Our Sugar Cravings
By Ken Walker-
It is that time of year when chocolate eggs are all the rage, but after our Easter sugar rush subsides, it is worth looking at the literature continuing to emerge about the links between sweets and obesity. This problem threatens not only our nation’s health, but the future of our most precious resource: our children.
Two books that hit the shelves in recent months are:
- Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by New York Times reporter Michael Moss, which reveals how processed food companies use salt, sugar and fat to addict us to their products.
- Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease by Dr. Robert Lustig, who documents the science and politics behind the increase in chronic disease in recent decades.
Fooled By Food
Moss’s book reflects a thesis explored by Dr. David Kessler, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, in 2010’s The End of Overeating. It was adapted in a revised 2012 paperback titled, Your Food Is Fooling You: How Your Brain is Hijacked by Sugar, Fat, and Salt.
Dr. Kessler’s book was one of the sources Steve Willis and I consulted while working on our book, Winning the Food Fight. I found it a fascinating read, for a couple reasons.
One was how the level of one’s education is of little influence when it comes to combating food addictions. Dr. Kessler talked about losing numerous battles with the temptation to eat a favorite food at the San Francisco Airport. Finally, he made a conscious decision to avoid the concourse where it was sold.
The other was the uncontrollable urges for certain foods expressed by a number of the subjects he interviewed. It reminded me of a Sports Illustrated story I read years ago about gambling addicts, whose experiences sounded startlingly familiar to those of alcoholics.
Layered With Fat
“When we talk about the complexity of American foods, we aren’t referring to the kind of complexity traditionally associated with fine cuisine or regional or ethnic cooking,” Kessler writes. “The American concept of complexity is built on layering and loading [with sugars, fats and salt], rather than an intricate and subtle use of quality ingredients.”
Reflecting on Kessler’s suggestions that major changes need to take place in America’s food systems, or else our nation is heading for a health care disaster, Steve commented, “I have seen what disaster looks like in Huntington—and…though we might be the worst in the country, most states are statistically just a few years behind.
“We are in quite a conundrum,” he says. “While we overeat, the bulk of the foods we consume do not give us the nutrients we need. We have tons of choices at our fingertips, but instead of improving our health, our food is destroying us.”
Concern for Children
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a report several years ago that gave the Huntington, West Virginia area the ignominious honor of leading the nation in obesity and related diseases.
Fortunately, attempts to stem that tide have produced some fruit, with the rate since then dropping nearly 10 percent (though still way too high.) And, our area is still saturated with fast food restaurants—all-too-often the place kids choose when over-stressed parents look for an easy out to fix dinner.
As Steve points out, concern for our children is what ought to motivate us to do more about the problem of overeating. The number of obese adolescents in the United States has increased by more than 300 percent since 1990. One study found that nearly 80 percent of children who were overweight between ages 10 and 15 were still obese at 25.
And, the CDC says that obese children and adolescents are targets of early and systematic social discrimination. The psychological stress resulting from this discrimination can cause low self-esteem and hinder academic and social functioning.
In addition, when it comes to getting off the sugar, salt and fat train, it helps to recognize that not only children harmed by undisciplined eating, so are we.
“Eating isn’t wrong,” Steve says. “It’s just that eating too much and choosing the wrong things is an abuse of God’s good gifts…Winning the food fight is a long journey that lasts for years—but it starts with a single step.”