High Priest of a False Religion
As an indication of the nutritional awareness of Weight Watchers CEO David Kirchhoff, one might simply look at his AM beverage of choice – sugar-free Red Bull (as he casually reveals in this recent WSJ blog interview). Okay, so he starts his day with something sickeningly sweet that happens to contain poisonous artificial sweeteners. Maybe he’d get a pass on this personal lapse in judgment if he was at least against these substances professionally. But he is not.
Frogs, famously (and apocryphally), will sit in an uncovered pot of water that is slowly brought to a boil, waiting there oblivious to their predicament until they die, instead of simply jumping out, which they could do at any time. This story has been used instructively in many contexts across many years to highlight the difficulty that we can have in recognizing the dangerous implications of slow change – from the menace of the Soviet Union to Global Warming.
It is tempting to use the same analogy to describe the gradual rise of obesity in America – in this case, the “pot” in which we float is our industrial food system that has over time created a nutritional environment that is systematically fattening us to death. The CDC has given us the perfect visual representation of how obesity levels have indeed been raised to the “boiling point” (I’ve shown the data progression below in 5 year increments from 1985 through 2010).
Let’s look at the definition of the word “epidemic” —
“Spreading rapidly and extensively by infection and affecting many individuals in an area or population at the same time, as of a disease or illness. (Source: The American Heritage Medical Dictionary, by Houghton Mifflin Company)
I’m going fly in the face of our current media and government rhetoric by saying NO, OBESITY IS NOT AN EPIDEMIC. There is no virus, infection, or transmission mechanism that would characterize a true epidemic. It would certainly be true to say that obesity has reached epidemic proportions. Unlike epidemics, however, the solution is not a breakthrough medical “cure” or eradication of a virus.
So, why is the term ‘epidemic’ used so frequently with regard to obesity?
Are Prescriptions and Surgery the right options to battle obesity?
When you go to your doctor’s office, prescriptions and surgery are the two alternatives for weight loss and weight related illnesses that most traditional physicians are equipped to offer. Both options are discrete and concrete treatments for the symptoms of obesity, but they do not impact the real, underlying causes of excess weight or obesity – namely, the industrial food system and modern eating habits.
Should your weight loss program be run by a giant candy and ice cream company?
A lot of people apparently think so – because Jenny (formerly Jenny Craig), one of the nation’s three largest weight loss businesses, is owned and operated by Nestle, which is both the world’s largest candy company and the world’s largest ice cream company (their brands include the famously fattening Haagen Dazs)– bigger than all of its competitors including Hershey, Cadbury and Breyer’s. (Note: Nestle also owns the well-known liquid diet product Optifast, so they’re really doubling down here).
It seems almost too diabolical and cynical to be true. But Nestle has, in fact, found a way to profit by making you fat, and then charging you later to help you try to get skinny. Even if the Jenny program works for you in the short term (I’ll reserve my comments on the quality of this program for now — See Blog Post: Are You Training to be an Astronaut?), you can be sure that they’ll be right there with some candy and ice cream to sell you after you’re done!