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Just in Case You Were Still Wondering: Big Business Can Make us Fat

By Dr. Arthur Lavin

A major experiment is being conducted in one of the largest countries in the world, and the results are now in:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/16/health/brazil-obesity-nestle.html

The country is Brazil, and the experiment is this:

  1. Go into an extremely poor, geographically enormous region, with no prior exposure to junk food.
  2. Expose the population to ready access to junk food.
  3. Make no other changes, and see if health changes.

The Region of the Experiment

The region is the vast back country of the Amazon in Brazil.  This region is not only poor, it has barely any modern marketplaces.  Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, and the back country of the Amazon is some of the least developed areas on the planet.

Until fairly recently, there was no ice cream, snack bars, breakfast cereal, pasta, or other modern snacks and treat foods, at all, none whatsoever.

Modern societies have been in increasing contact with these remote areas and have been able to monitor items such as the health of the population, and found that there was essentially no obesity or hypertension (high blood pressure) and hardly any cardiac disease in people living there.

It should be noted that the trends mentioned here apply to all remote areas of the world, not just Brazil.  Similar trends are being seen in Africa and Asia, too.

The Experiment

It’s not actually an experiment by design.  The reality is that the large food industry leaders have decided to market sugary and processed foods to a large swath of undeveloped markets around the world.

But it is an experiment in that a population with essentially no exposure to sugary snacks and processed foods suddenly now is eating them, so one can look at the population of a large group of people before and after these foods enter their diet, and get a good sense of whether they have an impact on health or not.

The key to the experiment is power.  Food industries are so large that in Brazil the food and beverage conglomerates “are responsible for 10 percent of the nation’s economic output and employ 1.6 million people.”  This power has allowed the industry to change what local farmers grow, dropping traditional healthy food crops, and instead growing sugar cane, corn, and soybeans for the snack foods.

This shift changes what foods are made in Brazil, but the next step in the experiment is the creation of thousands of local village food peddlers who find the money paid to them by the big food giants essential to their financial security.  All across remote Brazil are peddlers selling cereals, snacks, and candy.

Stores are popping up pushing junk food all over too.  Domino’s Pizza opened 1,281 stores in 2016, all but 171 were not in the US.

The Stage is Set, What Happened?

So, crops have changed, a sales force is in place, sugary snacks and processed foods can now rain down upon remote Brazil, what happened?

What happened was severe obesity.

Again, not just in Brazil.  For the first time in human history, more humans are obese than underweight.

And, the obesity has led to an epidemic of diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.

The Impact

The explosion of human obesity is actually lowering the length of life, the life expectancy.  All the heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes makes you die sooner, and it’s showing in life expectancies around the world.   In Brazil every year 300,000 additional people develop diabetes, for example.

Clinics in Brazil are now seeing the emergence of 10 year olds with pre-diabetes and livers loaded with fat.

The fortunes made by exploding the eating of junk food has put the food giants in a position to dictate national policies in places as diverse as China, South Africa, and Colombia, not just Brazil, blocking policies that could try to limit the obesity explosion, and so on it goes.

Bringing it Home

The United States, right here at home, is experiencing a mammoth epidemic of diabetes.  The endocrinology office just down the halls from us is brimming with new cases of diabetes in an epidemic they have never seen before.  The same goes for our podiatry associates upstairs.  It is a direct effect of the American obesity epidemic.

And, the cost in life here at home has been enormous.  Only one other cause of death exceeds the deadly scope of junk food.

It’s hard to believe but about 2 million Americans die every year.  Half a million of these deaths are from tobacco.  But 300,000 are from junk food!

Given current trends, as tobacco use finally drops, and junk food continues to be devoured, we will have a nation where the number one cause of death is eating sugary and processed foods.

BOTTOM LINES

  1. Everyone has known somewhere in a corner of their mind that candy, chips, pretzels, cookies, crackers aren’t good for you.
  2. Increasingly, sugar has come under attack as a cause of serious health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
  3. Now the proof is in.  Large food conglomerates have changed agriculture to provide the sugar and starch to make these foods, and the sales force to get people to eat these foods, in huge areas of the world they never existed.   And the result is clear- obesity is exploding, and with it heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes, and with that, drops in life expectancy.
  4. It happened here at home, it is now happening very clearly in every corner of the world.  It happens.

It is time to center our diets on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, period.  Some sprinkling of meat, fish, and chicken is fine.

But we should get rid of candy, chips, pretzels, cookies, and crackers, we now really know they can make you very ill over time.

To your health,
Dr. Arthur Lavin

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