The Minds of Millions of Americans Have Been Hijacked!
This is not the title of a sci-fi thriller. A few minutes ago, I heard former FDA Commissioner David Kessler, MD repeat it over and over again at Politics and Prose bookstore in D.C. What was he talking about? His new book, The End of Overeating, is the first to pull together the hard science behind the restaurant and food industry hijacking of our eating habits and the source of our obesity epidemic.
By creating "adult baby food," laden with sugar, fat, and salt, the food industry has us addicted to eating far more than we need or is good for us. His inspiration for writing this book came 7 years ago when he watched a well educated, well dressed women on Oprah explain how she ate all the time and hated herself for it. He was struck by her inability to break free from that cycle and wondered how that addiction worked. What follows is a long series of short chapters alternating numerous scientific studies with the personal experiences of many people struggling with their weight.
Kessler regulated food from late 1990, when President Bush 41, appointed him until early 1997, and yet he expressed shock at what his dumpster diving at restaurants turned up. We've allowed the food industry to take the nutrition out of our food and to put sugar, fat, and salt and a lot of additives in its place. We get a lot more immediate pleasure, but we're less satisfied and a lot less healthy. We've doubled the incidence of type-2 diabetes in the past 20 years and currently spend $13 b. annually on diabetes medicine alone. Our food addictions are literally killing us.
The best part of Kessler's book is his very specific step-by-step recommendations at the end on how to overcome eating addictions. His main legislative recommendation is that restaurants and foods be clearly labeled with the amounts of added sugar, fat, salt, and flavor enhancers. That seems a little meager, until you consider that Kessler started a tobacco labeling battle 15 years ago that just this week culminated in Congress giving the FDA complete control over tobacco products and advertising. Kessler noted that tobacco is by far the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. and processed food is next.
We economists like to believe that consumers are rational, but, when it comes to food and tobacco, we're clearly not. Now that Kessler has established the depth and breadth of this externality, it's time for the government to require better food labeling.