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5 Ways to Make America Less Fat

As relentless as the obesity crisis appears to be, its expansion doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion.

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In light of this, it’s hard to imagine anyone still defending the American school system’s role as glorified junk food machines.

4. Stop Glorifying Unhealthy Eating Habits

In his  endorsement of the campaign to legalize gay marriage, Vice President Joe Biden said that “when things really began to change is when the social culture changes…I think  Will & Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anybody’s ever done so far.” It was an acknowledgement that televisual images often play as big a role in our society as ironclad policies — and the same truism relates to the obesity crisis.

Today, our political culture regularly equates unhealthy eating habits to Americanness and authenticity. As evidence, recall that the party nomination fights have become a kind of televised eating contest, with candidates trying to one up their competitors with photo-ops stuffing  corn dogscheesesteaksand

The committee now has a White House  petition calling on the president to stop undermining his wife’s crusade against obesity and end such photo ops. It’s the least the administration can do.

5. Start Broadening Our Understanding of Obesity

Conventional wisdom holds that a calorie is a calorie, and that if Americans simply take in fewer calories and use more via exercise, obesity can be stopped. But journalist Gary Taubes reports that science now suggests that this formula may be fundamentally flawed — that obesity is a product of specific kinds of calories from sucrose and fructose:

There is an alternative theory, one that has also been around for decades but that the establishment has largely ignored. This theory implicates specific foods—refined sugars and grains—because of their effect on the hormone insulin, which regulates fat accumulation. If this hormonal-defect hypothesis is true, not all calories are created equal…

Sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup have a unique chemical composition, a near 50-50 combination of two different carbohydrates: glucose and fructose. And while glucose is metabolized by virtually every cell in the body, the fructose is metabolized mostly by liver cells. From there, the chain of metabolic events has been worked out by biochemists over 50 years: some of the fructose is converted into fat, the fat accumulates in the liver cells, which become resistant to the action of insulin, and so more insulin is secreted to compensate. The end results are elevated levels of insulin, which is the hallmark of type 2 diabetes, and the steady accumulation of fat in our fat tissue—a few tens of calories worth per day, leading to pounds per year, and obesity over the course of a few decades.

He goes on to note that “back in the 1980s, the FDA gave sugar a free pass based on the idea that the evidence wasn’t conclusive” — but that now, the evidence can’t be ignored.

This isn’t to say that the theories about sugar are 100 percent correct — it is only to point out that if we are going to reduce our consumption of junk food in order to stop the obesity epidemic, we need a better understanding of exactly what junk food  is. That means broadening our understanding of obesity’s roots and rejecting the reductionism that says simply that “a calorie is a calorie.”

David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books Hostile Takeover and The Uprising . He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at E-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @davidsirota.

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