Childhood Obesity and Big PR

Snack Time

The British Broadcasting Company made a three-part series titled The Men Who Made Us Fat, featuring Jacques Peretti, and this is about Part 1. Peretti talks about how there was a revolution in eating habits, but not the good kind of revolution. He talks about how advertising “choreographs temptation” and how “decisions made behind closed doors transformed food into an addiction.” Then he goes to have an MRI scan, which reveals “invisible obesity” in the form of a lot of unexpected fat around his internal organs, especially the kidneys.

The script goes back to trace how the obesity epidemic started, and not surprisingly, Richard Nixon had something to do with it. He appointed a minister of agriculture named Earl Butz, who probably had every good intention of feeding the multitudes cheaply and bringing prosperity to America’s farmers. The original “Get big or get out” guy, he changed policies to favor industrial farming, and that was the beginning of the end.

HFCS enters the scene

Everybody started growing a whole lot of corn, and soon there was too much corn. Then Japanese scientists concocted the “industrial sweetener,” high fructose corn syrup, which turned out to be a real game changer. Thanks to this invention and the efforts of Mr. Butz, corn was soon in everything. By 1984, Coke and Pepsi had switched to HFCS.

Peretti interviews a former Coca-Cola marketing director who says “there was nothing on the radar … no voices in the wilderness telling you that you have a problem here.” That is not quite true. John Yudkin’s Pure White and Deadly was published in 1972. Although HFCS was not yet in wide use, Yudkin was certainly right about sugar and the metabolic syndrome. Then William Dufty’s Sugar Blues came out in 1975. Somebody must have been keeping track of some facts all along, or John S. White could not have said, in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:

In 2004 Bray et al published the hypothesis that HFCS is a direct causative factor for obesity. They based their hypothesis on a temporal relation between HFCS use and obesity rates between 1960 and 2000.

No doubt many other voices were also crying out and being ignored. In every age, there have been contrarians with non-mainstream theories, and in every age they have been dismissed as crackpots. But one of the people interviewed for this program, Dr. Tony Goldstone, says, “The obesity crisis we face today is in part due to our ignoring the warnings provided by Yudkin….”

Susan Neely, the show’s representative from the American Beverage Association, did not want to discuss any of this. When it comes to the obesity epidemic, the industry exonerates itself, claiming that causality is still an open question and HFCS is not to blame. But others say that fructose is a cause of heart disease, diabetes and fatty liver. Dr. Robert Lustig says it disrupts the action of leptin and causes “a cycle of consumption, disease and addiction.”

Snacking, according to Peretti, didn’t start until the 1970s. The national habit of recreational eating was pretty much invented by the food industry, with the manufacturers “not responding to a need — but driving it.” This last phrase was contributed by Zoe Harcombe, who reviewed The Men Who Made Us Fat. Harcombe is not totally on board with every idea Peretti introduces. She sees a contradiction:

The Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries & Food (MAFF) National Food Survey tells us that the average Brit was eating 2,290 calories per person per day in 1975 and, by 1999, this had fallen to 1,690 calories per person per day. Obesity increased almost ten fold during this time.

Then there was the disastrous theory that dietary fat is so undesirable that even HFCS is preferable. As Dr. Lustig said, “By the time anyone thought to ask if it was a good idea to replace fat with sugar, it was too late.” In her article, Harcombe also describes the horrifying political conniving — but it really deserves to be read, not summarized. In the TV episode, the ABA (soda pop) rep also reaffirmed something that experience and a suspicious nature might lead a person to question: “The evidence says that obesity is caused by people consuming too many calories and not getting enough exercise to balance it out.”

Since it apparently sums up the ABA’s party line, maybe even that venerable premise should be re-examined.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Men Who Made Us Fat,” Episode 1/3,
Source: “Straight talk about high-fructose corn syrup: what it is and what it ain’t,” December 2008
Source: “The men who made us fat,”, 06/14/12
Image by anyjazz65


One Response

  1. “The Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries & Food (MAFF) National Food Survey tells us that the average Brit was eating 2,290 calories per person per day in 1975 and, by 1999, this had fallen to 1,690 calories per person per day. Obesity increased almost ten fold during this time.”

    That’s a really interesting quote. Either HFCS has some thermodynamic-defying properties, or people are grossly underestimating how much they eat (not being honest with themselves, or perhaps foods are more calorie dense than ever before?).

    It’s no secret that the vast majority of people significantly under-estimate the calories consumed (sometimes by more than half). I actually wrote a blog about it at the end of november linking to more than a dozen different studies showing this:

    I think the methods for determining calories consumed in 1975 versus now need to be examined. If they were self-reported, then this quote isn’t as shocking as it might otherwise be.

    As always I love your blog!

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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