Information for Transformation
This self-help alternative medicine site offers extensive educational information on the topics of natural healing, holistic and biological dentistry, herbal medicine, cleansing and detoxification, heavy metal detox, diet, nutrition, weight loss, and the finest, tried and tested health equipment and products available for the natural management of health.
Calories & Obesity
The United States now has the highest obesity rate of any industrialized nation in the world. An estimated 300,000 people die each year from health problems related to obesity. Further, obesity is a contributing risk factor for four of the seven leading causes of death. Since 1997, the World Health Organization, the American Heart Association, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Surgeon General and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have all issued statements and nutrition guidelines highlighting the grave health risks associated with obesity. Today about 50 million American adults are obese. An additional 6 million are super-obese; weighing a hundred pounds more than they should. No other nation in history has gotten so fat so fast.
The medical literature classifies a person as obese if he or she has a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or highera measurement that takes into account both weight and height. Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop stated that obesity is the second greatest preventable cause of death, following smoking. In his 1994 “Shape up America” campaign report, Koop stated that excess weight is “one of the most pervasive health threats affecting Americans today.” What’s more, obesity is on the rise more than ever before in our history. Obesity is doubling every five years so we have an epidemic that is coming at the health service like a tidal wave.
In 1996, a U.S. Department of Agriculture study revealed that at least 33 percent of all adults in the United States were overweight; that number increased to 61 percent of adults and 13 percent of children in 1999 according to the Surgeon General. In late 2001, the Surgeon General’s report said 27 percent of Americans are obese and 61 percent are overweight. And other calculations are even grimmer: According to a 1995 report by the Institute of Medicine, 59 percent of the adult population met the current definition of clinical obesity, which qualifies the disease for epidemic status. One study predicted that if obesity continues to increase at its current rate, every single man, woman, and child will be obese by the year 2030.
The public has been told that obesity is inherited, which makes people think they don’t have a hand in creating this problem and can continue their bad habits and blame their genes. If a mouse with an obesity gene is deprived of B vitamins, the obesity will be expressed. But if it is fed plenty of B vitamins, it will remain thin. The process of metabolizing B vitamins is called methylation, and magnesium is necessary for one of the most important steps. Every metabolic function in the body requires vitamins and minerals—without them, symptoms develop. Therefore, the first step in treating nonspecific symptoms is diet and dietary supplements, not drugs.
Many of the weight loss diets, that people subject themselves to, are often deficient in magnesium.
Gaining weight around your middle (white adipose tissue) is related to magnesium deficiency and an inability to properly utilize insulin. It also sets the stage for syndrome X.
Over half of the insulin in the blood stream is directed at abdominal tissue. As more and more insulin is produced to deal with a high-sugar diet, abdominal girth increases to process the extra insulin.
The fact that U.S. doctors don’t typically initiate discussions on nutrition and weight control may be at least partly behind the nation’s failure to trim its bulging waistline. Physicians tend to focus more on the drug management of a patient’s high blood pressure, rather than working with patients to lose the extra pounds that may be responsible for the problem. Most obese persons have not been advised by their physicians to lose weight. The lack of insurance coverage for patient-doctor consultations, obesity programs further undercut any incentive for an obese patient to seek help. This problem is compounded by the limited range of healthy food options found in the restaurants many Americans patronize, particularly popular fast-food chains. The dimensions of the problem are hard to overstate.
The health hazards of obesity include diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, atherosclerosis, osteoarthritis, gall bladder disease, sleep apnea, and weakened joints. For every 2-pound weight gain, the risk of developing arthritis is increased by 9 to 13 percent. A weight gain of 11 to 18 pounds increases a person’s risk of developing Type-2 diabetes to twice that of individuals who have not gained weight. Over 80 percent of people with diabetes are overweight. Women gaining more than 20 pounds from age 18 to midlife more than double their risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. Obesity is associated with a higher incidence of asthma. Overweight and obesity are associated with increased rate of uterine, colon, gall bladder, prostate, kidney, and breast cancers. Obesity in pregnancy increases the risk of death to both the baby and the mother and is associated with neural tube defects, infertility, and low blood sugar.
Beyond these serious health concerns, overweight people take a psychological beating from the social stigma of being overweight. Obese people are 20 percent less likely to marry than their thinner counterparts. The annual household income of obese people is nearly $7,000 less than that of thinner people, and they are 10 percent more likely to live a life of poverty. All totaled, obesity and its ramifications have an obvious depressing effect on self-esteem.
We keep getting fatter. Consider the results of Harris polls from 1983 to current. Among people over the age of 25, 80 percent of Americans are overweight. This is up from 58 percent in 1983, 64 percent in 1990, and 71 percent in 1995. In 2003, a researcher at the UCLA/Rand Managed Care Center for Psychiatric Disorders in Santa Monica, California, reported on the health care costs related to obesity. According to the report, obesity increases a person’s health care costs by 77 percent. The study also found that obese people have 30 percent to 50 percent more chronic medical problems than smokers or problem drinkers.
Although an estimated 80 percent of American adults are overweight, the percentage of people who are trying to lose weight is far greater. Their strategies range from over-the-counter diet pills to physician-supervised weight loss programs that integrate exercise and dieting with psychological counseling. Unfortunately, most people who need to lose weight are not succeeding. And there is not much scientific evidence to indicate that any of these strategies is consistently effective for most people. But still we try.
Obesity increased the average yearly health care cost by $395 while smoking and heavy drinking resulted in $230 and $150 increases respectively. According to the U.S. Surgeon General in 1996, obesity cost us $117 billion annually. Diabetes costs account for the majority of this amount. Type-2 diabetes is made worse by weight gain and is improved by weight loss. Experts of the WHO task force calculate that between 5 and 10 percent of the total health budgets of Western countries are involved with obesity, including treatment of the obesity-related illnesses such as arthritis, high blood pressure, back problems, and physiotherapy costs. The estimates are probably too low.
Adults aren’t the only ones suffering from excess weight. A recently released Surgeon General’s report says more children ages 12 to 20 are more overweight than ever before. As of 1999, there were nearly twice as many overweight children and almost three times as many overweight adolescents as there were in 1980. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, one in every five U.S. children is considered overweight. No wonder the Institute of Medicine has declared war on the nation’s “epidemic of obesity.” By the age of 5, most children have early signs of atherosclerosis. Letting our kids choose their diets is like letting someone without a driver’s license drive in a NASCAR race. Someone has to teach kids how and why to eat, and the schools aren’t going to do it. In fact many schools have sold out to the soft drink and fast food companies, have candy sales to raise money, and door-to-door sugary sales to raise money for trips and projects. Asthma and diabetes are exploding in children’s age groups. All this is happening because we taught them how to respond to name brand advertising rather than learn about their bodies’ needs and the dangers in the foods we eat.
Fat on the body is not, in and of itself, unhealthy. On the contrary, we all need some fat to keep us warm and provide a cushion for our bones and organs. Only when fat grows to excess do we have a problem. Excess fat is uncomfortable, unhealthy, and deemed by society as unattractive. Fat cells themselves release chemicals, like Interleukin 6 and TNF (tumor necrosis factor alpha) which are known to be inflammatory and thus cause cardiovascular and other degenerative diseases. Current research points out, obesity is unhealthier than we ever realized.
Obesity, syndrome X, and diabetes are part of a continuum of illness that may progress to heart disease if not headed off by good diet, supplements, exercise, and stress reduction. They are not really separate diseases, as we may think, and underlying all this misery we find magnesium deficiency.
If someone is about thirty pounds overweight for more than a decade, diabetes will likely occur. People with syndrome X are obese, are on the road to diabetes with insulin resistance, and also have hypertension, elevated cholesterol, and high levels of triglycerides. Magnesium and the B-complex vitamins are energy nutrients: they activate enzymes that control digestion, absorption, and the utilization of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Lack of these necessary energy nutrients causes improper utilization of food, leading to such far-ranging symptoms as hypoglycemia, anxiety, and obesity.
Food craving and overeating can be simply a desire to continue eating past fullness because the body is, in fact, craving nutrients that are missing from processed food. You continue to eat empty calories that pack on the pounds, but get you no further ahead in your nutrient requirements.
Magnesium is also necessary in the chemical reaction that allows insulin to usher glucose into cells, where glucose is involved in making energy for the body. If there is not enough magnesium to do this job, both insulin and glucose become elevated. The excess glucose gets stored as fat and contributes to obesity. Having excess insulin puts you on the road toward diabetes.
The connection between stress and obesity cannot be overlooked. The stress chemical cortisol signals a metabolic shutdown that makes losing weight almost impossible. It’s as if the body feels it is under an attack such that it must hoard all its resources, including fat stores, and won’t let go of them under any inducement. Magnesium can neutralize the effects of stress.
The term syndrome X is just another name for the consequences of long-standing nutritional deficiency, especially magnesium deficiency. The long list includes high cholesterol, hypertension, and obesity. It also encompasses elevated triglycerides and elevated uric acid. High triglycerides are found most often when someone has a high-sugar diet, such as from drinking sodas daily and eating cakes and pastries. High uric acid is due to incomplete breakdown of protein from lack of B vitamins and digestive enzymes. This complex collectively appears to be caused by disturbed insulin metabolism (initiated by magnesium deficiency), called insulin resistance, and eventually can lead to diabetes, angina, and heart attack.
Magnesium is required in the metabolic pathways that allow insulin to usher glucose into cells, where glucose participates in making energy for the body (glycolysis). If magnesium is deficient, the doorway into the cells does not open to glucose, resulting in a cascade of events:
Magnesium deficiency leads to cholesterol buildup, and both conditions are implicated in heart disease.
Syndrome X is caused not by chronically elevated insulin levels but by a low level of magnesium ions—because insufficient magnesium is the cause of insulin resistance in the first place. Insulin opens the cells to glucose only if the cells have sufficient amounts of magnesium, and without magnesium, insulin resistance occurs.
Animals deprived of dietary magnesium develop insulin resistance, and the human population has the same risk. Hypertension and insulin resistance may just be different expressions of deficient levels of cellular magnesium. The various conditions that make up syndrome X, or metabolic syndrome X, all have similar origins in magnesium deficiency.
The magnesium deficiency in syndrome x comes from a combination of our magnesium-deficient diet and the well-documented loss of magnesium in the urine caused by elevated insulin. A vicious cycle creates further magnesium losses, causing more syndrome X symptoms. The more magnesium in the diet or taken as supplements, the lower the likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome.
The cornerstone of both prevention and treatment of syndrome X, along with diet, is to restore magnesium to normal levels. Magnesium taken along with medications can play a beneficial role in controlling and reducing symptoms.
Insulin’s job is to open up sites on cell membranes to allow the influx of glucose, a cell’s source of fuel. Cells that no longer respond to the advances of insulin and refuse the entry of glucose are called insulin-resistant, to no avail. Glucose and insulin rampage throughout the body, causing tissue damage that results in overuse and wasting of magnesium, an increased risk of heart disease, and adult-onset diabetes. One of the major reasons the cells don’t respond to insulin is lack of magnesium and chromium.
Some studies show that chronic insulin resistance in patients with type 2 diabetes is associated with a reduction of magnesium; magnesium is necessary to allow glucose to enter cells. Additional studies confirm that when insulin is released from the pancreas, magnesium in the cell normally responds and opens the cell to allow entry of glucose, but when you have magnesium deficiency, combined with insulin resistance, the normal mechanisms don’t work.
Syndrome X is also characterized by a high calcium-to-magnesium ratio. Too much calcium automatically creates a magnesium deficiency. Americans in general have a high calcium-to-magnesium ratio in their diet and consequently in their bodies. The US ratio is said to be 3.5:1. With our dietary emphasis on a high calcium intake without sufficient magnesium, we will soon be faced with a 6:1 ratio in our population. Although the conventional recommended dietary ratio of calcium to magnesium is 2:1, in order to offset the deficiency that many people with syndrome X already have, it may be necessary to ingest one part calcium to one part magnesium in supplement form.
Magnesium is poorly absorbed orally. The problem with oral magnesium is that all magnesium compounds are potentially laxative. Giving magnesium intravenously is the quickest way of restoring normal blood and tissue levels of magnesium, but the injections are just too painful to be considered for children and for long-term use in adults. They are also expensive because they have to be administered by a doctor or nurse. Transdermal magnesium chloride therapy is inexpensive, safe, and a do-it-yourself at-home technique that can replace uncomfortable injections in anything other than emergency room situations.
Transdermal magnesium therapy speeds up the process of nutrient repletion in much the same way as intravenous methods in terms of intensity and speed of effect. Transdermal application of magnesium is superior to oral supplements and is in reality the best practical way magnesium can be used as a medicine other than by direct injection.
The skin is actually an amazingly complex organ and, by weight, the largest organ in the body. It covers, on average, some 22 square feet and weighs around nine pounds (roughly 7% of body weight). The skin is involved in dynamic exchange between the internal and external environments through respiration, absorption and elimination. It is highly permeable though it has the ability to maintain its important function as a bacteria-inhibiting barrier.
Dr. Norman Shealy has done studies on transdermal magnesium chloride mineral therapy where individuals sprayed a solution of magnesium chloride over their entire body once daily for a month and did a 20-minute foot soak in magnesium chloride also once daily.
Typical results before and after 4 weeks of foot soaks/body spraying:
Reference range: 33.9 – 41.9 (mEq/l) mg
Before soaking/spraying: 31.4 (mEq/l) mg
After soaking/spraying: 41.2 (mEq/l) mg
Transdermal administration of magnesium bypasses processing by the liver. Both transdermal and intravenous therapy creates “tissue saturation,” the ability to get the nutrients where we want them, directly in the circulation, where they can reach body tissues at high doses, without loss. Transdermal “magnesium oil” delivers high levels of magnesium directly through the skin to the cellular level, bypassing common intestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea, associated with oral use.
Because the magnesium oil can be absorbed easily through the skin many have found that they can get almost instant relief from the pains of arthritis by massaging a generous amount of magnesium into an area of discomfort or by taking a hot magnesium bath with sodium bicarbonate added.
This is not to say that magnesium oil cannot or should not be taken orally. Taking minerals in liquid form is the best solution for oral intake and Ancient Minerals is the purest medicine, being from a 250-million-year-old buried sea. You can drink it as well as use it transdermally and to take it up to bowel tolerance level because this will clean out the intestines. Taking magnesium oil orally is the very best medical solution for constipation.
Doctors should know that this magnesium oil can be added to IVs and is a better and certainly purer source of magnesium chloride than industrially-manufactured magnesium chloride, which tends to be much higher in heavy-metal contaminants.
One of the most luxurious medical treatments on earth is to receive magnesium massages on a consistent basis. Having at least an ounce of what is called magnesium oil rubbed all over ones body by either a trained or even untrained massage therapist is extremely healing. One can also do this oneself meaning cover ones body all over with the magnesium oil like one would sunscreen and go out in the sun and have some fun.
People living with cancer report that weekly massage improves their quality of life. They have more energy, are better able to perform daily activities, and have less psychological distress. Regular massage is an effective way of lowering stress hormone cortisol levels so we recommend magnesium oil massage for all cancer patients. Massage is unique in alternative cancer therapy because it is able to remedy feelings of isolation that many patients battling cancer. The experience of human contact is particularly important when facing a difficult diagnosis and massage can provide that unique experience to cancer patients, who often succumb to feelings of being overwhelmed by the nature of their diagnosis, family implications, and other difficulties associated with cancer treatments.
Magnesium oil, applied directly to the skin, alleviates chronic pain, muscle cramps, and in general makes our job of opening up and softening muscles and connective tissue much easier. Magnesium is a potent vasodilator, and smooth muscle relaxant.
Regular massage is an effective way of lowering stress hormone cortisol levels that suppress immune system functioning and have been directly linked to premature death, depression, stress and cancer. These effects bring a sense of wellbeing and stimulate the immune system to fight the cancer better. One powerful way we can take massage onto the level of a powerful medical treatment is combining massage techniques with transdermal magnesium chloride treatments. The skin provides the best avenue into the body for many drugs. When it comes to magnesium we have a method in our hands that is similar in effect to intravenous magnesium treatments that are used to save people’s lives in emergency rooms. We just use the magnesium oil like we would massage oils, or create a special blend mixing them together.
Massage that alleviates pain, when used together with magnesium oil, will markedly and more rapidly increase overall pain relief, restore flexibility, promote healing and replace the deficiencies of this life-sustaining mineral than either could do alone. Though giving magnesium by injection is the quickest way of restoring normal blood and tissue levels of magnesium, it is expensive and painful and carries many risks. Transdermal Magnesium Therapy is inexpensive, safe, and a do-it-yourself-at-home technique that can replace uncomfortable injections.
Without our ability to gain weight, humans as a species would never have survived. During thousands of years marked by food scarcity, human beings developed efficient mechanisms to physiologically store energy as fat. In the world of our prehistoric ancestors, the hunters and gatherers, food was not consistently plentiful. Until recently, societies rarely enjoyed an overabundance of cheap food. As a result, our bodies are far more efficient at gaining weight than at losing it. When berries and roots were in season and when wild animals were not hibernating, our ancestors ate wellthey fattened up. Then during seasons when food was harder to come by, they relied on their stored fat to see them through the lean times.
Two biological functions assisted them as they struggled to survive this fluctuation of feast and famine. When they had abundant food, their bodies efficiently stored fat, and when there was less to eat, their metabolism slowed to adjust to the smaller quantities of food. They were genetically programmed to adapt their metabolic rates to food intake. Those who survived were blessed with “fat-storing” genes, whereas those who lacked these genes perished. And the survivors passed their genes on to future generations. These genes, which evolved slowly over thousands of generations, have not caught up to modern living and eating. We use the same genes to program our bodies to store concentrated sugars, processed carbohydrates, and adulterated fats. Ironically, the same biological self-preservation mechanism that helped our ancestors store and retain fatand thereby survive cycles of feast and famineis one of the factors ruining our health, even killing many of us today.
An important part of the feast and famine cycle is missing from the lifestyle of developed societiesthe famines, which resulted in mandatory food fasts. No longer do we struggle through periods with very little food, thanks to modern farming techniques and food preservation, storage, shipping and preparation methods. On the contrary, we live in a perpetual feasteating seasonal foods all year long, consuming exotic foods grown around the world and shipped to our neighborhood grocery, and indulging in every conceivable convenience food that food manufacturers dream up. This means that our bodies are always on “store” mode. Rarely are they on use-up-the-excess-fuel modeexcept, of course, when we go on low-fat diets in our perpetual, mostly hopeless, effort to lose excess weight. As most dieters now realize, this sets the body up to eventually cycle back around to nature’s uncontrollable call to eat. The sad fact is that the body, as soon as possible after a “diet” (which the body interprets as a famine and therefore a threat), reacts by quickly regaining the lost weightand then somein preparation for the next food shortage, just as it did for our prehistoric ancestors.
Our growing problem of obesity can be blamed on “exceptionally thrifty genesturned loose in an environment that offers easy access to high-energy food while requiring little hard labor. Whereas our ancestors had to work for their supper, modern man can enjoy three meals a day plus snacks while exerting very little energy. Genetic heritage, too much food, and not enough exercise are among the many reasons why modern people in industrialized nations are facing the obesity plague. But one more reason is just now becoming clear to a growing number of health care practitionersfood intolerance contributes to the increasing problem of overweight, and the modern world “feast” is causing more people to develop food intolerances.
There is no magic bullet for losing excess weight. Obesity is a complex problem, which requires a change in our attitude about food and a change in the way we eat. Some claim that cutting calories is the ticket to melting the pounds away. Others claim low-fat diets will help you fit into your favorite pair of pants. Still others point to high-protein diets as the path to slimness. And that’s only a few of the options for the person who craves a life free from unsightly excess fat. Yet, the fact is that none of these approaches is working for the vast majority of the population. Although people do tend to lose weight on the programs, they also regain it over time. Recent clinical studies show that over 95 percent of people who use diets to control their weight gain it all back within five years.
Often, the only concern a person has, concerning different foods, is “how many calories does it have?” as if that were the only important consideration. The view that limiting calories is all that is needed for you to lose weight is simplistic. The average adult person consumes about 2,500 calories daily. What are calories? Calories are a measure of the energy contained in foods that is released for bodily functions when those foods are oxidized or “burned” in the body. The food sources of calories are protein, fat and carbohydrate. When our caloric intake exceeds our caloric expenditure, we store the extra calories as fat. All types of calories are potential sources of fat. Fat can store more than twice as much energy (9 calories per gram) as does an equal weight of carbohydrate or protein (4 calories per gram). This is a 225% denser packing of energy in fats than in other types of food.
But counting calories as a way of keeping your weight down doesn’t work as easily as we may think or have been told to think. Counting calories is a remnant of the outdated “four-basic-food-group” theory. It is quite a simple task to count calories, but there are so many other important factors that affect the rate at which our bodies burn calories that simply regulating the caloric intake is ineffective in the fight to keep our weight down. There are good calories and there are empty calories. Eating a piece of candy and an apple may provide the same number of calories, but the candy lacks the vitamins, minerals and fiber that are found in the apple which helps the body metabolize the calories. Every pound of fat in your body contains roughly 3500 calories, from what you have taken in sometime in the past. And because some caloric energy is burned as the body stores excess calories away as fat, we know you actually took in more than the 3500 calories stored in each pound of body fat. How many more calories you took in to create that pound of fat is determined by the kinds of food you ate, your activity level, and metabolic rate. If you consume 100 calories of fat not needed to fuel the body’s activity, it’s converted to 97 calories of body fat. It only takes 3% of the food energy in dietary fat to convert it into stored body fat. Whereas, complex carbohydrates sacrifice 23% of their caloric energy if they’re converted to body fat. So all calories you eat aren’t equal.
There are about 20 vitamins, 20 minerals and fiber that are essential to life, but because they contain no calories at all, their need is often ignored and people tend to eat any kind of food without regard for nutritional quality, when counting calories. When you eat empty calories deficient in essential nutrients, such as those found in refined and processed foods, the missing nutrients will be robbed from the body’s nutritional reserve, creating more deficiency. The theoretical measure of the caloric values of foods printed in books is a measure of the heat given off of foods when they are burned in a laboratory. It is assumed that these same foods are going to be completely burned or oxidized to carbon dioxide and water, but in reality, in the body, this is not the case. For example fats may not be completely burnedinstead they partially oxidized and produce what are called ketones. This is like charcoal left when wood burns incompletely. Ketones in the blood, before elimination by the kidneys, suppress appetite, and are why fats are used in reducing diets.
Fat may take as long as 5 to 8 hours to be digested, protein takes about 3 to 5 hours, complex carbohydrate about 2 hours and refined sugar takes about 30 minutes. Even though fat contains twice as many calories as carbohydrate, it keeps hunger satisfied 3 times as long, resulting in less weight gain. Refined sugar is absorbed so rapidly that it's quickly turned into fat. This begins a vicious cycle of hunger, overeating, fat deposition and more hunger. Refined foods, being deficient in most essential nutrients, lead us to overeat in an effort to satisfy cellular craving for the nutrients that are missing in the soil or processed out of food. The essential fatty acids and other highly unsaturated fatty acids all contain 9 calories per gram, but the body finds them more valuable for structural and electrical functions than for energy production. Also, the metabolic rate differs from person to person and from time to time in the same individual and is affected by genetics, hormones, nutrition, exercise and the individual’s general state of health. Some, with a naturally high metabolic rate never gain weight, regardless of how much or what they eat. Thyroid function affects metabolic rate over a broad spectrum from an over-active one that increases metabolic rate, to the under-active one which lowers it. The slower the rate, the less calories are burned, and weight is gained more easily. The nutrients that raise the metabolic rate and increase the efficiency of oxidation are the essential fatty acids, the B-complex vitamins (especially B3) and Vitamin C. Every B-vitamin is used in the Krebs’ energy cycle, in every cell.
Protein in all the required types are found in an all plant-based diet, but decades of misinformation about our food needs, supplied by the meat, dairy and egg industries to grade schools, have incorrectly persuaded most people that if you don’t eat animals, you won’t get enough protein, and then how will you build muscles? You can build muscles the same way that elephants, water buffalo, horses, and other beasts of burden do, from the plentiful protein in the vegetarian foods they eat. The typical American will more likely suffer from too much protein in the form of kidney stones, arthritis, osteoporosis, and perhaps cancer. On the other hand, protein deficiency disease is almost unheard of in America. The main problem is that people are intolerant to certain proteins that they eat and react to, creating numerous symptoms, including weight gain. The serious diseases associated with too much protein may also cause you to wonder if high protein diets are a safe way to lose weight. More important for weight controllers is that animal protein-rich foods like meat and cheese are almost always high in animal fat as well, providing a double health whammy which vegetarians avoid routinely.
The state of health affects the metabolic rate. Fever, infection and cancerous tumors burn much more energy than when a person is healthy. After injury, protein and fatty acids are used to rebuild cellular structures and new tissue rather than just for energy, and metabolism is increased. Exercise burns more calories than sedentary living. An hour of exercise keeps the metabolic rate elevated for twelve or more hours after the exercise has finished. Time spent awake makes a difference, as more calories are burned while awake than while sleeping. Mental activity affects calories used. The brain, although it is only 2% of the body’s weight, may use up to 25% of the total calories burned. Environmental conditions affect the rate at which we use calories. The body responds to changes in temperature, season and climate, increasing or decreasing the rate of metabolism to keep the body in balance. Swimming causes more heat loss, as water conducts body heat away more rapidly than does exercising in the air, raising our metabolism, which burns more calories.
Americans are over-fed and under-nourished. By eating the Basic American Diet, it is very easy to get the perfect number of calories every day and at the same time to suffer from malnutrition, which is a precursor for all degenerative disease. The average American’s profile, of bloated bellies and skinny legs is similar to that of a starving person in a third-world country. When the foods we feast on are natural, unprocessed and we eat when we are hungry, then hunger by itself takes care of our caloric needs, our vitamin and mineral requirements and our taste buds; at the same time, hunger takes care of maintaining our ideal body weight and physical health, throughout all of the changes and conditions through which we pass in our lifetime. Because the nutrient content of the majority of foods available is altered and out of balance, our hunger mechanism and our bodies are also out of balancecalorie counting will not help us. Calories count, but don’t count them!
The modern Western diet consists largely of over-processed, fatty foods manufactured by the ever-expanding food industry. These are known as “skeletonized” foods. With all or most of their nutrients removed by processing, they are little more than fat and carbohydrate skeletons of their original form. Also, we live increasingly sedentary lifestyles, thanks in large part to modern technology. And the increasing prevalence of food intolerance is causing vast numbers of biological malfunctions that result in internal disturbances such as inappropriate fat storage, food cravings, and water retention.
Our 20th-century Western lifestylewith its highly processed foods, chemicals, pollution, stress, industrialization, and social structureis triggering and exacerbating the body’s instinct to prepare for and defend against famine. Today’s lifestyle has wreaked havoc in the people who inherently have a genetic propensity to gain excess weightwhich, statistically, includes most of us. And the growth of the fast food industry has made an abundance of high-fat, inexpensive meals widely available. As people eat more meals outside the home, they consume more calories, less fiber, and more fat. The eating habits of American children now provide about one-quarter of their total vegetable servings in the form of potato chips or French fries. Commodity prices have fallen so low that the fast food industry has greatly increased its portion sizes, without reducing profits, in order to attract customers.
The size of a burger has become one of its main selling points. Wendy’s offers the Triple Decker; Burger King, the Great American; and Hardee’s sells a hamburger called the Monster. The Little Caesars slogan “Big! Big!” now applies not just to the industry’s portions, but to its customers. Over the past forty years in the United States, per capita consumption of carbonated soft drinks has more than quadrupled. During the late 1950s, the typical soft drink order at a fast food restaurant contained about eight ounces of soda; today a “Child” order of Coke at McDonald’s is twelve ounces. A “Large” Coke is thirty-two ouncesand about 310 calories. In 1972, McDonald’s added Large French Fries to its menu; twenty years later, the chain added Super Size Fries, a serving three times larger than what McDonald’s offered a generation ago. Super Size Fries have 610 caloris and 29 grams of fat. At Carl’s Jr. restaurants, an order of CrissCut Fries and a Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger boasts 73 grams of fatmore fat than ten of their milk shakes.
A number of attempts to introduce healthy dishes have proven unsuccessful. A taste for fat developed in childhood is difficult to lose as an adult. At the moment, the fast food industry is heavily promoting menu items that contain bacon. Consumers savor the flavor while operators embrace the profit margin. A decade ago, restaurants sold about 20% of the bacon consumed in the United States; now they sell about 70%. “Make it Bacon” is one of the new slogans at McDonald’s. With the exception of Subway (which promotes healthier food), the major chains have apparently decided that it’s much easier and much more profitable to increase the size and the fat content of their portions than to battle eating habits largely formed by years of their own mass marketing.
The obesity epidemic that began in the United States during the late 1970s is now spreading to the rest of the world, with fast food as one of its vectors. Between 1984 and 1993, the number of fast food restaurants in Great Britain roughly doubledand so did the obesity rate among adults. The British now eat more fast food than any other nationality in Western Europe. They also have the highest obesity rate. Obesity is much less of a problem in Italy and Spain, where spending on fast food is relatively low. The relationship between a nation’s fast food consumption and its rate of obesity has not been definitely established through any long-term, epidemiological study. The growing popularity of fast food is just one of many cultural changes that have been brought about by globalization. Nevertheless, it seems wherever America’s fast food chains go, waistlines start expanding.
In China, the proportion of overweight teenagers has roughly tripled in the past decade. In Japan, eating hamburgers and french fries has not made people any blonder, though it has made them fatter. Overweight people were once a rarity in Japan. The nation’s traditional diet of rice, fish, vegetables, and soy products has been deemed one of the healthiest in the world. And yet the Japanese are rapidly abandoning that diet. Consumption of red meat has been rising in Japan since the American occupation after World War II. The arrival of McDoanld’s in 1971 accelerated the shift in Japanese eating habits. During the 1980s, the sale of fast food in Japan more than doubled; the rate of obesity among children soon doubled, too. Today about one-third of all Japanese men in their thirtiesmembers of the nation’s first generation raised on Happy Meals and Gi-gu Ma-kus are overweight. Heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, and breast cancer, the principal “diseases of affluence,” have been linked to diets low in fiber and high in animal fats. Long common in the United States, these diseases are likely to become widespread in Japan as its fast food generation ages. More than a decade ago a study found that their switch to a Western diet doubled their risk of heart disease and tripled their risk of stroke. For the men in the study, embracing an American way of life, meant increasing the likelihood of a premature death.
European consumer groups are pushing for a complete ban on all TV advertising directed at children under the age of twelve. Ads have been banned from children’s television programming in Norway, Belgium, Ireland, and Holland. A survey of children’s advertising in the European Union found that 95% of the food ads there encouraged kids to eat foods high in sugar, salt, and fat. The company running the most ads aimed at children was McDonald’s.
The American food pyramid is a joke, politically influenced by the major food and meat manufacturers and processors. It may be that the Department of Agriculture based the pyramid on requirements of past generations that worked and played a lot harder than our present relatively sedentary population.
The availability of electrical power and gasoline and diesel engines has made life easier than it used to be. And now TV, computers and computer games are immobilizing a great many people. The great emphasis placed on carbohydrates, which sit at the bottom of the food pyramid, combined with a pervasive aversion to fat, could be taking a heavy toll on Americans. Many of us are beginning to resemble that pyramid.
Carbohydrates, compounds made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, can be divided into two classes: sugars and starches. They are hidden parents of the fats that kill. Fats are also composed of the same three elements but arranged differently as acids and alcohols. Sugars are ubiquitous. There are simple sugars such as glucose and fructose; double sugars like sucrose (table sugar), maltose (in beer), and lactose (in milk); syrups from corn, beets, sorghum and maple; dextrins and dextrans and honey. Our bodies digest these quickly and easily and turn them into triglycerides (fat).
Bears take advantage of this same process when they load up on fruits and berries in the fall to store fat to keep them alive during winter hibernation. Corn syrup in most soft drinks, in the presence of carbon dioxide, is rapidly absorbed to give a quick jolt of energy. A spurt of insulin follows to handle the excess sugar in the blood. If more insulin than necessary is produced, a let down results and a need for another soft drink arises. The concomitant production of fatty acids, unless used to produce energy, are stored as fat. Starches, complex and refined carbohydrates, are sugar polymers. Usually they are long chains of glucose. The chains have to be broken up by enzymes before the glucose can be utilized. Consequently their digestion is relatively slow compared to sugars.
On the other hand, complex carbohydrates contained in whole grains, corn, broccoli, carrots and the like contain fiber minerals and vitamin co-factors, which facilitate their utilization. They are digested and absorbed slowly and tend to produce fuel for the body as needed. They tend to be more completely utilized for energy production than refined carbohydrates and are least likely to produce fat deposits. Refined carbohydrates like white flour, white rice, cornstarch, tapioca and many breakfast foods are digested relatively rapidly. They are likely to generate excessive amounts of triglycerides and, consequently, fat.
The idea that eating fat in general is hazardous to your health is fiction promoted by pseudo experts. They are unaware, apparently, that there are vitamins like A, D, E and K, essential to your body’s welfare, which cannot be absorbed in the absence of fat. There are also essential fatty acids, linoleic and alpha-linolenic, which your body has to have in order to function properly. Most Americans95 percent of usare said to be deficient in these. The best balanced source of them is hemp seed oil, not readily available because growing hemp is illegal in most states. Borage, flax and evening primrose oils are available sources. Fat also has a tendency to satisfy the appetite better than other foods thereby causing people to eat less.
Each individual body weight is the result of a combination of genetic, metabolic, behavioral, environmental, cultural, and socioeconomic influences. Interestingly, all these influences impact the development of food sensitivities. If food sensitivities are a common factor in all the identified factors associated with overweight, doesn’t it make more sense to determine and eliminate the foods involved rather than try to take on the task of trying to change people’s genes, their metabolism with drugs, their behavior with counseling, their environment, their cultural favorites, or the size of their paycheck? It would be cheaper and easier for us all if people would learn the foods they are able to eat regardless of the preceding factors.
Experts at a 1996 World Health Organization (WHO) conference said that the worldwide trend toward fatter people is caused in part by the increased use of machines, which lead to a more sedentary lifestyle. They added that the human brain biochemistry of modern people has not been able to adapt quickly enough to the reduced need for calories in our more sedentary lives, and people are still eating as if they plowed farmland and milked cows for 10 hours every day. Studies cited by the WHO task force showed that with the many different populations around the world getting fatter, experts are dealing with a complicated environmental problem that needs an environmental solution. National survey data reveals that about 80-85 percent of American adults are overweight or obeseup from 43 percent in 1960.
In simple terms: when people eat more and move less, they get fat. In the United States, people have become increasingly sedentarydriving to work instead of walking, performing little manual labor, driving to do errands, watching TV, playing video games, and using a computer instead of exercising. Budget cuts have eliminated physical education programs at many schools. People eat out often, they eat larger servings, and they seldom walk farther than the nearest car.
Less than one third of adult Americans engage in the recommended 30 minutes of moderate physical exercise daily. Forty percent of adults in the United States do not participate in any leisure-time physical activity. Among adolescents, 43 percent watch more than two hours of television each day. We are so insecure about any exercise that we rush to gyms to hire personal trainers to teach us how to exercise. Long forgotten is the casual walk to the grocery or to church on Sunday. Instead of paying a personal trainer and then paying someone to mow your lawn, why don’t you just mow the lawn? Walk to the grocery: You’ll be surprised how much you save on your grocery bill if you have to carry the groceries home.
The weight loss industry is a billion-dollar businessin fact, close to $30 billion in 1998. The 1998 sales of diet soft drinks is estimated at $12.5 billion, artificial sweeteners at $1.54 billion, health club memberships at $10 billion, low-calorie foods at more than $2 billion, and appetite suppressants at $1 billion. Add to this, books, tapes, seminars, doctor’s office visits, and so forth, and the costs are staggering.
The weight loss industry is not making money because its methods are working. It’s making billions of dollars because they’re not working. The same overweight person will try the same weight loss program over and over, paying the often exorbitant rates for diet “secrets” until they finally give up and find a new diet program to spend their money on. This is the panic. Keeping dieters in the panic frenzy is very profitable for the weight loss industry as a whole. People repeatedly go on these “low-calorie weight loss” diets with the blind faith that this time it will work; all they need is the willpower. They never stop to consider that the very premise of quick weight loss diets is flawedand that the only thing guaranteed in the long run is their failure.
Statistically, when people lose weight on a low-calorie diet, they gain all the weight back within the first year. One reason that these diets are ineffective is because they are designed to have marketing sizzle, not practical guidance. It is as though we are sure there is a miracle cure for obesity out there being suppressed by big business, and we jump toward every glitzy, scientific-sounding plan. The ads recycle year after year, despite the fact that they don’t work and despite the fact that they fly in the face of the reality of our body’s actual biology.
Dieting is dumb, stressful, and counterproductive. It implies a temporary state, separate from “regular” eating. This hiatus from calories creates havoc in the body’s feedback center. Forget dieting except that whenever you aren’t eating what the body needs and can use, you are dieting as far as the body is concerned. Learn what your body needs and what you can eat. …then eat it. Eating should be as impassive as filling your car with gasoline. The whole point should be to supply the energy for the trip of life, do not overfill the tank, and always be sure to put the proper fuel in the tank.
Most medical experts agree that a deficit or excess of 3,500 kilocalories (kcal) normally causes a loss or gain of 1 pound of body fat. So, to result in weight loss, a person’s food intake and activity level must cause energy expenditure to be 3,500 kcal greater than energy intake for every pound of weight loss. It takes a deficit of 3,500 kcal to lose one pound of fat and only a mere 580 kcal to lose one pound of muscle, which is mostly water. If muscle or other fat-free mass is being broken down to supply energy, however, then a deficit of only 580 kcal results in a loss of 1 pound of weight. So, if you’ve ever lost weight quickly on a low-calorie diet, what you’ve actually lost is muscle and waternot fat! Loss of fat-free tissue produces the weight loss seen in starvation or severe malnutrition. You may feel great when you look at the scale after a quick weight loss diet, but in the long run you will have done more damage than good. Even though you have lost weight, you now have a larger percentage of body fat. In other words, you are actually fatter than when you began the diet. Muscle loss is undesirable and in fact, dangerous if there is appreciable loss, especially because it can affect the vital muscles of the heart.
The body will attempt to conserve fat stores because it “perceives” the caloric restriction as a famine, and in so doing metabolize lean tissue. The degree this happens depends on other biological factors influenced primarily by insulin activity. If you’re dieting to lose weight the underlying biological factors which determine what type of tissue is metabolized will not be in your favor. The body, under conditions of perceived starvation, will utilize muscle so as to spare the metabolic energy required to maintain it. It is generally accepted that the weight lost in low calorie plans is up to 30 percent muscle mass. Losing muscle tissue is a major health concern because muscle is the body-building tissuethe very tissue that burns calories most efficiently. Once you have shifted your percentage of lean to fat tissue, you’ll find it even harder to lose weight because fat tissue requires fewer calories to sustain itself than muscle does.
A reduction in muscle tissue is one reason dieters gain all the weight back and more as soon as they resume their previous eating habits. Typically as much as two-thirds of the lost weight is regained within one year, and almost all is regained within five years. This sets up a chronic dieter for the “yo-yo phenomenon,” which has been shown to damage health in several ways, including increasing the chances of heart disease and heart attacks, gout, osteoarthritis, diabetes, certain cancers, and other disorders. This occurs mainly because, in addition to a shift in lean-to-fat tissue, many people who achieve considerable weight loss experience, like their prehistoric ancestors, a reduction in their metabolic rates, and therefore a reduction in energy requirements, in their body’s instinctual effort to defend against starvation. This allows the lost weight to be regained in a much shorter time than it was lost and the next time the person goes on a diet, losing the same amount of weight will take longer.
The glycemic index is a consistent evaluation of carbohydrates measures the insulin response to a food. The higher the glycemic index, the more insulin produced by the food. And the more insulin produced, the more fat is stored. High glycemic index foods have a similar effect as fatexcesses are just as likely to be stored as fat as is fat itself. Insulin is a fat-storing hormone. The elevated insulin levels will actually increase fat storage. Plus, consuming high amounts of these foods will cause the body to produce more insulin, which causes blood sugar to drop, which not only stimulates appetite, but induces greater fat storage. About 20 to 25 percent of the population is resistant to insulin. This often is primarily due to mercury toxicity. Mercury attaches to the sulfur bonds in the insulin molecule and in the insulin receptor and as a result, the insulin that is in the blood, is not recognized.
Insulin resistance impacts the body’s ability to process carbohydrates properly, turning the sugars into fat and sending out an insistent demand for more carbohydrates. Insulin resistance can also result simply because the high fiber-lacking carbohydrate consumption increases blood sugar levels, and then insulin production, to such a high level that the tissue cells “down-regulate” the number of insulin receptors to compensate.
When the muscle and liver cells cannot receive the glucose, not only due to insulin resistance but also to storage capacity limitations occurring under even normal circumstances, the body stores it as fat rather than allow the blood sugar to remain dangerously elevated. High levels of blood sugar will bind with and degrade proteins in the blood producing substances called “AGES” advanced glycosylated end products. AGES, ironically, are associated with premature aging.
The high blood levels of insulin result in the rapid storage of fat, because the body interprets the elevated insulin levels as abundant glucose immediately available for energy. The same insulin that is ineffective at getting glucose into the muscle cell is seemingly quite efficient at driving fat into the fat cells.
Proponents of high protein diets point out that protein is essential for replacing and maintaining muscle. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism and the more calories you’ll burn, even when you’re not exercising. Also, eating more protein can help you feel fuller longer, because protein takes longer to digest and be absorbed than carbohydrates do. As a result, dieters are less likely to nibble between meals or crave certain foods, which can reduce the overall number of calories you consume. However, too high an intake of protein may put undue strain on the kidneys. It can also cause acidification of the blood which will compensate by drawing minerals from the teeth, bones, stomach lining, liver, and joints. Millions of people have tried these diets and are still fat. So no matter how rational the explanation of why a particular weight loss diet is the diet to follow, not one as yet has the success numbers to back up its claims. If anything, we should have learned by now that no one diet works for everyone. And until each person’s individual biochemistry and food intolerance is taken into consideration, the battle to reduce bulk will continue raging.
The rise of childhood obesity in America is part of a larger story: how corporations have laid claim to children’s imagination and playto childhood itself. In the process of redefining children as “consumers,” as the open maws at the end of a giant marketing machine, corporations have redefined as well the nature of childhood disease. Increasingly, our children suffer not from the results of infection or lack, but from the role the commercial culture has assigned themfrom occupational illness, one might say. Of these occupational illnesses of childhood, obesity is probably the greatest. Certainly it is the most apparent, as a visit to just about any elementary school or mall will confirm. Depending on how you measure it, between 15 and 24 percent of American children are overweighta threefold increase since the early 1970s.
“The number-one health problem in the United States is not SARS,” said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “It is not emerging infectious diseases. It is the epidemic of obesity that we are watching unfold before our very eyes.” Adds James Hill, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, “If these trends continue, within a few generations every American will be overweight.” The epidemic of childhood obesity is a tragedy for many reasons, and it portends poorly for the health of our entire nation in the coming decades. Obese children have a low quality of life; the quality of life of severely obese children is similar to that of kids with cancer.
Obese children also have a strong predisposition to become obese adults, with a greater likelihood of developing a battery of serious chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and, in the end, shorter life spans. The obesity epidemic has spawned an epidemic of diabetes. The CDC recently warned that if current tends continue, one in three Americans born in 2000 will develop diabetes. If the CDC’s predictions are correct, 45 to 50 million Americans could have diabetes by 2050, according to Dr. Kevin McKinney, assistant professor of endocrinology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. “There is no way the medical community could keep up with that,” he said. The obesity epidemic and its effects are striking younger and younger children. Amazingly, the warning signs of strokes and heart attacks can be detected even in children as young as two years.” Type-2 diabetes, once known as adult-onset diabetes, now afflicts adolescents and even children. When these children grow up, they’ll face complications such as amputations, blindness, heart attacks, and kidney failure. Pediatricians think that the rise in type-2 diabetes can be attributed almost entirely to the obesity epidemic.
How did this happen? The U.S. is the richest nation in the world, and therefore it should be the healthiest. How has this epidemic spread among its children? Though the forces had been gathering for decades, they came into full bloom in the 1970s, when the trend line of childhood obesity began to rise steeply. There are many causes. Most children today sit too much and play too little. They spend too much of the day riding in cars and staring at video screens. They eat food designed for the health of corporate balance sheets rather than the health of children’s bodies. But under all of this runs the persistent theme of how corporations have insinuated themselves into virtually every corner of children’s lives, and written the master script for children’s interactions with their own families and with society at large.
There was a time, not that long ago, when parents decided what and when their kids ate. Today that idea seems a fond memory, even nostalgia. Parents find themselves increasingly on the defensive, fending off, deflecting, combating, and all too often making grudging compromises with the cravings that corporate marketers conjure in their kids. In the case of food, those cravings generally are for things that parents wish their children didn’t want, and with good reason: almost without exception, they are foods that might as well have been specifically designed to make kids fat. The assault began after World War II, but not until the 1970s did its physical effects on children begin to become unmistakable. It was then that the marketing itself reached a point of critical mass. The corporate redefining of childhood employed four main tools: television, the marketing of junk food, the commercial takeover of the schools, and the starvation of the public sector. These invasions of children’s lives took place at a time when children were increasingly vulnerable because their parents were working more, and there were more single-parent families and less supervision at home.
The group, the
According to the article, the alliance includes three giant food companies General Mills Inc., Kellogg Co. and Kraft Foods Inc. The three companies also rank as the top three advertisers of packaged-foods to children, by virtue of their breakfast cereals, with combined annual spending on kids' ads that approaches $380 million in the
Other alliance members include the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National Advertisers and the Grocery Manufacturers of America, the article said.
The group's purpose, according to Wally Snyder, president and chief of the American Advertising Federation, another alliance member, is to defend the industry's First Amendment rights to advertise to children and to promote its willingness to police itself, the newspaper said.
Some members have been meeting on and off for months, although the group has come together formally only in the past week or so, according to the article.
The newspaper said the alliance disputes that there is a link between advertising and childhood obesity, and the alliance will focus on collecting research that examines whether advertising and childhood obesity are linked.
Earlier this month, Kraft said it would stop advertising products like Oreo cookies and Kool-Aid beverages to children younger than 12 as it works to deflect criticism that such foods contribute to childhood obesity.
General Mills, Kellogg and Kraft Foods could not immediately be reached for comment.
Television literally is an obesity machineboth because of what it shows and the way it affects children’s lives. It gives advertisers a way to walk through the front door of the home and speak directly to children. The average American child watches 19 hours and 40 minutes of TV per weekmore than a thousand hours each year. That means an annual exposure to thousands of commercials for junk food and fast food. Then there’s all the lost playtimeduring those 20 hours each week, children are not physically active. Medical research confirms just what you’d expect: the more TV children watch, the more likely they are to be overweight. “We are literally living ourselves sick, and television plays a large role in this downward spiral,” wrote Mohammad N. Akhter, MD, when he was executive director of the American Public Health Association.
Not surprisingly, childhood obesity is worse in some minority communities. Part of the reason is that African American children watch more TV on average than do other children. African American teens watch 40 percent more prime-time TV and nearly twice as much daytime TV as other teens. They do so in part because they are more likely to live in places where it’s unsafe to play in the park or the street. They also often receive less adult supervision, which means more opportunities for corporate marketers to intrude on their lives. And kids who have the least are the most impressionable, because they naturally hunger for what they lack. That means, among other things, burgers, fries, chocolate shakes, and soft drinks.
It is no dark mystery to parents that ads have an effect. Even the cautious federal science bureaucracy has acknowledged this to some degree. For example, back in 1977, the National Science Foundation concluded that advertising is “at least moderately successful” in creating “desire for the products advertised.” When junk-food companies realized the power that TV marketing has over children, they invested heavily in it; the resultant rise in the marketing of junk foods was coextensive to the rise in childhood obesity. What is noteworthyand utterly revealingabout advertising to children is that it almost always is for things most parents would not themselves choose for their kids, especially in regard to food. Turn of Saturday-morning TV: How many ads do you see for nutritious foods? In 1978 the Federal Trade Commission concluded that “the largest single part of the television advertising addressed specifically to children is for sugared foods.”
It has long been understood that young children are especially vulnerable to marketing messages. “Many young childrenincluding an apparent majority of those under the age of eightare so naive,” concluded the Federal Trade Commission in 1978, that “they cannot perceive the selling purpose of television advertising or otherwise comprehend or evaluate it and tend…to view commercials simply as a form of ‘information programming.’” But even PBS helps market junk food to our youngest children. In recent years, Teletubbies, a PBS television program targeted to toddlers, has made cross-marketing deals with McDonald’s and Burger King, both of which sell high-calorie fast food. “Teletubbies was a great promo partner,” gushed Cindy Syracuse, then Burger King’s manager for youth and family marketing.
McDonald’s first national ad campaign, in 1967, was an unexpectedly huge success: 10 million kids wrote in to pick floats for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. From then it was off to the races. McDonald’s advertising director put this battle cry on his wall: “Early to bed / Early to rise / Advertise / Advertise / Advertise.” Since then, McDonald’s has been masterful in its use of beloved characters to sell its high-calorie fast food. Among others, McDonald’s has employed Winnie-the-Pooh, 101 Dalmatians, Nemo, Furby, Tarzan, and Beanie Babies to sell its Happy Meals.
Fast-food marketers such as McDonald’s and Burger King have reshaped the diets of American parents and kids, and the rise in fast-food consumption has paralleled the boom in child-hood obesity. Between 1977 and 1995, the percentage of meals and snacks eaten at fast-food restaurants doubled. This trend has been especially devastating to the health of children. Because fast food is typically high in sugar, fat, and calories, these meals can quickly add pounds to a kid’s waistline. In a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, researchers found that, compared to adolescents who did not eat at fast-food restaurants, boys and girls who had eaten fast food three times in the previous week had astoundingly higher calorie intakes: 40 and 37 percent higher, respectively.
The increase in soft-drink consumption has been similarly damaging to children’s health. Between 1977 and 1996, soda consumption among 12 to 19 year olds increased 75 percent for boys, 40 percent for girls. According to a study in The Lancet, for each can of soda consumed each day, a child is 1.6 times more likely to become obese, all other things held constant. Soft-drink companies use every trick in the book to hook kids on their high-sugar, caffeinated products. Coca-cola and PepsiCo have been especially effective in marketing to children. Coca-cola paid Warner Bros. an estimated $150 million for global marketing rights for the film Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. “The Coca-Cola Company recognized the wealth of possibilities inherent in Harry Potter for engaging the world’s adults and children,” explained Brad Ball, then president of domestic marketing for Warner Bros. Pictures, now Warner Bros. Entertainment.
Product placement is great at implanting brands in the minds of children, too. When the movie E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial featured E.T. eating Reese’s Pieces, sales of the candy shot up 65 percent; Hershey, maker of Reese’s Pieces, had to put two factories on 24-hour production schedules to meet the demand. Product placements can now be found in nearly every medium children watch, and they have taken over commercial television. Coca-Cola has been heavily featured in product placements on American Idol and the teen-targeted, short-lived Young Americans, which the New York Daily News called “a slick, thinly disguised commercial” for Coke. Pepsi is featured heavily in the WB network show Pepsi Smash, and Mountain Dew was showcased in the CBS reality shows Survivor and Survivor II.
Product placements have even spread throughout children’s books. Junk foods now featured in children’s books include Hershey’s chocolates, M&M’s, Froot Loops, Reese’s Pieces, Oren cookies, and Skittles. “It’s not that these books resemble advertisingthey are advertising,” said Kate Klimo, vice president and publisher of Random House Books for Young Readers.
Years ago, good nutrition was part of the public school curriculum. For example, in the 1920s, as a part of the home economics movement, millions of schoolchildren were taught about proper nutrition and which foods contained the nutrients they needed to grow. To counteract this information, junk-food marketers tried to invade the schools, but for decades, their presence was relatively insignificant. Still, they had some successes. For example, a Texas coke bottler bragged in 1931 about how “the kids play basketball at recess on Coca-Cola goals, use Coca-Cola blotters to blot out their troubles, consult a Coca-Cola thermometer, and write their notes on Coca-Cola tablets. Can you beat that?
The curriculum of junk nutrition began in earnest in 1989, with the launch of Channel One, an in-school TV marketing program. Chris Whittle, Channel One’s founder, had the ingenious idea of harnessing the schools to show daily 12-minute TV broadcasts that included two minutes of ads. Since then, Channel One, now owned by Primedia, has been adopted by 12,000 schools. About 8 million children watch its ads for Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Hostess Twinkies, M&M’s, Snickers, and the like. “Channel One is the most effective way that junk-food marketers have gotten to children, because of the captive audience and the impact of watching it with your peer group,” explains Jim Metrock, president of Obligation, Inc. According to a study by Obligation, during the past five school years, 27 percent of Channel One’s ads were for junk food or soda pop.
Schools have become a paradise for junk-food marketers. Vending machines stocked with candy and soft drinks are rife: nearly 19 out of 20 high schools have vending machines that sell soda, while nearly 60 percent of elementary schools do. More than 70 percent of high schools sell chocolate candy in vending machines. Hundreds of school districts have signed marketing contracts promising Coke or Pepsi exclusive access to the district in return for extra cash. Incredibly, these contracts often include financial incentives for school districts to sell more Coke or Pepsi. The schools have become soda pushers. Public schools aren’t the only ones putting themselves up for sale; leading organizations, too, are getting into the act. The venerable National PTA, which for more than a century has promoted the health of children, now lists Coca-Cola Enterprises as a “proud sponsor.” “Corporate sponsors are not new to nonprofits, but they are fairly new to us,” then PTA President Shirley Igo told the Washington Post. “We really need them. Our budget is very thin and if we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t be able to develop new programs.” Even worse, Coca-Cola Enterprises’ senior vice president for public affairs, John Downs Jr., was recently appointed to serve as an at-large member on the National PTA’s Board of Directors.
Downs is the point man for Coca-Cola Enterprises regarding the marketing of soft drinks to kids in schools. In effect, the National PTA is now run, in part, by Coca-Cola. Such corruption isn’t limited to the National PTA. Even some dentists have gotten their own Coke deals. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recently received a $1 million contribution from the Coca-Cola Foundation. “I’m surprised that AAPD is willing to be co-opted in this way, and for relatively little money in the scheme of things. The academy’s leadership should resign,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the center for science in the Public Interest.
It’s no surprise that companies will pay so much to advertise in schools. Advertisers know that their presence in the schools can pay off for years, if not decades, if they can hook kids for life on their products. Schoolchildren are “a captive audience and in a world where kids are torn between the Internet, instant messaging, sports, TV and radio, school is the place where marketers can find them in an uncluttered environment,” said Tom Harris, vice president of sales and marketing for the National Theatre for Children, which helps corporations market to children in elementary and middle schools. Fast-food companies, too, now have a big presence in the schools. It’s a great way for them to bypass parents and promote their high-fat products to children. At least one out of every five schools now contains a fast-food outlet.
Years ago, U.S. presidents cared about the health of American children and strove to improve it. When he signed the National School Lunch Act into law in 1946, President Harry Truman said that “no nation is any healthier than its children.” Later that year, Truman expanded on this theme: “The well nourished school child is a better student. He is healthier and more alert. He is developing good food habits which will benefit him for the rest of his life. In short, he is a better asset for his country.”
You’d think that would be a sentiment that President Bush could embrace. He is, after all, an avid athlete, a poster boy for physical fitness. He runs three miles a day, six days a week, at an impressive pace for his age. He lifts weights and can bench-press five reps of 185 pounds. Again, impressive. But the Bush administration has done little to counter the epidemic of childhood obesity. It is more devoted to its friendsand big campaign donorsin the junk-food industry than it is to our kids. For example, when the CDC launched “Verb Now,” their $125 million “anti-obesity” campaign, they chose as their partners the same big media companies that are pushing fatty foods and couch-potato habits on the nation’s kids: AOL Time Warner, Viacom, Primedia, and others. For their lead ad agency, the CDC chose the Publicis Groupe’s Frankel Division, despite the fact that Publicis has an advertising contract with McDonald’s.
Given such conflicts of interest, it’s not surprising that the campaign is ineffective. The ads are based on the ridiculous premise that one can motivate children to exercise by talking about grammar. Carrie McLaren, a schoolteacher who showed a CDC ad to her students, explained that “none of the kids had any idea what the ad was about. They guessed maybe grammar or reading or after-school programs.”
Last year (2003), Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson even urged the junk-food lobby to wage war on those who would protect children from obesity. He told members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) to “‘go on the offensive’ against critics blaming the food industry for obesity,” according to a GMA news release. GMA members include such major junk-food companies as Coca-Cola, Mars, PepsiCo, and Philip Morris.
The Bush administration has been eager to cut taxes, especially for the wealthy, who are its most generous campaign donors. Budget deficits are up and tax revenues are down. The net effect has been to drain federal, state, and local governments of funds. This will likely have a big effect on or children’s waistlines. Schools need money to keep kids thin. The national school-funding crisis makes schools more likely to sell out to the marketers of soft drinks, junk food, fast food, and Channel One. And when budget cuts hit a school, one of the first things to go is physical education. Daily phys-ed classes in grades 9 through 12 have already declined, from 42 percent of children attending phys-ed every day in 1991 to 32 percent in 2001. Fiscal crises hurt local police, too, which in turn abets the junk-food marketers. When police are scarce, many kids no longer have safe nearby parks and streets to play in. Parents keep their kids indoors, gazing at the TV and its junk-food ads.
There’s plenty that parents and citizens can do to stop the epidemic of childhood obesity. Start with what you can do in your own household:
* Minimize TV watching. Put the TV set in the closet, the attic, or somewhere else out of the way, far from an electrical outlet.
* Don’t buy soft drinks, junk food, or fast food.
If you do those two things, your kids will likely stay healthy and never become overweight. The same will be true for you, too, of course. But to stop the childhood obesity epidemic, we must get rid of the powerful government policies that promote it. It’s time for the government to side with parents, not with the junk-food companies who want to hook kids for life on their high-calorie products. “Our politicians need to find the courage to stand up to corporations that are selling our children shortened lives,” says Gerald Haas, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.” That means starting in the schools. Most kids eat about one-quarter to one-half of their meals in school. By improving what schools feed to children and stopping schools from marketing junk food, we’ll go a long way toward halting the childhood obesity epidemic. This is happening all over the country. We’re winning. Parents are ridding the schools of junk-food marketers.
The single best thing you can do is to tell your school-board members and your state legislators to implement the Childhood Obesity Prevention Agenda, which has been endorsed by dozens of top obesity researchers and prominent public health organizations. You can also encourage your congressional representative to support the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which would ban marketing to kids under 12, mandate disclosure of product placements, require chain restaurants to put calorie and nutritional information on labels, and revoke the tax subsidy that corporations receive for marketing to children.
Finally, healthy kids require healthy state, school, and municipal budgets. Those budgets buy good food for school-children, hire gym teachers, build gym facilities, and keep parks clean and safe so that kids can play outside without their parents worrying about them. If we’re going to stop the childhood obesity epidemic, we’ve got to stop the fiscal policies that are starving federal, state, and local governments of funds. That means repealing the Bush tax cuts and sending some of that money back to the states, cities, police departments, and schools that need it.