Monday, August 24, 2009

Problems at the Clean Plate Club

I don't know about any of you, but I was raised in the Midwest and had "clean your plate" drilled into my head from a young age. Ever since World War II, when Harry S Truman introduced a campaign in schools to "clean your plate" because resources were scarce, that notion of a clean plate has stuck with us. With portions in restaurants rising at alarming rates, and the idea that one can very easily "super size" a meal, we have an impending obesity crisis on our hands- one that is already surfacing. According to the latest statistics from the Center For Disease Control, more than 66 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. These are INCREDIBLY troubling numbers- and the real question is, how do we change this culture?

As I've written before, we're seeing more and more eating disorders surfacing from all sorts of different areas. The other "eating disorder" is the one we, across America, face every day- the fast food nation. With portions becoming out of control and people hurrying to eat and finish meals, we've seen a large increase in obesity across the nation. The Food and Drug Administration is even trying to crack down on portion sizes in restaurants.According to the FDA report, the annual healthcare cost for obesity is right around $93 billion. This is (sorry about the pun) a HUGE problem.

An interesting solution was proposed by various pundits- perhaps a "fat tax" would create some change? According to a study released in July of this year by the Urban Institute and the University of Virginia, unless diet and consumption changes drastically, in 2015 a whopping FORTY PERCENT of Americans will be considered obese. Additionally, the study brings up the option of a "fat tax," or a tax on unhealthy foods like chips and soda, and here are the stats. A 10% excise or sales tax on fattening foods could raise $522 billion over the next 10 years. A 20% tax could raise $937 billion. These are impressive numbers, to say the least. Nearly a trillion dollars because Americans can't stop eating unhealthy food? What's the deal?

Are we dealing with an addiction to fats, salts and sugars? Dr. David Kessler, author of "The End of Overeating" seems to think so. According to research for his book, Dr. Kessler found the dopamine receptors in our brains are stimulated by unhealthy foods, so, much the same as a drug addict starts to crave the rush of an illicit substance, we start to crave unhealthy food. And, according to both his book and the billions of dollars in ad campaigns every year, the market has adapted to our cravings. With fast food on every corner and unhealthy options at every restaurants, we have to diligently fight to eat intelligently and healthfully. A battle on many fronts, to say the least.

So here's a call for drastic change- shop local, organic food, and eat smaller portions. Learn to recognize what "full" means and don't eat past the threshold. Ignore those pesky McDonalds signs- at least most of the time. Without some clear thinking, we truly will have an epidemic on our hands. I'm not advocating for complete and total change- but you CAN change yourself. Start there, and others will follow.

Here's a link to a video from Katie Couric on CBS News talking about the obesity epidemic.

Here's a video from Thomas Frieden, the Commissioner of New York City Department of Health, talking about combating obesity:

We got a great shout-out from the Sober Living Blog about Addiction Tomorrow! Thanks guys!

As always, follow me on Twitter and connect with me on LinkedIn. Become a fan of the blog on Facebook. And see you this week.

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  1. The reward circuitry which produces the experience of a pleasurable meal uses similar receptors and is capable of following the pathways that certain drugs capitialize on. Endocannibinoids are produced in response to food to encourage the continuation of appetite. Endocannibinoid stands for endogenous (meaning produced by the body)and cannibinoids (like marijuana). Your brain also can produce endorphines in response to food, (short for endogenous morphine). Interestingly, starvation can also produce heightened sensitivity to these reward pathways. Nutrition science is getting into all this reward circuitry appetite pathway stuff, but scientists are hesitant to use the word "addictive" in response to food (Mostly, I think, because of the difficulties of admitting that their is a problem if you don't believe in a solution). Some people have expressed to me that they don't want to use the word "addictive" in response to food because people have to eat and abstinence imperative to 12 step recovery. There is also the fear of having to regulate certain foods once addictive capacity is brought to light.

  2. The obesity in this country is systemic in my belief (and there's tons of other authors and researchers who support this). It starts with a two pronged problem: you have the government subsidized monoculture farms growing acres and acres across our home land on one side and on the other side is the societal/cultural push for everyone to move and behave in a more homogenous way, a way that is usually faster. Add to these problems at the top the fact that most solutions, including the ones presented in your blog, begin with punishment. Why not begin with education and rewards? Educate children (to start) on what healthy diets look and taste like. Teach them vegetables, fruits and gardens instead of french-fries and frozen pizzas. Instead of punishing people with a "fat tax" on junk food, give subsidies to those who can't afford to eat healthfully.
    I could go on, but we all know this simple snapshot says a lot: Someone with $2, for the one meal they can eat in a day, will go to McDonalds and "fill up" on a double cheese burger, not to their grocery produce section to buy a potato and an some spinach. Why is that?