The other “inconvenient truth” the world doesn’t want to hear

“If obesity was an infectious disease we would have seen billions of dollars being invested in bringing it under control. But because obesity is largely caused by the overconsumption of fatty and sugary foods, we have seen policy-makers unwilling to take on the corporate interests who promote these foods.”

That’s a direct quote from Dr. Tim Lobstein, the director of policy at the World Obesity Federation. And I couldn’t have said it better myself. Finally, someone else is starting to recognize the obesity pandemic this planet has eaten itself into.

It’s the same thing I’ve been saying all along. The entire international community needs to come together to fight this new food-related health crisis—just like they did to take on tobacco.  And I’m thrilled to report that two groups—Consumers International and the World Obesity Federation—have recently issued their own call to arms on this very issue.

They want governments across the globe to come together to make a binding commitment to fight obesity. And they want concrete policy changes that will actually help consumers make sweeping improvements to their nutrition.

In other words, lip service just isn’t enough anymore. It’s time for action. And I couldn’t agree more.

It has never made any sense to me that governments wouldn’t want to tackle obesity and all the chronic illnesses that go along with it. Especially when those diseases cost literally trillions of dollars in health care costs world-wide. The meteoric rises in certain cancers, diabetes, heart disease, and all of their many manifestations could be stopped in their tracks. Simply by shifting the focus to prevention.

Yet, all of these governments—and ours in particular—choose to sit back like Nero and fiddle while Rome burns.

Well that has to change. Because while personal responsibility is the greatest weapon you have in the fight against fat, the reality is that the problem is a lot bigger than you, or me, or any one person.

That’s exactly why this needs to be a multinational effort. Large global food companies like Monsanto too often target smaller countries that have little money to deal with the devastating fallout. Let alone the fact that many chemicals banned from the food supply are still manufactured in the good old US of A, shipped to other countries and then that food is shipped back to us.  (Something to think about the next time you buy out-of-season food that’s not locally grown.)

Like I’m always reminding you, obesity is an even bigger epidemic that causes more deaths than cigarettes. We did eventually come together to fight Big Tobacco—but if we don’t start pushing back against Big Agribusiness, Big Soda, and Big Food next, the world doesn’t stand a chance.

So where should we start?

I was on a radio show one night recently, and the host and I got onto the topic of what to do about the regulation of food. I didn’t have any definitive answers at the time. But it’s been on my mind a lot in the days that have followed. And I’ve had more time to really put my thoughts on this issue into perspective.

  • First and foremost, we need stricter controls on food marketing. (We do this for tobacco, liquor and illicit drugs—sugar should be no exception.)
  • We also need to improve nutritional information labels, so consumers know exactly what they’re eating. Sugar kills. And people need to get that message, loud and clear.
  • We need to reformulate unhealthy food products. I appreciate the steps that the U.S. is taking against trans fats—even if they have come at a snail’s pace.  But it’s just not enough.
  • We need to raise the bar for food quality in places like schools and hospitals. Because pizza isn’t a vegetable. And these institutions have become a big part of the problem.
  • Finally, we need to throw our financial weight around to get people to eat real food—fresh, local, straight from the ground. We cannot continue to allow greedy companies to get rich off of making people fat. And we certainly shouldn’t be paying them to do it.

There you have it. Maybe I sound like a socialist—but after decades of obstruction from Big Agribusiness and related industries, I just can’t keep quiet about this.

History is repeating itself as you and I speak. The world’s health is caught in the same downward spiral that started with smoking. And like I’ve said a million times before, unhealthy diets—and sugar in particular—pose an unprecedented threat.

It looks like the powers that be are finally starting to agree with me. But I fear it may not be nearly fast enough.


 “Regulate unhealthy food like cigarettes, campaigners urge.”BMJ 2014;348:g3487