Cheeseburger Bill” to become federal law, the notion that Big Food is innocent of blame for the obesity epidemic flourished in several states, which have passed their own versions. Had the idea not spontaneously occurred to the states, the American Legislative Exchange Council would surely have prodded them to throw legal armor around the food manufacturers and protect the giant corporations from liability.

Yes, this is the dreaded ALEC, of which many Americans have become increasingly wary. The largely corporate-funded “focus group” wrote up a model bill, the “Common-Sense Consumption Act,” which is similar to the proposed (and failed) federal “American Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act.” Any state that wants to spare itself the trouble of either studying the issues impartially or drafting its own legislation is welcome to use the model bill.

For the corporate entities (and especially for their attorneys), a ready defense is as important as ever, because they know obesity isn’t going away any time soon. How do they know? Because they are still doing what they have been doing all along. So, how could the result be different?

According to the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. cost of diabetes in 2012 was $245 billion — $69 billion of which stems from what statisticians call “reduced productivity,” and that ghostly figure is open to disputation by representatives of other economic paradigms. So let’s just go with the direct medical costs of diabetes in the U.S. in one year — $176 billion.

What if the makers of high fructose corn syrup had to pony up that amount each year — pay the medical bills of anyone who demanded it and reimburse the government (a.k.a. us taxpayers) for taking care of indigent diabetics? Is that such a crazy idea? William Anderson detailed how Big Tobacco was overtaken by a similar fate. He notes that the Centers for Disease Control place the annual medical cost of American obesity at $147 billion per year, and asks:

Will the country and the states be able to sue the food companies and make them pay for the medical cost due to the epidemic they have created? Will we be able to force them to stop making food hyper-addictive and stop targeting kids? Will we be able to force them to fund programs to educate people and help them to solve their obesity problems? Why not? We did it with the tobacco companies. We won those suits because it was found that the tobacco companies were responsible for intentionally causing us harm and expense for profit.

Greg Ryan of Law360.com speculates that a lawsuit over obesity could succeed if evidence emerges that food companies purposely make products that are “more unhealthy than necessary,” which would include intentionally making them addictive.  He quotes attorney James Neale, who…

…suggested the food industry could be subject to a public nuisance lawsuit brought by a city or state, similar to the one underway in California against makers of lead paint over the risks their products pose to the public. That lawsuit was brought by California cities and counties.

That particular variety of legal action might be possible because, through a sort of benign loophole, the restrictions decreed by a state’s “Cheeseburger Bill” may not apply. But meanwhile, other legal precedents are chipping away at the ordinary citizen’s likelihood of winning any kind of product liability suit.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Economic costs of diabetes in the U.S. In 2012,” NIH.gov, 03/06/13
Source: “Should the U.S. Sue Food Companies for the Costs of the Obesity Epidemic?” HuffingtonPost.com, 10/20/2014
Source: “Wary Of Litigation, States Keep Cheeseburger Bills On Menu,” Law360.com, 08/05/13
Image by The Farmacy

Big Food Was Running Scared — for a Minute

chemistry experiment

Last time, we learned from mental health counselor William Anderson how the big five American cigarette manufacturers were found guilty of…

…racketeering, conspiring to lie to the public about the health dangers and addictive quality of their product as well as secretly working to increase the addictive power of their product and hook kids.

A stricter legal climate in some areas has made Big Tobacco pay out settlements for medical problems caused by smoking, and regulations were made to keep the industry from telling a certain number of lies and to prevent advertising aimed at the young. Could Big Food ever be convicted of racketeering, conspiracy, and the willful creation of addictive products? (That last possibility seems like an open-and-shut case, since many advertising slogans are based on the premise that the food-like substance on display has irresistible allure.)

Okay, so the people objected to the suppliers’ methods, and the government stepped in and made laws, and things did not look so good in tobacco industry land. What was the response?

They went into the food business. Really.

The companies that sell you food have been taken over by the same characters that figured out how to make a fortune getting you “consumers” addicted to a substance that they knew made you sick and could eventually kill you in a horrible way. They aggressively and secretly worked in labs to make the addiction even more powerful than it naturally was. They even went after kids to sell their addictive poison. It’s not a theory. It’s proven fact. And now, they’re doing the same thing with food.

Anderson warns us that history is being repeated, and it is discouraging, or maybe disgusting is a better word.

Wave that flag

The “Cheeseburger Bill,” whose formal title was “The American Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act,” was twice introduced at the federal level, passing the House of Representatives both times, but failing both times to be passed by the Senate. Its purpose was to protect food manufacturers, marketers, distributors, retailers, advertisers, and trade associations, by placing the consequences of using their products solely on the consumer. Stand up, America, and be proud of your freedom to take personal responsibility for your obesity, diabetes, or heart disease!

If the Cheeseburger Bill had its way, federal law would prevent lawsuits from being filed by anyone who was injured or damaged. A lot of courts had already refused to hear such cases, and several states acted on their own to pass legislation protecting Big Food from liability or expectation of financial restitution.

Not coincidentally, the bill’s biggest fan was Ric Keller, who represented Florida for four terms in the House of Representatives. Politicians are allowed to accept only a certain number of dollars from supporters to finance their campaigns, and Keller maxed out that amount with contributions from fast-food chains. This probably was not a coincidence either.

But what got the food companies all in a defensive tizzy in the first place? Greg Ryan says it was one high-profile case:

States rushed to enact so-called cheeseburger bills prohibiting the claims after two obese teenagers and their parents filed a proposed class action against McDonald’s Corp. in 2003. The suit alleged McDonald’s had tricked consumers into believing their meals were healthier than they were…. [T]he plaintiffs failed to win class certification and eventually agreed to dismiss the suit in 2011.

Yes, a single lawsuit alarmed the behemoth industry so profoundly that its massive machinery swung into action. Why? They saw the writing on the wall, the tiny crack in the levee… a chink in the armor of their invulnerability.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Should the U.S. Sue Food Companies for the Costs of the Obesity Epidemic?” HuffingtonPost.com, 10/20/2014
Source: “Wary Of Litigation, States Keep Cheeseburger Bills On Menu,” Law360.com, 08/05/13
Image by The Farmacy

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