Its a radical idea but a recent article in the NY Times (How Food Makers Captured Our Brains) lends some credence to the idea that the food industry is behaving much like the tobacco industry was some years back (and probably still today). They engineer their food and the contents to make it as addictive as possible. This is done with no regard to health or health consequences. Their desire is to hook us to their product making us want more. Dr Kessler (Pediatrician that has served two presidents in his role at the FDA) has recently published a book: The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite)
My original supposition that I have shared with others was centered on sugar as the key ingredient akin to Nicotine – addicting and the reason why my kids have always preferred <INSERT: name of Fast Food Chain> Hamburger when compared to a home cooked Hamburger. But it is likely more about the combination of foods that is achieving this level of addiction:
food companies certainly understand human behavior, taste preferences and desire. In fact, he offers descriptions of how restaurants and food makers manipulate ingredients to reach the aptly named “bliss point.” Foods that contain too little or too much sugar, fat or salt are either bland or overwhelming. But food scientists work hard to reach the precise point at which we derive the greatest pleasure from fat, sugar and salt. The result is that chain restaurants like Chili’s cook up “hyper-palatable food that requires little chewing and goes down easily
The Snickers bar, for instance, is “extraordinarily well engineered.” As we chew it, the sugar dissolves, the fat melts and the caramel traps the peanuts so the entire combination of flavors is blissfully experienced in the mouth at the same time.
As he points out much of this is not about will power but the daily challenge we face in the over stimulated world of food. Knowing your own triggers (good and bad) is a great place to start. I know my own personal bad trigger is in the evening…I’ve been good all day and want to sit back and unwind and have big urge to head for anything sweet. My strategy is to deflect to an alternative in my case some type of herbal tea. This works well int he winter but is not as easy in the hot summer months when hot tea is less attractive. As with many things this is a journey not a destination. Who knows someone might have a good suggestion for an alternative that suits me – let me know I’ll share any that I receive.
There are no quick fixes and we and our children face this challenge on a daily basis but understanding what is affecting us and developing coping mechanisms can be a great start.
Technorati Tags: Fast Food, Healthy Eating, Tobacco Industry
In one of the McKinsey interviews of 2008 with Toby Cosgrove CEO of the Cleveland clinic that focused on innovation item 1 in the list of things that need to be done he stated:
The first is prevention. The only thing we can do to reduce costs, while still improving quality, is to reduce the burden of disease. Forty percent of the premature deaths in the United States are caused by obesity, inactivity, and smoking, all of which ought to be preventable. Two-thirds of the country is overweight and a third is obese. Over the decades I have operated on a lot of patients with lung cancer, and every one of them was a smoker. So a natural starting point is to help people stop smoking and help them lose weight.
It might seem obvious but given the shocking statistics it clearly is not. It is a wonder why society as a whole has not managed to face up to this reality and change behavior adopting a more healthy life style. Hats off to the Cleveland clinic for “walking the talk” as he put it and they:
“stopped hiring smokers”
They received a lot of criticism and no doubt some attempts to combat this with law suits but have stood their ground. I can’t tell you the number of times I have entered a clinical facility through a back entrance past a line of employees, often still in surgical scrubs, smoking. It looks bad and as recently as yesterday I watched with disgust in what I see as concomitant behavior as one smoker tossed the still smoldering remainder butt onto the ground and walked off back into the facility – littering to boot.
But why is it that we still have according to paper prepared by Olivia Thornton, a high school graduate investigating the “Genetics vs. Social and Environmental causes of Obesity” do we still have over 30% of adults in the US obese and a tripling of of number of children who are obese since 1980. The problem is getting worse not better
according to the Center for Disease control (CDC,) 16%, over nine million people aged 6-11 are overweight
And it would be easy for other countries to sit back smugly and remain unconcerned but as the chart below shows this problem is worldwide and all the statistics suggest getting worse:
We are bombarded with adverts and marketing messaging to buy fast food and the circumstance and behavior reminds me of the sale and marketing of cigarettes and tobacco years ago. At that time people knew no better – turns out the tobacco companies did and even used the data to help create a more addictive product by adding and concentrating nicotine in their product. Years later the truth emerged and their complicit behavior was exposed and they have had their hands slapped.
We know that fast food is bad for us and parents around the world try hard ot encourage healthy eating. But I bet that many parents experiences are similar to my own that a home cooked ham burger just “doesn’t taste as good as a #insert favorite fast food brand hamburger here#”.
Here’s my jaundiced view of the problem and the fast food industry. They load everything up with sugar, its added to everything and they do this because sugar is addictive. If they add enough sugar they create an addict relationship with their consumers who find anything without the added sugar bland and unappealing.
Time will tell but it is hard to imagine why the addition of sugar is necessary and I have a hard time explaining the preference of my own family for fast food over better, more healthy and nutritious home cooked equivalents.
What do you think. Is it just my family that prefer fast food or do you have the same problems. Is it a conspiracy of the food industry or is the food industry just better at preparing tasty food. Let me know what you think.