Food Environment / Junk Food / Sugar

Earth Day, Obesogenic Environment and Walmart

greenearthAs we celebrate Earth Day, it’s time to look beyond the standard message of “reduce, reuse, recycle” and consider how our obesogenic environment impacts climate change.  The Motley Fool recently published some startling figures.

Cars burn around 938 million gallons of gasoline per year more than they would if Americans weighed what they did in 1960…U.S. airlines consume an extra 350 million gallons of fuel per year due to overweight passengers.

That’s over 1.2 billion gallons of extra fuel we are burning each year because of our obesogenic environment.  When we look at what has driven this upward shift in our nation’s weight, two things stand out – processed food and sugar.  Gary Taubes put it this way:

Attempts to blame the obesity epidemics worldwide on increased availability of calories typically ignore the fact that these increases are largely carbohydrates and those carbohydrates are largely sugars—sucrose or high fructose corn syrup.

Robert Lustig also highlighted the impact of extra sugar in processed food.

Processed food means the addition of sugar; of the 600,000 items in the food supply, 80 percent are laced with added sugar (added by the food industry for its own purposes). Sugar drives the development of all these chronic metabolic diseases. Second, processed food means fiberless food because you can’t freeze fiber (try freezing an orange, see what you get). Fiber is the stealth nutrient. Lack of fiber is associated with these same diseases.  Our ancestors used to consume 100 grams of fiber per day, the USDA suggests we consume 25 grams, and our median fiber consumption is 15 grams.

Research from the National Institutes of Health also points the finger at processed food and sugar.

Potato chips, sugar-sweetened drinks, processed meats and unprocessed red meat were each linked to weight gain of about a pound or more. Eating more french fries led to an average gain of over 3 pounds. Eating more refined grains and sweets or desserts led to about half a pound of weight gain. By contrast, eating more vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts and yogurt was linked to reductions in weight over a 4-year period.

One reason for this may be that consuming processed food diminishes the appeal of unprocessed food.

Animal studies have shown that high consumption of processed treats like ice  cream may reduce the appeal of foods that were once considered rewarding, like  watermelon. That’s because it shifts our brain’s hedonic set point. Once that  happens, the only way to get your fix is, well, more ice cream.

Once again, Walmart provides us an example of “what not to do” with another grocery list ad full of junk food and no fresh fruits or vegetables.  Chips, Frosted Flakes, snack cakes, and soda make their list but not apples, spinach, oranges, or carrots?  Definitely not the way to live better.  This Earth Day, resolve to limit your consumption of processed food.  It’s good for both the environment and your health.


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