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Controlling the American Appetite
(flickr/robertpaulyoung; click for full image)

(Photo: Flickr/robertpaulyoung; click for full image)

Remember David Kessler back in the 1990s, when he was head of the FDA? The guy who took on Big Tobacco?

He’s on a new crusade now, and it’s not about smoking, it’s about eating — about our national culture of food. He points to a huge and profitable food industry and its legion of well-paid scientists who work hard to make their products literally irresistible, to make us eat almost non-stop.

He says we’ve got to understand our own appetites, and to change how America looks at food.

This hour, On Point: David Kessler on controlling the American appetite.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Guest:

Dr. David Kessler joins us from San Francisco. He was Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration from 1990-1997, under the first President Bush and President Clinton. During his time at the FDA, he led the campaign to regulate tobacco and the landmark lawsuit FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. He is a pediatrician and lawyer. His new book is “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.”

Read an excerpt from the book, in which Kessler goes “inside the unregulated, wild world of food processing.”

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Craig Sterling

    I am concerned about the use of artificial sweeteners in our foods. It is my belief that these products are made sweeter than sweet. By which I mean sweeter than cane sugar.

  • Caitlin Hesketh

    I really think the best way to get people to change the way they eat is to teach people to cook. I never learned, really, until last year or so – and I’m 30 years old. I shop totally differently now, buy far less prepackaged food – I buy vegetables fruits meat and ingredients, not whole meals in a box.

    I did have cooking class way back in 7th grade – for one half semester. I wish it was a lot more. And I wouldn’t be surprised if kids these days didn’t have any instruction at all.

  • Katherine

    I used to work for Bunge North America. They understood the science behind processing oilseeds and refining food inputs but their profits are too great to stop and change their system. They have gone out of their way to counter all objections to keep their current way intact. How can we stop the Big Three of food processing: Bunge, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland from destroying our food?

  • Christine Mattos

    This conversation is fascinating and horrifying at the same time. How can we take control back, and make sure we’re consuming the best of the basics while balancing the need to minimize preparation time?

    It’s an interesting paradox that the most highly processed foods are cheaper than fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat. For my kids’ school functions, I always bring fruit salad. It costs upward of $30 dollars to feed a group of kids, where buying cookies costs just a few dollars.

  • Jeanne

    I see myself in this ritual of eating fat/sugar/salt all through the day. Though I am at a healthy weight, I have been trying to break this habit for a long time. My question is for my children however; Is this habit genetic? And how do I raise my now 1 year old to not react to food the way I do? (PS his father does not seem to have this trouble with food).

  • Greg Swain

    If dopamine release is increased as a consequence of eating fats, sugars and salt, then presumably the brain’s reward system is activated in all individuals. What neurogenic dysfunction exists that keeps people from controlling the quantity and types of food they eat?

  • Beth Walsh

    I know how to cook very well and have been an overeater my whole life, so I don’t think that is the problem. I can cook light, I just don’t always want to. As a child I was not overweight, but as I aged I gained more and more. I know all the ways to lose weight….I just can’t seem to do it. It is a relief to know that it isn’t all my fault.
    I feel that one of the biggest problems is that fattening food is easier and cheaper than healthy food. We need to stop subsidizing the food production that is killing us and start supporting healthy living.

  • Don

    I try to listen to my body, my stomach. If I don’t hear it growling, I know I’m not hungry. Though I may want food I tell myself I don’t need it. It’s about will power & desire. You have to want to be healthy.

  • joe

    I work in an office with several women who are perpetually dieting, yet can’t seem to lose weight. They seem to believe that weight can be lost by merely eating different foods, and not reducing portion sizes or exercising. I think this is an epidemic in thought – the idea that not really changing eating habits, just substituting different foods will melt the pounds away. I made the mistake of suggesting that they might consider skipping a meal now and then and they all told me how un-healthful that would be! They average 200 pounds, at least.

  • Andrew Salchert

    I appreciate the humor of the music behind your first segue … Pink Floyd’s “Sheep”.

  • Tekmet

    Stop insulting our collective intelligence by trying to convince us that everything we do that ends up being excessive or harmful is not our fault. What is the point of Dr. Kessler’s preaching? Nature has programmed our brains to operate via opportunism and, in humans, greed. We want what we want-yes. We reward the food industry for giving it to us-yes. But as rational, thinking beings, it is up to us to say no. Dr. Kessler seems to be saying that we need some monolithic entity to help us regulate our desires, when it fact, all we need is to make a choice. Fork to mouth yes…or no?

  • Nancy Cassidy

    I agree totally with Dr. Kessler. Some years ago, I noticed that, after eating certain prepackaged foods, especially something like Lean Cuisine, I was RAVENOUS (rather than feeling satisfied). Then, about 10 years ago, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, for which my doctor prescribed several different drugs. Rather than taking them, I decided to look at my diet and to make observations after eating certain foods.

    I noticed that prepackaged foods, bottled sauces, most fast foods, deli meats, foods with added sugar, salt and preservatives brought on this hunger…and the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

    I now eat almost exclusively freshly-prepared foods (that I cook), and almost no prepared foods. All my fibromyalgia symptoms have disappeared, and my hunger is now normal.

    However, if I’m travelling and have to eat fast foods, after a couple of days, all those symptoms reappear.

    So thanks, Dr. Kessler! I hope people pay attention.

  • Violet

    I love when people take the time to call in and comment about how the issue being addressed does not effect them personally. Would you like a medal? Perhaps a great big pat on the back? Whoopee for you — you must be far superior to the rest of us poor souls.

  • Andrea L

    I’m curious. Could some natural foods have an inverse affect on this? I recently joined a CSA and have been consuming POUNDS of kale this summer. It seems to have an anti-food-obsession on me. I am one of those people that he mentioned who thinks about food ALL the time but am a normal weight.

  • http://OnPoint Cindy

    I am 61 years, female, and I have been “dieting” since I was sixteen. Don’t ask me how or why. It has been as hard as quitting smoking was. Today I weigh 135 pounds on 5’2″. I have had at least one episode of anorexia nervosa. I believe that vanity was and is my primary motivation. But I’m not sure. I’m also treated for depression, but I don’t feel that is related to the eating disorder. Vanity is, I’m quite certain, my motivation. It makes me stop, and keeps me from starting.

  • Sarah

    What about other companies who go out of their way to abuse the science of neuropsychology to further their profits?

  • Jim

    One caller talked about people making the choice to go on a diet, but I think the point of all this is that we shouldn’t have to be in a situation to even make a choice to diet in the first place. There seems to be the constant tug of war between overeating and diet that dominates our lives. Ideally, we should just be able to eat normally and not need to diet because food supplied is reasonable and healthy. But when an industry employs scientists to manipulate our brains through food so as to cause a desired reaction, does that mean we really have a choice in the matter?

    I have long felt that there is something more sinister going on with the dieting industry who seem to capitalize on the food industry’s pushing unhealthy foods on the public. It is almost like you are set up to fall so that you can then have to go on (and pay for) another diet. Isn’t is a little weird how people even obsess about diets like the South Beach or Atkins Diet and then a few years later they fall out of fashion? Can someone do a book on that?

  • LJ

    Is Dr. Kessler aware of alcohol treatment programs that stress the link between sugar addiction and alcoholism? I’ve known many recovering alcoholics who consume massive amounts of sugar daily. I also know alcoholics who never eat dessert because they get it through alcohol.

  • Sally

    I really think that all the people who don’t believe that brain chemistry and neurological cues can really affect them all that much–that it’s ALL about personal responsibility and individual choice–are having trouble dealing with the fact that we are, after all, animals. Talking monkeys, to be specific.

  • Matt

    The dopamine connection shows that over-eating is in many ways the same issue as alcohol and drug addiction. Statistics show that individuals have the inherent ability to stop these addictions. Alcohol is considered hard because it’s everywhere. But food cannot be abstained from. What are some ideas for controlling food urges in the mind when abstinence (the only thing that works with alcohol) is not an option?

  • http://www.bethbedarddesign.com Beth Bedard

    I think parents have a huge roll to play. As a parent, you can teach your children how to make healthy choices. If you start with healthy eating habits as a young child, you will continue that throughout life. My 5 year old understands the basics of nutrition already just because we talk about making healthy choices.

    I see parents who let their kids eat junk food anytime they ask for it. On one play date, the kids were given 2 cupcakes, cookies and popcorn within 2 hours. It’s ridiculous. This same parent is constantly worried about her child being hurt on the playground, constantly saying “be careful” while at the same time, hurting her child’s health in the long-run by giving her junk food all day.

    Perhaps we need more awareness and education (like this show) so people can start making healthy choices and help their children do so as well.

  • http://www.bu.edu David

    In the ancestral environment – the environment we evolved in over a couple of million years – fat, sugar, and salt were all in short supply. It makes sense that we are “wired” to find them rewarding — particularly in combination.

  • Glenn

    What a great show today. It’s the first step in finding our way back to the future. We are unwittingly becoming the guinea pigs of Global Business.

    This is a conspiracy and as David Kessler has stated, these CEO and Presidents really do not understand what is happening at the neurochemical level in our brain.

    I see us having to literally start to grow our own food, generate our own energy, take care of our health and well being – we need to be espi fit – emotionally, spiritually, physically and intellectually fit.

    It’s time as a species to evolve to a level where it’s no longer about money and greed – it needs to be about taking care of our lives – and we do that by taking control.

  • Manon Glassford

    Hi,Is nutrition taught nationally in our school? Do teenagers understand the impact of sugars and carbs in their diet? I became aware of counting my carbs , 6 months ago when I was diagnosed with diabetes type 2. I was about 25 pounds overweight and lost it seen due to the fact that I have to count and be aware of all the carbs I put in my mouth and the portions get smallers.
    I encourage my teenagers to drink a lot of water to compensate sometimes to the feeling of hunger. Which other steps parents could contribute to their children? thank you

  • Steven Vernick

    What about the ‘natural’ food industry? Look at the natural foods section at the grocery store. You see chips and snack foods. It seems that natural breakfast cereals contain more sugar than the non-natural variety. Are ‘natural’ foods just a marketing device? Are they simply marketing the same fat/sugar/salt and trying to pass that off as something healthy?

  • Frank Bimbo

    I have a problem with Mr Kessler’s concern on fat. Sugar and carbohydrates are the bad thing. Most of the studies on fat being bad were funded by the people selling sugar and carbohydrates. In fact, Low Fat food are filled with more carbohydrates to make it taste better. Low Fat food has been shown to be more bad than good.

  • Jeanne Wallace-Buckley

    If you look at the WIC approved foods, the cereal choices are limited to those supplied by the big corporations. The healthy, organic options are not even an option – regardless of whether the price is comparable. Poor women and children are forced to make poor choices.

    How much more expensive are whole grains? Low nutritional food has become more economical. If I have a severely limited budget, those calories per penny will seem like a better choice.

    I also would argue that the food options available in poor areas are inferior to those in wealthier neighborhoods. Disparate choices.

  • Treacy Shields

    I am listening to your show. I am 45 years old. I am hypoglycemic, and this has probably saved my life. I wonder if the issue of control can weave into the conversation of the addiction and the marketing of addicting non-food substances? Yes we are “driven” to these things, we have control over ourselves and over the food our children eat. I have to fight the call of sugar everywhere I go, every day. It is the memory of how I will feel afterward that helps me most. It is simply not worth it to me. But I have had the reaction and have been able to consciously feel it. Facts are one thing, but a conscious experience of the physical reaction reaches our brains.

  • Duffy D.C.

    I appreciate your topic today more than you know. These are the same points that I try to get across to my patients day in and day out. I feel that my most successful results happen because my patients alter what they put into their body. A simple but very “difficult to follow diet” that many of my patients are on, is the avoidance of MSG and high fructose corn syrup. Not only do they have to purchase less processed foods, but they also decrease the inflammatory process that aggravates most of their symptoms to begin with. Thanks again for this segment.

  • PW

    I’ve had a lot of food experiences (and theories!) over a lifetime — including two decades spent on an arid farm along the Mediterranean where there was little variety but plenty of really healthy food — even the “fast food.” So I got lucky. The experience of good eating came out of the environment I was living in. In contrast, what’s available here seemed like real deprivation when I came back to urban America’s food choices. Oddly over-sweet frozen veggies, beautiful, flawless and flavor-challenged fruit, curiously bland chicken and pork, etc. etc.

    There seems to be a genuine connection between happiness (that “wow” feeling!) and good food, and by “good” I mean food that really makes us feel good, not just give us a temporary lift. Once I moved to a rural area here in the US and was able to find fresh food and the time to cook it, a form of depression lifted and about 10 lbs of extra avoirdupois fell away.

    Two things have to happen: First, we have to realize that we aren’t obliged to eat cr*p and just quit doing it. Second, we have to end our relationship with corporations who depend on our addiction, letting them know that we aren’t going to pay them to kill us anymore. Third, we need to make an effort to give ourselves the experience of the connection between eating really great food and feeling really great — perhaps over one weekend, or one vacation. You don’t need years of Mediterranean farming! Once that connection is made, you never want to go back. The transition from defensive, anxious and hypoglycemic to happy and well-fed is complete. That has been my experience and why I feel ten years younger than I did ten years ago.

  • Daniel Tetrault

    There are lots of reasons why we are obese, and a profit motive behind every one. Of course the food industry is part of it. Anything that comes in a box or a restaurant has been manufactured in a factory and designed by companies that have a profit motive to make us eat more. If that means to add artificial flavor, sugar, salt and fat, all the better. Take out the fiber so it is easier to chew and swallow so you eat more of it before you get full, all the better. Take out the nutrition so your body is screaming for vitamins and minerals and you eat more, all the better. This food is far more profitable than selling things like fruit, vegetables, eggs, dairy, and meat and having people cook it at home.

    But is our medical system that pays specialists more to treat disease rather than generalists who encourage prevention. It is how we subsidize corn and have to dump high fructose corn syrup. It is our municipalities and real estate developers who find it more profitable to develop land in huge subdivisions instead of in denser areas that are more walkable. We join gyms, yet they know that we are more profitable if we never go, yet pay our fees every month, so they are not exactly welcoming.

    When its all done, we are living in huge houses, drive huge vehicles on huge commutes, to huge stores, eat huge portions, and pay huge medical bills when we break down. I guess all of it is good for the economy.

  • LinP

    To all listening, please go deeper into this topic–for yourselves, your children, for society. All of us need to know how we all have unwittingly become pawns of the industrial food complex. Only then can we being to untangle the food issues in our lives. There is great power in making healthy/better/more sustainable choices three times a day, while sticking it to the corporations who offer up food that is not even real food.

    A great place to start is The Omnivore’s Dilemma. If you don’t think you can get through reading the book, then check out the CDs from the library. Listen in your car. Take the time to go through it all. You will be changed.

    Also, On Point did a show with the author in 2006.
    http://www.onpointradio.org/2006/04/michael-pollans-food-for-thought

  • http://www.SlowFoodUSA.org Kurt Michael Friese

    I tried and tried to call – it was driving me crazy that he was saying that there needs to be movement to change food in America, and there already is. It’s called Slow Food, it has over 18,000 dues-paying members, and it is working, among other things, to improve the food in our schools.

  • Barbara Gordon

    Good information BUT: Americans that eat poorly are not likely to read a book .. so .. how to reach them. What ever happened to Home Economics in early HS? Parents are the ones buying the food and supposedly attending School Board meetings where they can demand changes… guess not.
    The DVD ‘King Corn’ is a must see and should be shown in every High School in America. We are being taken yet again…. not just corn syrup… goes waaay beyond this.
    Europeans and other countries are not FAT LIKE AMERICANS! Food is either truly loved and used for social/family time spent together or simply lucky to have any. Other civilizations exercise! Either by the tradition of it or thru hard physical work. Pizza crust filled with (a very bad) cheese with the crust thick like a bun then topped with cheese and oil? Who came up with that? The salt content alone is deadly then wash it down with a Coke and fries as a vegetable??? Well Hello!
    It just might be too late…. the junk food is all out there and the companies are making tons so why should they stop? They have to be given a reason to shop that will benefit them. I dunno..
    The American ‘uniform’ is a tarp. The land of white sneekers and tarps. Sorry but we are gross, slovenly, unappreciative of the finer things in life. Don’t get me started on little kids brought up with Sesame Street. Information flashing at warp speed for their first 4 years of life then at 5 be expected to sit quietly in a classroom and actually listen? How annoying…… Ah a solution – give ‘em Ritalin! Yep, drug ‘em but not on an empty stomach so first a Big Mac and Shake (where the thickener is made from wood pulp… yep).
    Over and out …….. just too depressing I know and who wants to read a book on this. To my mind this should be put on TV as Specials for a year and replace the reality programs because THIS is Reality.

  • Katy

    I wish “experts” would stop demonizing the fat in our diets. It’s not the fat, it’s the sugar and the excessive amounts of carbohydrates. Fat and protein are satiating. There are vast amounts of research by numerous doctors and nutrition experts that is totally ignored because Sen. McGovern and his band of loonies declared fat to be the villain. Yes, people began gaining weight when HFCS was used in foods instead of sugar, but that was also the time when fat was fingered as the cause of high cholesterol and heart disease. And again, it’s the SUGAR and the hydrogenated trans fat that is deadly. People eat all day because they are always hungry from the constant consumption of sugar (and white bread and french fries digests as sugar, folks). As insulin levels soar (the fat storing hormone), so do cravings and the compulsion to eat and eat and eat. Yet the Food Pyramid advocates 11 servings of grain and a minimum of fat! Humans require a moderate amount of protein and plenty of high quality fat. Look up Gary Taubes’ book Good Calories, Bad Calories for a start.

  • http://onpoint.org Ken Kadis

    This was a great program. I understand what Dr. Kessler said about salt, sugar and fat; however, I am not sure I got from the show what things I can do about it, except not eating processed or fast foods, which I do not eat normally anyways.He said it is not our fault. Ok, so how do I go about changing this?

  • Pam

    Thanks to Dr. Kessler and those who are looking deeper into this country’s eating habits and resulting health problems. I would like to see this conversation continued, with some focus on the trade-offs between time required to prepare healthy foods at home, vs. time saved (and extra cost) of buying and consuming prepared and fast foods that are loaded with the triad of sugar/fat/salt. Of course, this is not a simplistic problem of personal lack of self control, but rather a sociological one with many contributing factors, including, for example, working parents, family economics, and how we feed our children.

  • David H.

    Do a search for Dr. Michael Eades, author of Protein Power. Read his blog. Stop being conned by the pharmaceutical (statins) and food manufacturing companies (HFCS, whole grains, soy). Stop listening to Dr. Dean Ornish. Watch the movie, My Big Fat Diet. Watch the movie Fat Head by Tom Naughton. Reclaim your mind.

  • Didi

    Read Julia Ross’s books The Diet Cure and The Mood Cure.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEJRXZ0nMvM

  • Klaus Kutter

    There is a fundamental problem.

    Again, as with the cigarette campaign responsibility is shifted from the individual to companies.

    Companies and conglomerates, I can see the tort lawyers salivating already!

    When are we going to make people take care of their own destiny again?
    Who pushes the bag of potato chips into ones face?
    It’s not the companies, it’s the individual.

    People need to be educated, people need to get of their behind and cook their own food again. People need to take control of THEIR own lifes.

    Western populations are getting fat because they are a lazy, pampered, taken-care-of and handled people.

    The fact that we are eating wrong is not news. We know this for a long time.

    The great news is:

    It’s not our fault! How convenient. It’s a problem that we have no control of. Isn’t that swell and easy.

    Let’s sue all the food factories.

    Fact is: Most Americans would starve without processed food.

    That might be part of the problem.

    We are not only getting physically fat, mentally we are totally obese as well.

    Some food for thought.

    Klaus Kutter

  • Joan

    Reminds me that while watching prerecorded TV and fast forwarding through the ads, I’m struck by the passing flashes of cascades of creamy sauces splashing over glistening meats and bouncing pastas. As if the advertisers realize they now have one second to capture us, not thirty, and cut straight to those cravings David Kessler speaks of.

  • anonymous

    I belong to a 12 step program based on the AA model in which we abstain from flour and sugar.Fats are limited. Many of our members have experienced large weight losses; some don’t need to lose weight but are obsessed with food and want relief. Most report a loss of obsessive food thoughts and compulsion to eat. The name of the organization is Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous. We have meetings in almost every state and in many countries all over the world. A google search will lead you to a website with meeting lists that have contacts that you can feel free to call and ask anything you want about the program. You do not have to do this alone.

  • Kathy

    Quality fat is healthful! For raising healthy children, look up Nina Planck’s books. Also, there’s great information at the website of The Weston A. Price Foundation:

    The Weston A. Price Foundation is a nonprofit, tax-exempt charity founded in 1999 to disseminate the research of nutrition pioneer Dr. Weston Price, whose studies of isolated nonindustrialized peoples established the parameters of human health and determined the optimum characteristics of human diets. Dr. Price’s research demonstrated that humans achieve perfect physical form and perfect health generation after generation only when they consume nutrient-dense whole foods and the vital fat-soluble activators found exclusively in animal fats.

    http://www.westonaprice.org/

  • Sue

    I am a therapist working with adults who have chronic mental illness. Every week in my “Nutrition” group, I face a phalanx of 300 pounders and talk about food habits or read about good food choices. In the seven years I’ve done this, I’ve seen few successes with weight loss–except my own. It took several years of daily research and re-composition of nutritional info, as part of presenting it to groups, to have it sink in: eat fresh, whole foods, eat breakfast, and eat with other people at least once a day. Well, duh! I knew that already, didn’t you? but it takes repetition. I think it also takes awareness of Recovery principles such as those in AA, which has strategies to deal with the thousand ways we feel cravings. ‘Cause there’s always another excuse.

    I lost 15 pounds and kept it off, and feel satisfied with my weight and energy levels. Of the few clients who have succeeded (losing 50-100 pounds! wow!) all were enrolled in groups like Weight Watchers and others that rely on 12-step programs. The cause of the problem is social, and the cure seems to be this as well. Dr. Kessler speaks of “laying down new learning tracks” and this is how you do it. As Americans, though, I think we’ve forgotten how to socialize and support each other. We’ve forgotten it, and we’re resisting it now.

  • Mark

    This is a valuable and informative program, but with all this talk about artificially delicious fast food, it’s all I can do to keep myself from running to the local McDonald’s for a cheeseburger! I guess I’m hooked.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    I was driving while this show was on and I was incredibly frustrated with Dr. Kessler who ignored both Jane and various callers who tried to get him to acknowledge that individuals can choose to eat better. He sounded like a broken record with his salt, sugar, and fat rant.

    I think Tekmet (above) is exactly right:

    “Stop insulting our collective intelligence by trying to convince us that everything we do that ends up being excessive or harmful is not our fault.”

    Kessler blames agribusiness and food conglomerates (and the tobacco industry) and it’s easy to blame them with all of their greed and profit motive, but he seemed to downplay people taking some personal responsibility to eat better so as to drive the food industry to stop making crap. If no one bought it there would be no market for it.

    The guy who called in and described inhaling an Arby’s sandwich seemed to imply that Arby’s designed the sandwich to addict him and no doubt they did, but what about him simply avoiding Arby’s? Kessler avoided that.

    By the way, I think this pattern extends to blaming credit card companies for personal over spending and to blaming the TV production industry for the crap on network TV. If no one was watching they’d change the programming.

  • http://www.pink-apron.com Kelly

    Great interview. I read Kessler’s book this spring and it is fantastic.

  • Didi

    For those arguing for personal responsibility, people have been told, insistently, that corn flakes, skim milk, and orange juice comprise a healthful breakfast. In reality, the body treats these foods as pure sugar, raising insulin and fueling blood sugar swings throughout one’s day. That’s what makes it possible for someone to inhale an Arby’s sandwich. The food industry has spent billions to tell us that their convenient, processed food was healthful. Crisco was healthful because it has no saturated fat; sugar was “natural.” There are commercials on the air now that defends HFCS. Why WOULDN’T people these sorts of foods are ok? Uneducated poor people get their nutrition information from TV ads; Kraft macaroni and cheese ads always depict happy, healthy, thin children eating it. They certainly aren’t going to show obese children stuffing their faces. And what sorts of foods does the government-subsidized food program provide? More processed cr*p. To argue that it’s simply a matter of choosing healthy foods and willpower is fantasy.

  • Betsy Ross

    Look, in the end, it’s survival of the fittest. There are always going to be unfit people & fit people. Sometimes it’s genealogy, sometimes it’s lack of self-control, sometimes it’s ignorance or socio-economic position & sometimes it’s any of these things combined with plain luck-of-the-draw.
    It might sound cynical, but let’s face it, everyone seems to want to live forever & thinks everyone we know should live forever too. In the end we’re all going to die… some faster, some slower than others. We’ve developed so many “cures” for so many diseases that we’re over-populated & continuing to reproduce at record rates. People must die. That’s the way it is. No one gets out of this deal alive. The point is to enjoy life while we’re alive. For some people that means sitting around playing video games, stuffing their faces with the most ridiculous plastic crap pseudo-food-stuffs imaginable… while for others it means nibbling & sipping on the finest quality hand-prepared foods & enjoying physical movement throughout the day. I choose to be around mentally & physically healthy people because I enjoy being in those states myself & cannot relate to people who aren’t. People are basically sheep & we flock in like-minded groups. I don’t mind the idea of people dying. It’s normal, natural & will happen to each & every one of us. What’s to be afraid of? Pay for this or pay for that… we’re never going to stop corporate greed or dumb people from being dumb.

    I say do your own thing & stop worrying about the rest of us. Education is wonderful, but it starts at home… my radio is at home, so I appreciate this program, I read books & appreciate them too, but I am sure as hell not worried about all the other people on the planet. I was given a brain & free-will so I use them both in conjunction with each other & I don’t worry myself to death about what my neighbor is or isn’t doing. Everyone has his/her right to live the way he/she chooses.

    Peace is a state of mind.

  • http://www.yourhealthsense.com Kim

    Dr. Kessler, thanks for writing your book. Anything to help get people to take control of what they are eating. It is shocking how many children and adults today are eating boatloads of sugar at every meal. People need to learn what is behind marketing lingo on labels and how to read food labels, so they understand what they are putting in their bodies.

  • Jackie W.

    Dr. Kessler, I’m so glad you pointed to the use of corn syrup in food processing as one of the factors causing obesity! It occurred to me that if corn was used for centuries to fatten-up hogs for slaughter, then it stands to reason corn syrup would do the same for humans. While it is certainly true that the American preferred diet of convenience foods is killing us, let us ask WHY they are preferred to real food. The truth is no one has the time to cook from scratch–we’re working because the average household budget is unworkable without two incomes!

    There are other factors as well that are seldom discussed. Consider for example LIGHT POLLUTION. Today the only place where we are not exposed to light 24-7 is in the middle of a rural area away from urbanized areas. Even when TV’s with 24-hour programming is tuned out and the house lights are off, street lights and the LEDs of our electronics make it nearly impossible to sleep in total darkness. We are circadian creatures who are dependent on consistent cycles of light and dark to regenerate our cells properly and dispense the appropriate hormones that regulate mood and how our bodies use food. Also consider the role STRESS plays in our growing girth. We work too much for too long so we might achieve the American Dream lifestyle of over-consumption that we worry too much about how to maintain it. Stress increases cortisol which in turn causes our bodies to convert calories into fat.

    Get a clue folks, our “American Way of Life” is quickly degenerating into the American way of DEATH!

  • John Myers

    We’ve known for 90 years exactly what drives hunger and that is the hormone insulin. They used to inject anorexics with insulin in order to make them hungry.

    Like the O.A. caller on the show, I’ve cut sugar and all starches from my diet. I don’t get the rush of insulin and as result I don’t get hungry.

    Kessler’s theory of layering sugar and fat and salt to drive hunger is only 33% correct. Fat is actually beneficial in that it mitigates the insulin response.

  • Janine in Iowa

    I was appalled by the strong bent of propaganda that was infused throughout this whole interview. Dr. Kessler starts out the interview by telling the nation of obese that “it’s not your fault” because we’re addicted to these overprocessed foods layered with fat, sugar, and salt. There was next to no discussion on other factors, genetics, lifestyle, etc which means this was not a fair a balanced discussion but propaganda. The interviewer further angered me by repeatedly asking if fast food companies and agribusinesses should be held “financially responsible” for the diseases that are linked to obesity. This was an interview that really needed a voice for the other side. Anyone who brought up an opposing point was brushed off. I feel when NPR does these kinds of programs that they come across extremely liberal and not an objective and balanced news source.

  • Sarah

    Thank you everyone. What an impt issue. I work in the addiction field and from my point of view, there’s no question that addiction to sugar/salt/fat is very similar to addiction to drugs/alcohol. As a professional, I use cognitive-behavioral methods, but I strongly recommend AA/NA to anyone who’s open to them. Behavior change of this nature is just incredibly hard and to be able to go to a free group of understanding people any day of the week is such a gift.
    So I would recommend to anyone struggling with overeating or obsession with food (even if you manage to maintain a normal weight) to give Overeaters Anonymous a try. Nobody starts out really wanting to go, but you might be surprised. You don’t lose anything by just seeing what it’s like.

    Also, in response to the newly minted doctor- a great way to approach any behavioral change is through Motivational Interviewing. Read the book by that title and better yet, find a training or a DVD- William Miller is brilliant! also very compassionate and kind. He has specific trainings and DVD’s for primary care settings. Thanks for reading.

  • Joe B.

    David Kessler is the genius who wanted to regulate the sale of vitamins in the 90′s. Kessler is just another “big goverment” beaurecrat who wants to dictate and control every aspect of our lives. No thanks!!

  • DocC

    Kessler’s book is very useful, but he needs to elaborate on the next steps for people trying to change.

    Behavioral change is enormously difficult. He’s right that it doesn’t have primarily to do with lack of responsibility. It requires that you sensitize yourself to cues, interrupt the behavior you want to change early enough, and find another desirable (to you) behavior to substitute for it. And you have to do this for a very long time, and tolerate (and persist despite) failures. (Think smoking, alcohol use, etc…) And supportive group can be vital.

    Not understanding this doesn’t just make people think of themselves (and others, obviously) as weak or “bad,” it undermines motivation for a very difficult task. And it doesn’t seem to help anybody to overcome overeating. The reward for most impulse eating is immediate, but the rewards for change are distant and hypothetical.

    It’s important to also acknowledge another point made by Kessler: modern industrial/fast/snack foods often disguise, directly and indirectly, their harmful ingredients. Even the well-disciplined can be derailed by that.

    Treating anyone with habit disorders can be frustrating and tedious. And physicians aren’t generally expecting or prepared for this kind of treatment approach. Nevertheless, a doctor can give the first push, and the book Motivational Interviewing is a good guide to doing it.

  • http://www.makingpeacewithfoodandyourbody.com Barbara L. Holtzman, MSW, LICSW

    I very much appreciate Dr. Kessler’s research and am hopeful that it will inspire more legislative action and personal awareness. But I think he missed some important points about the dynamics of overeating.

    While there are some people who respond to sugar and fat as if it is a drug, in my experience as a psychotherapist who specializes in compulsive and emotional eating and has authored a book on the subject (“Conscious Eating, Conscious Living; A Practical Guide to Making Peace with Food & Your Body”), I have found that most overeaters can learn to be satisfied with smaller amounts of their favorite foods when they:
    a) do not let themselves get too hungry
    b) don’t let themselves get too tired
    c) eat consciously i.e. slowing down, paying attention to and experiencing the full satisfaction of the food
    d) know that they can have it again whenever they really desire the treat (so this isn’t their last chance to eat it)
    e) nourish themselves in ways other than food – like rest, loving connections, being in nature, and doing things that bring meaning into their lives – so they are less likely to need excess food to satisfy and fulfill them.

  • Amy McCarty

    I recall some research out of U.C. Irvine around 1989 or 1990. I think the researchers’ names were Stein and Beluzzi. They speculated (and found supporting evidence) that the behavior (“bursting”) of some neurons could be increased by response-contingent applications of dopamine and other substances. They proposed that different cells were specialized to be reinforced by different neurotransmitters. If food manufacturers design their products to elicit dopamine production in our bodies, and if some people’s bodies have more dopamine-specialized cells than others’ (just like some of us have more skin pigment or more hair, etc.), then the fact that some of us become addicted to food (whereas others do not) does not suggest a character flaw. It’s physiological–just like some people are more susceptable to cocaine addtion, alcoholism, etc., than others.

  • http://none D Knowles

    I listened to the interview and thought I caught that this situation is not the same as an eating disorder. But, I’m not able to discern how the out-of-control appetite stimulated by the fat/sugar/salt triumvirate, complete with obsessing about food, is different from an eating disorder.

    Anyone know?

  • Amy

    A number of people mentioned how time-consuming it is to produce healthy meals — that is, to prepare them yourself. It is doubly time-consuming when you are preparing healthful meals for a whole family — breakfasts, packed lunches and snacks(because you can’t trust school meals), and dinners. This work largely falls on women. I make super-whole-grain pancakes for my kids and freeze them; then we warm them up in a toaster each morning. The kids like butter and syrup on them, but the whole grains, sunflower seeds, wheatgerm, etc., I add balances that. I prepare mountains of fresh veggies (red peppers, fennel, carrots, cucumbers, celery) for my kids every day — which they devour! I present it to them when they are hungry and ready for dinner. They eat a lot of the veggies because they are delicious and because the kids are hungry. My own mother did this 35 years ago. Afterwards, we sit down to eat — usually some lean meat, rice or pasta or bread, and a cooked vegetable. No added butter, just olive oil. Then I bring out fresh fruit for dessert — often I dramatically bring out a pineapple or some melon to cut up at the table. The kids love that. Fresh berries are a big hit too. We eat it together. No TV. What I describe here is what happens at our home most days, at least. Sometimes we just eat pasta because I’m exhausted. (My husband doesn’t cook.) Sometimes we have a pizza delivered. But most days are good food days. But I am sick of preparing food, it is an unbelievable chore. If I didn’t have NPR to listen to in the kitchen, I’d abandon ship…. One of my goals is to not let the kids get hooked on sugar. But my kids are served junk food at school and daycare by ‘well-meaning’ folks who organize parties/celebrations. These are a constant source of frustration for me. I work hard to keep the kids away from junk, and they come home telling me about the doritos and cupcakes they got from someone else’s parent, from their teacher, or at some afterschool program. These parties take place way too often and undermine a parents’ efforts.

  • Putney Swope

    Janine in Iowa and the opposing viewpoint is what?
    That HFCS is good for us. That eating that happy meal is good for you. Wolfing down that Arbby’s roast beef sandwich is good for you?

    I listened to this show, and while I was not impressed with Dr. Kessler’s approach to the subject he made some very valid and sadly true points.

    We are a nation that has a huge obesity problem.
    The question is why? Dr. Kessler offered up a pretty valid reason that I agree with.

    There use to be a time when Corn Flakes did not have HFCS in it, Now every cereal out there except Shredded Wheat has this stuff added to it.

    Ketchup, which Ronald Reagen deemed a vegetable, has HFCS in it as does a lot of mustard. Why?

    It is amazing when one starts to read the ingredients on packaged food how corn syrup is now in EVERYTHING.

    The other thing corn is in is our meat supply.
    Cows are not meant to eat corn. They can’t digest it so it causes infections in there stomach’s which is why they are fed huge amounts of antibiotics.

    The real issue here is the whole way our country raises food from strawberries to chickens. It’s an unsustainable model designed for quick profits with no regard to sustainability.

    There was a time when we had milk delivered from local farms. I am old enough to remember the milk box on our front stoop. I also remember that in my town we had the distinction of having one of the last small dairy farms. I use to go and buy their milk which had the fat on the top from time to time. Not good for you, but boy did that milk taste great.

    Now most of the milk comes from huge dairy factories.
    Most of us eat cheese that comes from California, not Wisconsin which produces absurd amounts of our processed cheese and all those absurdly huge strawberries that taste like flavored water.

    Try finding a watermelon with seeds in it. You can’t.
    The ones with seeds taste better.

    Anyone commenting on it’s up to us is not understanding the scope of how the entire food chain of this country has been turned into an assembly line with the bottom line as the motive and not good food. This model was developed by the fast food industry, McDonald’s to exact. They needed cheap meat, and so the feed lot was born. It’s inhumane how these cows are raised and it’s an unsustainable model. We are the only country as far as I know who uses this method to raise beef in the world.

    One solution, spend more on good food from local sources and eat less. For those who say this is ridiculous, and that poor people can’t afford to do this I say that everyone can. For the price of a night out at McDonald’s for a family of 4 one can make a good home cooked meal of beans and rice and vegetables. You can say this is boring, but with the right spices and so on this can taste great. Why beans and rice? Brown rice and beans make protein, add collard greens and you have a very good meal. I eat this meal once or twice a week and it cost about $4.00 for two, depending on how much the greens cost. I also now grow my own Kale and Collard greens. These are very easy to grow and will grow well past the first frost, very hardy plants. I had a two kale plants survive the winter and they are thriving.

  • Putney Swope

    Amy demand that your husband learns to cook.
    Do it together. If he does not want to cook or is just incapable of even boiling water get him to prep. Anyone can learn to cut up vegetables. Get him and the kids to do clean up.

    If your kids are old enough get them into the kitchen and whatever you do don’t make this a chore, it’s fun to cook.

    I did this with my daughter and she now loves cooking and also has learned to bake. She makes a mean apple pie
    She is in college now and has her first apartment which now gives her the chance to cook and save money. The college meal plan was absurdly expensive. I also bought her a house warming gift of a good set of stainless steel pots and pans and she also got a good chefs knife.

    The earlier that children develop good kitchen habits the better. Getting the family involved can’t hurt.

  • http://www.stevekercher.com Steve Kercher

    ‘Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.’ – from Daniel 1

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    @Putney: “Try finding a watermelon with seeds in it. You can’t.”

    I’ve never seen a watermelon without seeds and I shop at Stop and Shop among other places.

    One can shop at mainstream markets and buy decent food.

    While I agree, Pollan, Kessler and others are raising the right kind of red flags, Kessler failed to spend enough time on personal responsibility in this interview. Us against “the machine” doesn’t help people get motivated to learn how to shop and cook, more like organize and sue.

  • Putney Swope

    Sorry Richard, those are seedless watermelons.
    I have bought them from stop and shop and they are seedless. The seeds you see are small, few and far between and as will not grow a watermelon.

    I could be wrong, your big box could very well be selling seeded watermelons, but I doubt it as this how the food industry works.

    I buy decent food from the main street market I never said you could not.

    If you think what your seeing in the big box store is not there because of agribusiness please think again.

    All the beef is produced on feed lots.
    The pork is produced on huge hog farms. Chickens in factories. It is an unsustainable model that will collapse.

  • Kathleen

    I am someone with an enormous amount of discipline and willpower when it comes to just about every area of my life, save food. When I put my mind to something, whether it’s completing an advanced degree or riding my bike for 66 miles, it’s pretty much a done deal. However, until very recently, I’ve been utterly unable to pass the candy dish at work without popping a few pieces in my mouth. I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about what I would eat next and how soon I would get it. I could never understand why food was so completely out of control for me, when I had the strength to accomplish other difficult things in my life.

    I read David Kessler’s book in early May and was outraged. I put the book down and decided that I would be damned if I would get diabetes or colon cancer so someone else could make a buck. I cut processed foods out of my diet and switched to mainly organic and local whole foods. After the first few days where I had to white-knuckle it to stay away from the processed foods, I’ve had absolutely no cravings for processed foods. I’ve lost 22 pounds, and I feel so much better. When I see processed foods, I almost cringe. In my mind, that is not food. On the contrary, I get excited about visiting the various farm stands in my neck of the woods and picking out my beautiful, fresh vegetables. Yes, eating healthy is more expensive than eating processed foods, but as my brother always says, you either pay for it now, or you in health care costs later on when you’re sick with diabetes or heart disease or cancer.

  • George

    A great interview on an a crucial topic. This reminded me of “Supersize Me” – a video that should be required watching. One point that struck me is that the healthy subject (forgot his name) got cirrhosis of the liver after 26 days on a McDonald’s-only diet!!! This should have been front page news all over America but the silence was fattening. I followed up and googled rat studies in which rats fed fast food became obese whereas the control rats did not. Both were given more than enough to eat. I wondered why. Kessler’s book answers that.

    Is it possible that aliens (looking for a non-intelligent food source) invented corn syrup and have tricked us into fattening up? Hogs before the slaughter? I wonder if the Rapture might really be a ruse to transport Human Hogs to Martian tables.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    @Putney: “Sorry Richard, those are seedless watermelons.”

    So, the seeds that our melons have aren’t capable of growing a watermelon and that makes them seedless? I’ve never heard of that. I thought seedless hybrids were in fact seedless. Our watermelons have seeds in them and I’ve never bought one without.

    That aside, I can buy organic milk from local producers in Stop and Shop as well as chickens that have not been raised in factories. Stop and shop isn’t perfect and we do our shopping in many places including farm stands for what we don’t pull out of our own garden.

    The short of it is that while I agree that agribusiness is a problem, one doesn’t have to take the stand of professional victim, one can work around them and buy food from local sources in many places in the US.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    FYI: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seedless_watermelon

    Seems like a seedless watermelon doesn’t have any seeds in it.

    Our stop and shop sells watermelons with seeds.

  • Putney Swope

    OK Ricard I’m not going to argue with you, ask them.
    What does the sign say, seedless can have some seeds.
    I have one in my fridge and even though it is a seedless watermelon it has a few seeds. It’s a marketing thing they want us to buy these things because they are easier to grow. They are genetically engineered to about the same size and they don’t taste a sweet as the ones I buy from the local farmers market at the end of the summer, which are smaller.

    I think the ones that come from Mexico are not seedless but they only seem to around before the California growers harvest what we have now.

  • Putney Swope

    I never said I was “victim” by the way organic does not mean it is. And those free range chickens might not be so free range. They are not stuck in a cage, but they most likely are still genetically engineered to grow fast.

    I know people in Vermont who have raised these freaks.
    They were free range and were fed an organic diet of table scrapes and whatever bugs they could find in the yard.
    If you did not kill them after a they matured they got so big that they could not walk. They grew at over twice the rate of the other egg laying hens these folks had.

    This was the first and last time they bought these beasts.

  • Susan

    I just finished listening to your program and Dr. Kessler confirmed everything I have suspected about my own irrational cravings. I was thin my whole life until the early ’90s. Then I began a battle with food that has lasted years. After battling those cravings for so long, it finally occurred to me that if I just had a sugar packet, dash of salt and a drop of melted butter, I’d satisfy the sugar-salt-fat craving with hardly any calories! I would never eat such a combination of foods, but in reality I was eating those same combinations with thousands of calories wrapped around them! I look forward to reading Dr. Kessler’s book. I will quit sugar, salt and fat processed foods and will be sure to eat defensively and not fall for all the gloss and emotional lure ever again. Thanks for enlightening me!

  • Agustina

    This is why I don’t eat any processed foods. I try to buy raw foods, no canned , no sodas and cook my food at home. You have to be smart. We can control what we eat. Those who are most susceptible to overeating should just avoid the foods that trigger it. You just need to changing your eating habits, it can be difficult but it is not impossible.

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