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Fed Up? You bet your sweet ass I’m fed up.

May 14, 2014

Fat HealthFat ScienceFat NewsDiet Talk

Sugar is the real enemy, not fat itself.

This is the first line in this article about “surging” obesity rates. Can I just say that yes, I’m fed up. Fed up with all the lies, mythperceptions, and mythrepresentations about being fat, what it means, and what’s “causing” it.

Diabetes Stereotype

Now comes Fed Up, a film that looks at the global problem of surging human obesity rates and obesity-related diseases. The film, produced by Laurie David, former wife of Seinfeld creator Larry David, and narrated by TV journalist Katie Couric, seeks to challenge decades of misconception and food industry-sponsored misinformation about diet and exercise, good and bad calories, fat genes and lifestyle.

Well, if you want to challenge the decades of misconceptions and misinformation about diet and exercise, it would help tremendously if you don’t continue those misconceptions and misinformation.

Myth #1: A US government study recently found that 17% of children and young people aged between two and 19 are considered obese. Another predicted that today’s American children will lead shorter lives than their parents. Laurie David, who made the climate change film, An Inconvenient Truth, calls that statistic “sobering and tragic.”

“Another predicted that today’s American children will lead shorter lives than their parents.” Predictions are just that — predictions. They aren’t carved in stone, and it just so happens that this particular prediction isn’t true — longevity has been increasing at the same time that weight (and height) have been increasing. According to the Census Bureau, life expectancy at birth increased from 75.4 in 1990 to 76.8 in 2000 to 78.3 in 2010 to 79.5 in 2020 (PDF).

Myth #2: Early-onset diabetes, a condition associated with exposure to cane sugar and corn syrup, was virtually unknown a few years ago. If current rates continue, one in three Americans will have diabetes by 2050. “Obesity costs very little and is not dangerous in and of itself,” says [Robert] Lustig, who works with the UK’s Action on Sugar campaign. “But diabetes costs a whole lot in terms of social evolution, decreased productivity, medical and pharmaceutical costs, and death.”

Although type 2 diabetes rates have increased in children, the condition is still extremely rare. We know that 12 in 100,000 children have type 2 diabetes, while at least 2,700 children in 100,000 have eating disorders. Also, diabetes is genetic. Even if you’re fat, unless you have a genetic predisposition for the disease, you probably won’t get it.

Myth #3: Lustig says: “If the food industry continues to obfuscate, we will never solve this and by 2026 we will not have healthcare because we will be broke.

While it’s true that the food industry isn’t helping matters pertaining to health with the over-processing, over-medicating, and excessive use of pesticides in our food, I don’t think removing all sugar from food, regulating the amount of sugar in food, or even putting warning labels on food is the answer.

Do you know why soda in the United States is made with high fructose corn syrup now instead of cane sugar? It’s because companies like A.E. Staley and Archer Daniels Midland produce huge quantities of HFCS, and they need a market for it. What better way to sell millions of gallons of that shit than to tell soda producers “If you use our HFCS instead of cane sugar, we’ll sell it to you for less than what you’d pay for cane sugar.” And the soda producers jumped at the chance to save money and increase profits. Do you really think food producers are going to go back to the way things were done years ago just because it’s “making the country fat”?

As for not having healthcare by 2026 (that’s only 12 years away, people), it’s not going to be our collective fatness that makes the healthcare system go broke. It’s the for-profit insurance and medical industries that are going to break us. When profit comes before taking care of the people who pay you (those of us who pay healthcare insurance premiums, those of us who pay out-of-pocket expenses for medical care), eventually profits rule and you price yourself out of business. When those of us who pay for healthcare can no longer afford it because of the greed of insurance company/hospital CEOs, they have to find a scapegoat for who to blame the collapse. Who better to blame than fat people, when <heavy sarcasm> “everyone knows” that fat people are sicker and it’s all their fault? If they’d just put down the baby-flavored donuts and get off their chaise lounges, they too could be thin and perfect.</sarcasm>

Don’t get me wrong — there are some good points made in this film. But the good points are going to be ignored for the points that tell everyone what they already “know” (those myths I listed above):

According to Lustig… “If obesity was the issue, metabolic illnesses that typically show up in the obese would not be showing up at rates found in the normal-weight population. More than half the populations of the US and UK are experiencing effects normally associated with obesity. If more than half the population has problems, it can’t be a behaviour issue. It must be an exposure problem. And that exposure is to sugar.”

The film claims that fast-food chains and the makers of processed foods have added more sugar to “low fat” foods to make them more palatable.

Really? People who aren’t fat get heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and so on? Whoever would have thought that thinner people don’t get a pass from disease or that only fat people are plagued with these things? Oh, and since it’s happening to thinner people, it’s not a behavioral issue? But it is a behavioral issue when it pertains to fat people? Yeah, I don’t think so.

“It must be an exposure problem. And that exposure is to sugar.” Really? Blame it all on sugar, because there’s nothing else we’re exposed to that could account for metabolic disorder. Nope, it’s not due to anything else we’re exposed to in our lives (such as endocrine disruptors or antibiotics destroying healthy gut flora), it’s all due to sugar. I’m glad you cleared that up for all of us.

But while the fight against obesity is championed by first lady Michelle Obama, efforts to curb the sugar industry have largely failed. In 2003 the Bush administration threatened to withhold US funding to the World Health Organisation if it published nutritional guidelines advocating that no more than 10% of calories in a daily diet should come from sugar. Moreover, Washington has sweetened the profits of the manufacturers of corn-based sweeteners by awarding billions of dollars in trade subsidies.

I agree that our priorities on which foods are subsidized are all out of whack. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be more affordable. There should be better access to fruits and veggies for everyone. But people also need more time to prepare them; families shouldn’t have to choose between a second or third job to make ends meet (and therefore maybe eating take-out or highly-processed, quick-fix meals) over having time to actually cook a full meal.

The film-makers say it is not in the interest of food, beverage or pharmaceutical companies to reduce sugar content. “It’s too profitable,” says Lustig. The pharmaceutical industry talks of diabetes treatment, not prevention. “The food industry makes a disease and the pharmaceutical industry treats it. They make out like bandits while the rest of us are being taken to the cleaners.”

Actually, this is a pretty black and white view of things, and I think there are more shades of gray to it than the film-makers want to admit. The food and beverage industries are answering a need, but it’s not a need they created. Progress means that things change. Mothers who used to stay home and cook meals now work outside the home as well as at home. That means less time for cooking, cleaning, and spending time with the kids. So the food industry came up with products that a busy family could use to make sure that their family gets enough to eat and they don’t have to spend as much time cooking after a day at work. That’s not such a bad thing. What is a bad thing (IMO) is the greed of these companies that are trying to find cheaper and cheaper ways to make those products. Cheaper does not always mean better, and maybe our health is suffering for it.

Lustig says laws are needed. The model for regulation is alcohol since alcohol metabolises as sugar and produces many of the same chronic diseases while fat metabolises differently.

Alcohol may metabolize as sugar, but not all metabolized sugars are the same. Cane sugar metabolizes differently than HFCS. The starch from potatoes/corn/peas/carrots metabolizes differently than cane sugar and HFCS. And those differences have different effects on every individual. I don’t see how trying to regulate sugar is the solution to this “problem” — it’s too generic a solution to a problem that’s very individual (how sugar affects my body is not how sugar affects my husband’s body is not how sugar affects my son’s body is not how sugar affects Joe Schmoe’s body).

This film leaves a lot to be desired. “Sugar is the real enemy, not fat itself.” How many times have we heard this about other foods? I think we’d be a lot better off if we relearned how to listen to our bodies — feed them what they need, in the amounts they need, when they need it, and don’t pay much attention to what others say “should” be “good” or “bad” for us.


6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 14, 2014 11:16 am

    Terrific post. Thank you for your insight.

  2. Duckie permalink
    May 14, 2014 12:11 pm

    This is not the first time I’ve suspected Katie C. might have an eating disorder.

  3. purple peonies permalink
    May 14, 2014 2:01 pm

    this is a great post.

    i’ve been reading this lustig guy’s rants for years… he’s got a SERIOUS obsession with vilifying simple carbohydrates. i can’t help but wonder if he’s got the eating disorder, and the platform to project it upon the rest of us… it’s sad he’s finally come out with a big name “documentary” (i use the term loosely) to market to the masses.

    personally, i’d love to see HFCS go away entirely. and i don’t think we should be regulating the amount of sugar in any food (uh, we have ENOUGH bullshit laws in this country, thanks), and i don’t think we should be banning or removing any foods from the market– just replace HFCS with cane sugar (or anther type of sugar). i admit i’m a little biased here: i’m all about intuitive eating, i’m a “health food nut,” vegan by choice (and some allergies), gluten-free due to severe celiac disease, and i STILL love me some candy. i love treats and sweets and i am okay with having a serving (whatever that may look like), and being happy with that. but if it’s a treat with HFCS, i canNOT put that shit DOWN until the package is gone. and even then, i’m wondering where i can get some more or if i should keep eating. it’s the most bizarre thing ever. there’s been times i got treats that i knew were gf and vegan, didn’t think much of it, but i was overwhelmed with cravings and couldn’t put the package down till it was empty. read the label after, wondering why i had no control over my hand in the bag: turns out it contained HFCS. the fact that this has happened several times makes me think there’s something to it. my body just cannot tolerate HFCS. with all the other less processed delicious sweeteners out there, the ONLY reason HFCS is the #1 sweetener in products today is because it makes the manufacturers that much more money. it helps that corn is subsidized by the government, so there’s little incentive for companies to do the right thing, and there’s little hope that overworked and low-income people are able to afford anything better.

    i also think manufacturers should be making more convenience foods with wholesome ingredients for a comparable price. (this means the gov’t needs to stop subsidizing corn and start subsidizing actual vegetables and fruits.) hardworking individuals and families who must rely on convenience foods for survival (and nutrition!) shouldn’t be punished because the only products available are toxic. and there are some improvements being made– i see new products every month in the freezer section for quick and easy meals and snacks. but the “healthier” options cost MUCH more than the popular products, AND they come in teeny tiny servings. i totally get why people pay $20 for a giant frozen lasagna to feed a family of 5 or 6 when the comparable products with more nutritional value and ethically sourced ingredients are $5 for a tiny snack-sized serving.

    something has to give. and i’m sick of being a scapegoat for all that’s wrong with society.

  4. May 22, 2014 8:31 pm

    Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    Everyone is different, but as a type 2 diabetic, I can speak to my own particular experiences.
    I adhere fairly closely to the ADA guidelines of 50 calories or less a meal. However, I have learned that different types of carbohydrates impact me differently. For instance, if I go to Smashburger, I get the sandwich complete with bun and order the veggie frites, which consist of carrots and green beans. No problem. I can eat potatoes with a meal, no problem. I can have breading on items such as fish, no problem. I can eat single portions of desserts such as chocolate mousse, ice cream treats, or even pie without a problem. However, rice spikes my blood sugar, and for some reason, Dairy Queen ice cream causes it to spike as well. I really can’t even think about drinking soda most of the time, although if I were to be sick with vomiting and diarrhea, the suggestion is that I should drink a small amount of watered-down regular soda to insure that my sugar stays level. I’d want to make sure the soda was sweetened with real sugar, though. HFCS sends my sugar levels through the roof.
    I also love how type 2 diabetes is automatically blamed on obesity, not taking into account that people of all sizes can get the disease if they are genetically predisposed, and also not taking into account that something may be causing both the diabetes and the weight gain. For years, I ravenously craved simple carbohydrates. The doctors’ advice was always the same: “just don’t eat that stuff. You need to lose weight!” I was also diagnosed with “insulin resistance.”
    The funny thing was, when I started controlling my carbohydrate intake, the cravings were gone within a day. It was the first time in nearly 40 years that I hadn’t had them.
    Personally, I think that the term “insulin resistance” is bullshit. Insulin resistance is early stage diabetes, and from what I’ve discovered, it causes people to both gain weight and have a lot of trouble losing it. In any case, rather than listen to what I was trying to say, the doctors treated me like a silly, hysterical fat woman who “just” needed to stop cramming her cakehole full of cake. They didn’t listen to what I was saying about the cravings being uncontrollable, which turned out to be an actual symptom of an actual problem.
    I’m glad that I discovered size acceptance, or I’d still be fighting myself instead of this awful system of size hate.

  5. May 25, 2014 4:02 pm

    I do agree with you that the food industry answered a growing societal need by making convenience foods. Moms were beginning to join the workforce, and they didn’t have the time necessary to make meals from scratch. But I’m not sure how soda fits into this equation. Sugary beverages were not created to fill any need that I can think of besides hooking consumers and creating profits for companies. And those drinks are filled with sugar. Studies show our bodies don’t process liquid calories the way they process food, thus we don’t get the “full” signal while drinking soda the way we do while eating. (Thus we’ll continue drinking sugary drinks because our bodies aren’t registering those calories in the same way.) I just don’t see any way to paint the beverage industry with the same brush as the convenience food industry. (And I don’t necessarily believe the convenience food industry should be given that much credit with meeting a societal need while ignoring – or disregarding in many cases – the evidence that the ingredients used to make the food were harmful to their customers.)

    • purple peonies permalink
      May 25, 2014 4:39 pm

      I see your point. To a certain extent, I agree with it. But the same argument can be applied to other food products on the market (pixie sticks!! or even just other high-sugar or mostly-sugar sweets and treats)… does anyone really *need* a large number products on the market?

      I’m hypoglycemic, and when I’m having a sugar drop, there are occasions when the easiest and fastest way for me to deal with it is a sugary beverage, until I can get myself some more significant sustenance (with protein). So I’d say these products do have some practical uses.

      I also think that it’s okay to have a food product just for the sake of enjoying the food product. Yes, I do think the beverage industry is over-sugaring and over-marketing their products (sorry, but Coca Cola has NO business sponsoring dietetic educational conferences!), and odds are good we as a population are consuming way too many of them for our dental and other health… but it’s still okay to enjoy a sugary beverage when that’s what we’re in the mood for.

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