How do you lose weight? Substitute diet drinks for sugary drinks. Eat low-fat foods. Just eat less of the bad foods — it’s all about the calories. We are told, “Just have more willpower.”
These ideas are false. They are food- and diet-industry propaganda that makes and keeps us fat and sick. Lies by the food industry combined with bad government policy based on food industry lobbying are the major causes of our obesity and diabetes epidemic.
Now, more than 35 percent of Americans are obese, and almost 70 percent are overweight. This is not an accident but the result of careful marketing and money in politics.
We are told it is all about making better choices. If we all took more personal responsibility, we could stop this obesity and diabetes epidemic. We have been told there are no good or bad foods, that the key to weight loss is moderation. And, of course, if we all just exercised more, all of us would lose weight. These ideas hold us hostage.
Last week I began a discussion about a modern epidemic, a deadly disease that one of every two Americans has, a disease that’s making us fat and sick. And 90 percent of those affected don’t even know they have it!
This disease is diabesity, the continuum of abnormal biology that ranges from mild insulin resistance to full-blown diabetes.
Whenever I visit Europe — whether to explore a few former Soviet bloc countries or to take a 2,000-mile driving trip through Italy and Switzerland’s Ticino region — I’m always struck upon “re-entry” into the U.S. by how BIG everything is here at home.
We drive big cars, especially here in Colorado, where every other vehicle seems to be an SUV. Our cars have big cup holders for our venti Frappucinos and Big Gulp sodas. We live in big houses that we furnish with stuff we buy at big-box stores. Our big refrigerators – and often an extra freezer – are crammed full of food we purchase at big supermarkets. And, alas, we ourselves are big, and getting bigger: According to the American Heart Association, more than 70 percent of American adults are overweight, and of those, nearly 38 percent are obese.
Europeans clearly do things differently from us. Yet their ‘smaller’ lives seem in many ways richer and fuller. I’ve begun to notice some of those differences that we might do well to consider. Here are five that really struck me:
Are millions of us born with a genetic defect that makes us produce too much stomach acid? Do we just have a major evolutionary design flaw that requires us to take powerful acid-blocking drugs to prevent heartburn and reflux?
I believe that the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “no.”
At least 10 percent of Americans have episodes of heartburn every day, and 44 percent have symptoms at least once a month. Overall, reflux and heartburn (also known as GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease) affect a whopping 25 to 35 percent of the U.S. population! As a result, acid-blocking medications are the third-top-selling type of drug in America today. Two other drugs to treat reflux, Nexium and Prevacid, are among the world’s best-selling drugs and account for approximately $5.1 and $3.4 billion in sales annually.
Our government and food industry both encourage more “personal responsibility” when it comes to battling the obesity epidemic and its associated diseases. They say people should exercise more self-control, make better choices, avoid overeating and reduce their intake of sugar-sweetened drinks and processed food. We are led to believe that there is no good food or bad food — that it’s all just a matter of balance.
Despite the common observation that obesity runs in families, genetic research shows that the habits you inherit from your family are more important than the genes you inherit. Obesity genes account for only 5 percent of all weight problems. So, we have to wonder, what causes the other 95 percent of weight problems?
When I lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., the borough’s rotund mayor, Marty Markowitz, launched a program called “Lighten Up,” which aimed to encourage residents to lose weight with him. There were weigh-in stations across the borough for weekly check-ins, and the neighborhood that collectively lost the most weight would appear on the Today Show. Since then, Lighten Up Brooklyn has turned into an annual program, made all the more important to its mayor, who had to undergo a stent procedure a couple of years ago because of heart problems.