The Optimistic Futurist: Playing mind games around food

  • Posted: Sunday, May 19, 2013 12:15 a.m.

There have been so many medical advances in the past few decades that most of us have not even noticed how much has really changed.

A medical doctor graduating medical school in 1970 would have graduated before birth control pills could legally be sold to single women. The vaccines for chicken pox, measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) were not even on the market. CAT scan machines were not yet sold. Knee and other joint replacements were still in the experimental stage. None of their professors knew about the various forms of learning disabilities, nor about the treatments not yet invented. The list goes on and on.


The point is that science has changed medicine, and life, quite rapidly.

During that same time period, and in part due to the same new tools used to make medical progress, the percentage of our population either overweight or obese doubled. Now, only one in three Americans is of healthy weight.

As scientific tools have helped us understand better how the body and mind work, the manufacturers of foods have used these same tools to make certain foods sell better by making them more attractive. The same machines that find brain tumors teach advertisers how to present messages that target the centers of emotion in the brain. Marketing study participants view pictures of various packaging and videos of pilot food commercials while brain scanning is done, and when the right section of the brain lights up, the company knows it has a winner — the customers will buy more.

Additionally, these scientific tools teach food producers which mix of ingredients will produce the most positive brain signals saying “more, more, more.” There are antenna in the brain that send “feel good” signals when some chemicals hit them. They can be activated by everything from chocolate to cheese to heroin. In the case of foods, after studying the research on the topic, Dr. Oz reported that the four most “addictive” foods are high fructose corn sugar, cheese, chocolate and meat.

Most would say that food choices are a matter of individual responsibility, but I begin to wonder if “free choice” actually exists under these circumstances. In the case of manufactured food, vendors can now manipulate both the buying mind and the eating mind to shape our behavior such that we now have devastating impacts on human health.

Where do we draw the line?

If food can be made irresistible, and two-thirds of our population is now unhealthy from eating too much, how do we as adult citizen leaders fight the deliberate introduction of cumulatively unhealthy products into our country’s environment? What do we do when a free market economy creates an unhealthy population?

Now that we know that certain food ingredients cause unhealthy eating, and that this is seriously harming the health of two thirds of all Americans, and increasing the insurance and tax bills of the rest of us, what do we do?

Because being overweight is the new normal, you cannot assess where you fit on that scale by looking around. You need an objective tool. You can start by finding out how overweight you really are. One really interesting tool calculates the ratio of your height to your waist, and lets you know where you stand (or how much cushion you have when you sit). You can find it at http://www.health-calc.com/body-composition/waist-to-height-ratio.

If you want to protect the health of your loved ones, it is pretty easy to do if they are not already addicted. It only requires a change in mindset. You can stop buying foods with fructose and cheese built in to them. Swap more fruits and veggies in your meals. When you serve meat, cut the portions to be about as big as a deck of cards. For those who have entrenched unhealthy habits, it will be harder, but not impossible, to coach them into habits that will help them live longer.

In our schools, a number of programs have been researched and proven to work. You can find a number of examples of success at www.childtrends.org.

Until recently, the moans about our overweight society blamed the individual eater. It now appears that at least some of the blame can be placed on the manipulation of the food sold to us. Until our political system and culture sort out how to address the issue of some folks making a profit by making other sick, we will have to work really hard to create a healthy society for ourselves and our kids.

Francis P. Koster lives in Kannapolis. His “Optimistic Futurist” column appears every other Sunday. He is the author of “Discovering the New America: Where Local Communities Are Solving National Problems,” available from Amazon.com and the CreateSpace eStore. For more information visit his website, www.TheOptimisticFuturist.org.

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