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"When in Doubt, Add Bacon and Cheese": How the Food Industry Hijacked Our Brains and Made Us Fat

The food industry has changed American eating habits and helped create the country's No. 1 public-health issue.

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AK: Can you put this in the context of the health care debate? Why haven't the reform advocates in the health care debate taken on the food industry?

DK:Well, I think many people who are working on health care reform -- and we're getting closer and closer -- are very concerned about the cost of health reform.

I think the fact is, obesity, with the increase in obesity -- and you mentioned -- you know, this is a phenomenon really of the last three decades. I asked my colleague Katherine Flegal at the Centers for Disease Control, one of the great epidemiologists, to graph for me how weight has changed over a lifetime.

She went back in the 1960s and 1970s, well, what happened, we would enter our adult years, you know, age 20; we would gain maybe 2, 3 pounds between 20 and 40. We would level off and be plateaued; and then we would lose 2, 3 pounds in our 60s and 70s. But our weight was relatively stable. We now enter our adult years much bigger, much heavier. And, in fact, we continue to gain weight much later, through much later years.

But if you look at where it starts, it starts in childhood and adolescence. That's where the major weight gain is happening. And understand, it's not just the weight; it's laying down that neural circuitry, that old learning, because once you have that old learning and that old neural circuitry laid down, the only way to change that behavior is to lay down new learning and new neural circuitry. So, it's not the stuff of easy solutions. Diets are not going to work.

Why aren't diets going to work? You know, if you have that neural circuitry laid down and you respond to fat, sugar and salt, and your brain is wired to do that, sure, you can deprive yourself for 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, you can lose the weight. But then, if you haven't laid down new learning on top of that old learning, if you haven't laid down new neural circuitry, you go back to your environment, you continue to get cued, you get bombarded with all the food cues in our current environment, what do you think is going to happen? Of course you're going to gain weight.

What have we done in the United States? We've taken fat, sugar and salt; we've put it on every corner. We made it available 24/7. We've made food into entertainment. We advertise it as something you'll want. I mean, walk into a food court and watch people eat. We're living, literally, in a food carnival.

Goodman:The issue of the food industry's power and lobbying? I mean, you were an FDA commissioner, them coming to your agency, the FDA. Their power in Congress right now?

DK:Certainly it's substantial. You know, this is a major part of American corporate business. I think many of them are struggling, because they do not want to be in the crosshairs. I mean, there are similarities and there are differences with tobacco. Fifty years ago, the tobacco industry, faced with evidence that cigarettes cause cancer, what did they do? They deceived the American public. They created doubt.

Leave aside what the food industry has known. I mean, we now have the science to show that the fat, sugar, and salt that's being loaded and layered into our food supply is stimulating and activating the brains of millions of Americans. Now that we have that science, scientific information, the question is, what is the food industry going to do?

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