Obesity Epidemic: Overeating is to Blame

Photo: Overweight Man with a Burger and Soda

Those who are loathe to exercise can take heart. Blame the refrigerator—rather than not going to the gym—for your ever-expanding waistlines. This is according to a new United Nations study released at an international obesity conference in Amsterdam this past May. It shows that overeating accounts for the obesity epidemic in America.

“Over-eating, not a lack of exercise, is to blame for the American obesity epidemic,” the study says, while warning that physical activity could not fully compensate for excess calories.

So, there’s no need to feel guilty about not working out every day. It doesn’t matter …that much. What matters is that we need to eat less.

The study was presented at the 17th European Congress on Obesity in Amsterdam, Netherlands. It seems they predicted—and the results bore out—that the average child gained nearly 9 pounds between the 1970s and 2000s. Overeating was likely to blame. To see a report on the study click here: http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20090511/obesity-epidemic-overeating-alon...

Researchers predicted adults would be 23.8 pounds heavier, but in fact they were 20 pounds heavier. They said people gained weight because they ate too much, and noted that increases in physical activity over the 30 years may have blunted what would otherwise have been a higher weight gain.

“To return to the average weights of the 1970s, we would need to reverse the increased food intake of about 350 calories a day for children (about one can of fizzy drink and a small portion of French fries) and 500 calories a day for adults (about one large hamburger),” according to Boyd Swinburn, chair of population health and director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University in Australia.

Swinburn says that “Alternatively, we could achieve similar results by increasing physical activity by about 150 minutes a day of extra walking for children and 110 minutes for adults; but realistically, although a combination of both is needed, the focus would have to be on reducing calorie intake”, i.e. eating less.

Physical activity should not be ignored as a contributor to reducing obesity, explains Swinburn, and it should continue to be promoted because of its many benefits. Nevertheless, he says that from a public policy perspective, expectations regarding what can be achieved with exercise need to be lowered and emphasis should be shifted toward encouraging people to eat less.

At Down to Earth, we promote that good health can be achieved by adopting a vegetarian diet consisting of organic produce and organic and natural foods. A position paper from the American Dietetic Association shows that we are not alone in this assessment, as I quote:

“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. …This position paper reviews the current scientific data related to key nutrients for vegetarians, including protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B-12, vitamin A, n-3 fatty acids and iodine. A vegetarian, including vegan, diet can meet current recommendations for all of these nutrients […Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence. Vegetarian diets offer a number of nutritional benefits, including lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein as well as higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate, and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and phytochemicals. Vegetarians have been reported to have lower body mass indices than non-vegetarians, as well as lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease; vegetarians also show lower blood cholesterol levels; lower blood pressure; and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer.” 1

The most telling part about all this is that a vegetarian diet reduces weight. Research by the Mayo Clinic has shown that, on average, people who follow a vegetarian diet eat fewer calories and less fat than non-vegetarians. Vegetarians also tend to have lower body weight relative to their height than non-vegetarians. 2

To add strength to this argument, I point to a scientific review in the April 2006 edition of Nutrition Review, which shows that a vegetarian diet is highly effective for weight loss. The study was conducted by Dr. Susan E. Berkow and Dr. Neal D. Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). They found that vegetarian populations tend to be slimmer than meat-eaters, and they experience lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other life-threatening conditions linked to overweight and obesity. These findings are the result of data collected from 87 studies. The data showed that the weight-loss effect does not depend on exercise or calorie-counting. Please read what Dr. Barnard had to say about the findings:

"There is evidence that a vegan diet causes an increased calorie burn after meals, meaning plant-based foods are being used more efficiently as fuel for the body, as opposed to being stored as fat." Insulin sensitivity is increased by a vegan diet, allowing nutrients to more rapidly enter the cells of the body to be converted to heat rather than to fat.” 3

In essence, these statements by prominent scientific institutions are saying that a vegetarian diet is healthy and can be a major weapon in the fight against obesity. I submit for your consideration that reducing obesity is not just a function of eating less, but of what you eat as well.

  1. American Dietetic Association, “Vegetarian Diets,” June 2003 (Vol. 103, Issue 6, Pages 748-765): http://www.eatrightpro.org/resources/advocacy

  3. Mayo Clinic.com, “Vegetarian Diet: will it help me loose weight?”: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/expert-answers/...

  5. Nutrition Review, “New scientific review shows vegetarian diets cause major weight loss,” April 1, 2006: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-04/pcfr-nsr033106.php

FDA gains power to regulate Big Tobacco

In front page news today is a story about a landmark victory over the tobacco industry. The article “Senate grants FDA power to regulate Big Tobacco”, published by the Honolulu Advertiser, tells of how the federal government will likely soon have the power to regulate the manufacturing and marketing of cigarettes, and will gain the power to stop the addition of things like “cherry” flavoring to cigarettes, and the use of marketing targeted towards young people, such as the infamous Joe Camel. Quoting from the article:

WASHINGTON — Capping a half-century battle with the tobacco industry, the Senate overwhelmingly approved landmark legislation yesterday that would for the first time give the government far-reaching power to regulate the manufacturing and marketing of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The legislation, which was approved by the Senate 79-17 and is expected to pass the House today, would allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate ingredients in tobacco products and ban the marketing of "light" cigarettes.

In a bid to deter new smokers, the bill also imposes strict limits on full-color advertising for cigarettes, bans billboards close to schools and requires packages to carry larger warning labels.

"Joe Camel has been sentenced and put away forever," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., referring to a youth-oriented cartoon figure long used to promote Camel cigarettes.

The Obama administration and congress are seeking ways to extend health care coverage and to reduce the massive health care costs in the US that accounts for almost 10% of GDP, way more than in any other industrialized country. Controlling and reducing the smoking of tobacco products is one way to reduce health care costs and help people avoid crippling and unnecessary diseases and the consequent debilitating personal, family, and societal costs.

Actually, much of these huge health "care" costs are for the treatment of unnecessary and preventable diseases caused by the consumption of unhealthy meat based diets, the use of products such as tobacco and alcohol, and the living of unhealthy lifestyles.

At Down to Earth we promote the living of a healthy "down to earth" lifestyle consisting of a healthy vegetarian diet comprised of natural and organic foods, regular exercise, the drinking of clean water, breathing fresh clean air, and the avoidance of intoxicants. Please visit our stores and our website www.downtoearth.org for further information on how to adopt a healthier vegetarian diet.

The China Study - eat a plant based diet to avoid and reverse disease

There is a startling new book called “The China Study” written by Dr. Colin Campbell that contains the answers to the nation’s health care crisis. And what is that answer? It is not compulsory health care, it is not the spending of billions of dollars on hospitals. It is a very simple and inexpensive answer. Quoting from Dr. Campbell’s book:

“People who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease … People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to avoid chronic disease.”

“Heart disease, diabetes and obesity can be reversed by a healthy diet. Other research shows that various cancers, autoimmune diseases, bone health, kidney health, vision and brain disorders in old age (like cognitive dysfunction and Alzheimer’s) are convincingly influenced by diet. Most importantly, the diet that has time and again been shown to reverse and/or prevent these diseases is the same whole foods, plant-based diet.”

In short, eating a whole food plant based vegetarian diet prevents disease, and can even reverse chronic diseases such as heart disease, various cancers, etc.

The following material is from http://www.benbellavegan.com/book/the-china-study/, the official site promoting Dr. Campbell’s book.

For more than 40 years, T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. has been at the forefront of nutrition research. His legacy, the China Study, is the most comprehensive study of health and nutrition ever conducted. Dr. Campbell is the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University and Project Director of the China-Oxford-Cornell Diet and Health Project. The study was the culmination of a 20-year partnership of Cornell University, Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine.

Although it was “heretical to say that protein wasn’t healthy,” he started an in-depth study into the role of nutrition, especially protein, in the cause of cancer. The research project culminated in a 20-year partnership of Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, a survey of diseases and lifestyle factors in rural China and Taiwan. More commonly known as the China Study, “this project eventually produced more than 8000 statistically significant associations between various dietary factors and disease.”

The findings? “People who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease … People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to avoid chronic disease. These results could not be ignored,” said Dr. Campbell.

In the introduction to his book Dr. Campbell states:

“To make matters worse, we are leading our youth down a path of disease earlier and earlier in their lives. One third of the young people in this country are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. Increasingly, they are falling prey to a form of diabetes that used to be seen only in adults, and these young people now take more prescription drugs than ever before. These issues all come down to three things: breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

“This information countered everything I had been taught. It was heretical to say that protein wasn’t healthy, let alone say it promoted cancer. It was a defining moment in my career. Investigating such a provocative question so early in my career was not a very wise choice. Questioning protein and animal-based foods in general ran the risk of my being labeled a heretic, even if it passed the test of “good science.”

“What made this project especially remarkable is that, among the many associations that are relevant to diet and disease, so many pointed to the same finding: people who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease. Even relatively small intakes of animal-based food were associated with adverse effects. People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to avoid chronic disease. These results could not be ignored. From the initial experimental animal studies on animal protein effects to this massive human study on dietary patterns, the findings proved to be consistent. The health implications of consuming either animal or plant-based nutrients were remarkably different.”

“These findings—the contents of Part II of this book—show that heart disease, diabetes and obesity can be reversed by a healthy diet. Other research shows that various cancers, autoimmune diseases, bone health, kidney health, vision and brain disorders in old age (like cognitive dysfunction and Alzheimer’s) are convincingly influenced by diet. Most importantly, the diet that has time and again been shown to reverse and/or prevent these diseases is the same whole foods, plant-based diet that I had found to promote optimal health in my laboratory research and in the China Study. The findings are consistent.”

Swine flu linked to modern factory farming of pigs

According to a May 8, 2009 article published on Natural Foods Merchandiser's website (Natural Foods Merchandiser is the leading natural products industry publication) there is a link between the modern factory farming methods for pigs and the Swine Flu outbreak. The story states:

"Mounting evidence suggests that the recent outbreak of swine flu, or the H1N1 virus, may have begun as a result of massive-scale farming practices.

"In the community known as La Gloria in Perote, Mexico, 1,800 of the village's 3,000 residents—or 60 percent—came down with an upper-respiratory infection in a period of six weeks, beginning in February. Among those residents was 5-year-old Edgar Hernandez. He later was identified as the first known person to positively test for H1N1.

"Tom Philpott, a journalist for the environmental website Grist, reported that health officials immediately correlated the outbreak of illness with the presence of a massive industrial hog farm in Perote, partly owned by Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the world."

Mark Fergusson

Tobacco health care costs equal to the cost of the President's health care proposal

As we are about to be asked to pay $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years in extending medical insurance benefits to almost everyone in the nation, President Obama's "struggle with smoking" becomes more relevant. The annual US health care costs related to tobacco related illness is estimated at an astounding $96 billion, with a further loss of productivity cost of $97 billion. The total health care and lost productivity costs per packet of cigarettes are estimated at $10.28, whereas the average cost of a packet of cigarettes including sales tax is less than half that at approx. $4.80.

The President is in the ultimate leadership position, the people follow the example of their leaders; here we have our leader continuing to smoke cigarettes while at the same time asking the nation to pay out $1 trillion over 10 years for health care, when if people simply stopped smoking and using tobacco products the savings in health care costs alone would pay for the health care coverage that President Obama is proposing.

Learn more about health care and other costs of tobacco

Health care debate should be about how to reduce the incidence of disease

Speaking about tobacco health care related costs which are estimated at $96 billion per year, that figure is dwarfed by the health care costs and productivity losses associated with just 5 diet related chronic diseases which are estimated at $864 billion per year.

  • $448 billion heart disease and stroke
  • $117 billion obesity
  • $50 billion osteoarthritis and osteoporosis
  • $75 billion cancer
  • $174 billion diabetes

The US medical "care" system is focused on treatment of disease, rather than prevention. The cost of medical care for chronic disease far exceeds the cost of following a healthy lifestyle consisting of a vegetarian plant based diet, regular exercise, and abstention from intoxicants which would significantly reduce the incidence of such diseases.

Instead of spending so much on medical care, which creates the need for very expensive public medical insurance, we should be focused on disease prevention and encouraging the living of healthy lifestyles; strangely enough I have not heard anything about this during the health care debate, all we hear about is how the so called rich people are going to be taxed to pay for the $1 trillion cost. Why isn't the debate focused on how to cut the incidence of disease so that the costs of health care won't be so much, and not only that but people will have a better quality of life at the same time.

Less cost, better health and happiness, seems like a no brainer to me. That is what the national health debate should be about.

Mark Fergusson

Malpractice Insurance and defensive medicine costs

Another cost to be considered in the access to health care debate along with the huge costs of lifestyle preventable diseases caused by tobacco and other intoxicants, diet, and lack of exercise that I blogged on yesterday, is the costs to the medical system of medical malpractice insurance. The actual costs are hard to come by but are of two types, direct and indirect (indirect costs are the costs of unnecessary tests and treatments ordered by doctors solely to protect themselves from getting sued).

The following is from a Harvard School of Public Health study by Michelle M. Mello, J.D., Ph.D., M.Phil published in 2006:

To calculate the total costs of the malpractice system one would need reliable estimates of both the direct and the indirect costs. The direct costs of malpractice litigation include payments made on claims (from which plaintiff’s attorney fees and costs are taken), legal costs of defending claims and costs of under-writing and administering liability insurance. A recent estimate suggests that claims costs amounted to $4.4 billion in 2001, legal defense costs amounted to $1.4 billion and insurance administration amounted to $700 million. Thus, total direct costs were probably about $6.5 billion in 2001, or 0.46 percent of total health care spending (2). These and all estimates of the costs of the malpractice system, however, are back-of-the-envelope calculations; no hard cost figures are available.

Indirect costs arise when the liability system causes physicians to supply more health care services than they would in the absence of a liability threat. Services that are provided primarily or solely for the purposes of protecting physicians against malpractice liability, rather than the medical benefit of the patient, are referred to as defensive medicine. True defensive-medicine costs are properly counted as indirect costs of the malpractice system, but the costs of additional appropriate (i.e., medically indicated) services should not be included in that estimate. There are no reliable estimates of the national costs of defensive medicine. Many analysts have attempted to estimate these costs; all have failed to do so reliably.

Health care debate misses the real solution

I continue to be amazed that the debate over changes to the nation’s health care system is not focused, or at least that a significant part of the debate isn’t about how to reduce the need for so much expensive medical intervention/treatment in the first place. The current debate assumes that the current level of medical care is a given, that it is going to increase as the population ages, and that more and more of the population will likely become obese, get diabetes, have heart disease, get cancer, etc. According to a recent Washington Post article it is expected that an astounding 20% of GDP will be spent on medical care by 2017.

It is obvious that substantial cost savings can be had by simply encouraging people to live a healthy lifestyle and providing them the education and resources to do so. If people live healthier lifestyles then there won’t be the need for as much extremely expensive medical intervention. E.g., the cost of lifetime treatment of heart disease can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for heart surgery, drugs, tests, disability payments, lost productivity, etc. etc. It is surely much cheaper to encourage people to live a lifestyle that substantially reduces the likelihood of getting heart disease in the first place.

In another example, one of the proposals to reduce medical costs is to have one stop medical clinics for people with diabetes. A recent Washington Post article states, “David Kendall, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Third Way think tank, notes that one out of every 10 health-care dollars spent in the United States is directly linked to diabetes. Pilot projects have shown that paying a medical team for total care -- monitoring blood-sugar levels, giving eye and foot exams -- rather than paying for each visit to an ophthalmologist or podiatrist is better for the patient and costs less.”

This is a good idea for reducing costs, even a great idea; however, it is staggering that 10% of the health care dollars spent in the United States are directly related to diabetes. The article goes on to say, "The financial losers will be hospitals that no longer amputate somebody's foot or the dialysis centers" that are no longer needed, he said. "That's where we save a lot of money.”

Thus, aside from the staggering financial costs of diabetes, we are dealing with the very real human suffering and misery of foot amputation, ongoing dialysis treatments, blindness, etc. How much better would it be to put our efforts into reducing the incidence of diabetes in the first place? Diabetes is primarily a diet and lifestyle disease, and the current obesity epidemic is a major contributing factor to its increased incidence.

The health care debate must include serious discussion on how to reduce the incidence of diet and lifestyle related diseases that are overburdening the health care system with unsustainable costs.

The natural and organic products industry, alternative health care providers, and especially vegetarian companies like Down to Earth have a lot to contribute to this discussion. To lower costs and to give people the gift of good health, the government should actively encourage people to:

  • Adopt a vegetarian plant based diet consisting of natural and organic foods which are low in sugar and salt etc. (In relation to this, the government should stop subsidizing industries that sell unhealthy foods full of things like corn syrup that are addictive and lead to people consuming way more calories than they need)
  • Use alternative therapies, acupuncture, homeopathy, ayur veda, naturopathy, etc. where appropriate, rather than relying solely on invasive and expensive conventional western medicine approaches of treating symptoms rather than addressing the underlying causes of the disease
  • Make judicious and appropriate use of dietary supplements
  • Get regular exercise, breathe fresh air, and drink lots of clean water (rather than soda which is full of calories, or alcohol containing beverages)
  • Not use tobacco, alcohol or drugs

If this approach was adopted the savings would be in the trillions of dollars over the course of a decade, thus making the provision of medical insurance for everyone more affordable.

To read The Washington Post article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/25/AR200907...

Only 1 in 7 change their lifestyle when told if they don't they will die - part 2

Aloha, yesterday's blog post generated a lot of comments, so many that I want to address a few with a second one. And of course, I forgot the most obvious action points for changing your lifestyle to save your life, which are very simple, people need to:

  1. Act responsibly. I mean, how ridiculous is it to not stop smoking cigarettes even though you know it is going to kill you, or to continue with a fat laden and otherwise unhealthy diet when you already have heart problems, or you don't change your diet, don't get exercise, and remain grossly overweight, while looking forward to the day when you start dialysis, after being diagnosed with pre-diabetes. None of this makes any sense. Hey, life is hard, change is hard, but so what? Take responsibility for your life and make the changes you have to make. Get on with it.
    One of the comments to yesterday's post from ziggywellness was: "A few years back when my doctor told me I was pre-diabetic I quickly took all of her advice. I increased exercise, I upped my fiber, I cut out tons of saturated fats and I lost close to 20 pounds. I remember the reaction she had on my next visit, it was nothing short of total shock." This is the kind of attitude that is needed!
  2. Stop being so self centered. Ok, fine, you don't want to change your activities because you like them so much and can't give them up. But, how about you stop being so self absorbed in your own happiness and start thinking about others, e.g. your immediate family members, your other relatives and friends, co-workers etc. Dying prematurely or becoming afflicted with a preventable disease has a big impact on them (gross understatement). It also imposes cost burdens on society as a whole.

Maybe people could consider the idea, and this may be a bit radical, but you know, you aren't the only person in the world and what you want is not the most important thing in the world. There are a whole bunch of other people in the world (as in billions) and your actions impact them. Giving up your self-centeredness and acting with concern for others, rather than focusing on the fulfillment of your own desires and what you like to do and so on, will paradoxically actually make you happier.

So in short, take responsibility, stop being so self-centered, and take action. Change your lifestyle, live longer, don't get preventable disease, be happier.

What are you giving up? What have you got to lose? Cigarettes aren't that great are they? I mean sucking smoke into your lungs is it really something to die for? Eating meat, is that such a great thing, the taste of other's blood, is that something to get heart attacks and cancer for?

Mark Fergusson

Another cause of the health care crisis we don't hear about

We have been blogging in recent weeks about the debate in Washington and the nation on the health care crisis and how we aren't hearing any discussion about addressing the root causes of the crisis, i.e. the underlying unhealthy diets and lifestyle choices (meat and junk food based diets, lack of physical activity, consumption of tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs, etc.) and the widespread practice of defensive medicine. Another major cause of the bloated medical system's costs to add to the list is the cost of medical mistakes.

To get an actual cost estimate is difficult, but a few statistics help show how significant the problem is. A 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association stated that physician error, medication error and adverse events from drugs or surgery kill over 225,000 people per year in the US.

This makes medical care the 3rd leading cause of death in the US, behind heart disease (710,000) and cancer (553,000). In the China Study, an insightful book by Colin T. Campbell PHD, the breakdown by cause is given as follows:

  • Medication errors 7,400 or 3%
  • Unnecessary surgery 12,000 or 5%
  • Other preventable errors in hospitals 20,000 or 9%
  • Hospital borne infections 80,000 or 35%
  • Adverse drug effects 106,000 or 48% (almost half)

Adverse drug effects, the biggest one, is death from taking the "right" drugs at the prescribed doses, i.e. it is not a medication error, it is the drug you were supposed to get, used at the correct dose, and dying from it. Sometimes you see on prescription drugs a list of side effects, at the very end you may see "death". Well, it isn't something to disregard, 106,000 people a year die from taking their medicine. Apparently 1 in 15, or 7%, of all hospitalized patients have a serious adverse drug reaction that "requires hospitalization, prolongs hospitalization, is permanently disabling, or results in death". And this is a conservative number as only cases definitely attributed to drug side effects are included in the numbers.

The human cost is high, the financial cost to the medical system is also undoubtedly high. When you add it to the medical costs of treating diseases caused by poor diet and lifestyle choices, if we make a few simple changes, we have more than enough money to provide medical insurance for everyone.

If we can get people to change their diets to a predominantly plant based vegetarian diet then they will significantly reduce the likelihood of getting disease. This will keep them out of the medical system, and they won't need the expensive drugs that all too often end up killing them.