Friday, February 3, 2012

Why Am I Fat?

If you listen to Jillian Michaels, then losing weight is simply a matter of eating less and exercising more.  Simple enough, right?  We are fat because we are lazy and because we are gluttons.

Anyone who has problems with their weight knows that the issue might be more complex than that, especially considering that the rate of Type 2 diabetes and obesity has skyrocketed over the last 30 years.  People certainly haven't become any lazier than they used to be.  The rate of exercise, if anything, has increased over the last 30 years.  Suburbs and automobiles have been around long before 1980.  What has been the difference?  Perhaps it could be not how much we are eating, nor how much we are exercising, but instead what we are eating.

Ever since the 1970's, the government has stressed that we eat 6-11 servings of carbs per day and limit our intake of fat, particularly saturated fat.  We were encouraged to eat margarine and other trans fats.  Even McDonald's switched their fry oil from beef tallow to trans fat, all in hopes of being "heart smart."  Now we know that trans fats essentially harden your arteries and are lethal.  We would have been better off eating the beef tallow.  In fact, study after study, including the Framingham Heart study, has shown that saturated fat, so long as not consumed with excessive carbs or sugar, is not harmful.

Ten years ago I was a study hall monitor at a suburban middle school.  I was shocked at how fat the kids were.  Usually middle school children are very lean.  When I was a middle school child in the early 1990s, obesity was not very common.  After all, middle school kids are growing rapidly.  Kids at this age aren't supposed to be fat until they get older, right?  Wrong.  And the cause was pretty obvious.  The school lunch program was part of the problem.  During study hall and throughout the day, the kids would purchase processed snacks filled with sugar.  They drank huge amounts of pop (soda), ate candy bars, and munched on potato chips.  At lunch, they filled up on pizza, cheeseburgers, and french fries.  I asked the principal why the lunch program didn't offer healthy choices.

"Kids don't buy healthy food.  We lost money when we tried that.  Now we break even or make money."

So apparently it's all about economics.

It's not surprising that middle school kids don't like the taste of healthier food compared to unhealthy food.  That is natural.  But then we shouldn't be surprised why kids are fat and have health problems, either.

Some of the increase in obesity has to do with economics.  Prior to the Nixon administration, the price of grain as a commodity would shift rapidly.  This fluctuation in prices caused instability in food prices.  Politically, this was problematic.  Nixon instructed his Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, to stabilize grain prices.  Butz reformed the New Deal program of paying farmers not to plant corn.  Instead, he encouraged farmers to go big and plant as much as possible.  Corn subsidies from the government meant the price of corn would remain stable and abundant.  The food industry found a thousand and one uses for corn, including the creation of high fructose corn syrup.  Soon, high fructose corn syrup found itself in everything because it was so cheap.  This had the effect of greatly increasing the amount of sugar and carbs that people would eat.

While the decrease in food prices was a benefit to the poor, it also had health implications.  The revised food pyramid encouraged by the government was happily encouraging the massive consumption of carbs and considered sugar innocuous.  The low fat, high carb diet, subsidized by the government and embraced by the food industry and by doctors, had serious metabolic implications.  The conventional wisdom was that if you feasted on low fat snacks, you were being heart healthy.  It kind of reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry and Elaine were enjoying their low fat yogurt without guilt, only to find that they were getting fatter and fatter.

Eating carbohydrates turns to sugar in the blood.  The body must then make insulin to regulate the blood sugar.  Too much carbohydrate and sugar eventually wears down the body and leads to insulin resistance, which can turn to diabetes.  It also leads to weight gain and obesity.  Diabetes frequently leads to heart damage and other health problems if uncontrolled.  Insulin is also a fat storing hormone.  A perfect guinea pig to show this process is a person with juvenile diabetes.  Type 1 diabetics (juvenile diabetics) do not make their own insulin.  So when they eat sugar or carbohydrates, their blood sugar goes very high.  The body cannot utilize the energy so it passes into the urine.  Even though a person with juvenile diabetes has high blood sugar, his or her body cannot use the energy stored in the sugar without insulin.  The person is literally starving to death.  He or she will lose weight rapidly.  He or she is also very thirsty.  Without insulin, death is not far behind.  In fact, there are some teenage girls with juvenile diabetes who intentionally don't take their insulin to control their weight.  It is dangerous, but it is done.

When juvenile diabetics begin insulin therapy, they gain weight.  The more carbs and sugar they eat, the more insulin they need, and the more weight they gain.  Insulin is the key factor.  The same goes for non diabetics.  The more carbs and sugar one eats, the more insulin the body makes, the more weight that is gained.  This also explains my fat middle school children.  They were drinking soda pop like it was going out of style.  I saw kids drinking 3-5 cans of Pepsi and Coke a day.

We are also witnessing an epidemic of fat babies.  Why?  Is it because they are eating too much and exercising too little?  Is it because they aren't going to the gym enough?  It could be because during pregnancy, their mothers were eating lots of carbs, which meant higher blood sugar, and more insulin.  This is passed onto the baby, priming the baby's little metabolism to be big.  Another perfect example of this is the babies of juvenile diabetics.  Frequently mothers who are juvenile diabetics must be induced early because their babies are huge.  This is caused because of high blood sugars and excessive insulin during pregnancy.  The baby grows so large it is dangerous for it to be carried to full term.

Some of this also has international implications.  Consider the "War on Drugs."  As a country, we waste billions of dollars fighting drug producers in Columbia, Mexico, and here in America.  But why do farmers in Columbia, Mexico, and other countries grow drugs?  The answer is simple--they have to.  Because of NAFTA and so called "free trade", they certainly can't compete with the subsidized American grain farmers.   It is impossible.  When given the choice between starvation or growing drugs, they take their chances.  The American government doesn't care at all about whether people use drugs or not.  The real purpose of the drug war is economics.  As a nation, the United States has more prisons than any other Western nation.  The cost of running these prisons is astronomical.  But it is also big business.  Consider the number of lawyers, judges, federal drug enforcement agents, bureaucrats, prison guards, food-service-to-prison companies, police officers, and others who have jobs because of the "War on Drugs".  We now even have private prisons, so putting people in jail can be profitable to a small number of shareholders.  Many of the people in prison are there for drug related crimes. This also serves the side benefit of locking up unskilled members of the labor population who might otherwise make trouble.  It helps decrease unemployment figures as well.  Some prisons even have work programs to sell prison labor to private corporations at a cheap price.  All of this costs the American taxpayer big money, not to mention how unjust it is.

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