July 27th, 2009
11:23 AM ET

Obesity politics And The Weight Of The Nation

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/HEALTH/05/05/more.for.your.calories/art.vegetables.gi.jpg caption="Weight of the Nation, hosted by the Center for Disease Control, is first conference on obesity prevention."]

Marc Ambinder
The Atlantic Monthly

I don't know quite what to call it. "Food addiction" is a little off, because we are compelled to eat several times a day and the obsessive component of most addictions is often absent. Dr. David Kessler, the former FDA commissioner, borrows from the language of behavioral science. We aren't addicted, he says. We're conditioned. We respond to the most salient stimuli. And food industry, from the growers of corn to the chemists who invented molecular gastronomy, to the food stylists who know how to enhance the physical attractiveness of a hamburger, is the one doing the conditioning. Kessler accuses the food industry of figuring out how to make bad, cheap food addictive.

I was thinking about Kessler's book, which is currently the talk of the weight-loss crowd, on the morning that Centers for Disease Control hosts its first ever Weight of the Nation Conference on obesity. I'll be blogging from that conference over of the next few days as I gather final string for a magazine article about the politics of weight and obesity.

Kessler isn't speaking - I think he's in Aspen, speaking to intellectuals gathered there for another food conference - and I'll be interested to see if his ideas are well represented. Kessler represents the wing of the anti-obesity movement that favors confrontation and believes that only if the public gets angry about this manipulation of their diet can they - we - possibly begin to combat the obesity plague. Many obesity researchers I've spoken with over the past several months are afraid of confrontation, even though the physical and social science evidence is pretty compelling: we aren't what we eat; we are what the food companies want us to be.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Nutrition
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Isabel, Brazil

    @ Myrna johnson

    I agree completely with your comment.
    You said everything I thought about writing! Thanks!

    July 27, 2009 at 1:36 pm |
  2. Arachnae

    of COURSE weight becomes an issue for the Surgeon General nominee. She's a woman. A man would never hear the kind of comments I am routinely hearing about the nominee. Saddest of all is when the comments come from women, who have a lifetime of experience of having their appearance mistaken for their qualifications.

    July 27, 2009 at 12:39 pm |
  3. myrna johnson

    The comment from Colorado is clearly from someone who never had weight issues. She demonstrates the popular attitude that all weight issues can be controlled by a simple mindset of "choice." Would she also believe that all cholesterol issues can be controlled by mindset? Or perhaps she, like Tom Cruise, believes that depression can be treated by positive thinking?

    The reality is that there are many reasons to be overweight, including heredity–not everyone is built like a stick from birth–and medical issues. I was never skinny, but I spent the bulk of my life being atheletic and ranged from seriously buff to not-so-buff. Due to some unsolvable endocrine issues, I am unlikely to ever be within the normal BMI range again. This is a very difficult body image switch that I have spent the past 15 years struggling with. I go to the gym, I eat decent food, I limit total sugars. Is that more than you do to stay skinny?

    Having someone tell me that it's my choice to be overweight is just astounding stupidity. You don't know what someone might be dealing with, be it depression, chronic medical condition, post-pregnancy gain, or some hereditary malfeasance. And if they are compulsively overeating, that's their issue to deal with, not yours to comment on.

    July 27, 2009 at 12:37 pm |
  4. Stacy

    Finally someone else gets it !!! Thank you Linda from Colorado.

    The root cause and solution to most of our problems begin and end with each of us holding ourselves accountable for our actions – or – lack of as is often the case...

    I couldn't agree more about our current surgeon general nominee, I do not question her intelligence – just she seems lacking to practice what she preaches.........

    July 27, 2009 at 12:11 pm |
  5. Belgium - Linda,Colorado

    We are the ones who put the food in our mouth. We make the choices. Isn't it about time that we realize this?

    I've seen the new nominee for Surgeon General, that lady needs to loose at least 40 pounds. I think we need to set examples for our chhildren and teach them how to eat real foods.

    It's not about diet. It's about choice.

    July 27, 2009 at 11:54 am |