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American obesity is a massive international business and business is boomin'


I had the opportunity to go to Mexico with my family for a week and I couldn't help but notice the obesity in Mexico. The American way of eating is definitely exported, and business is boomin'. Obesity is just as ravishing there as it is in the United States. If you have ever crossed the border from Mexico to America, the cause is pretty apparent as you have to drive through a market where the top items being hawked are sugar products. The average Mexican is consuming pretty similar amounts of sugar to Americans, around 100 pounds yearly, an astounding amount. Sugar is addicting so it's not a surprise that it is one of the top things to sell there.


Turns out American businesses know that sugar is addicting; turns out they have figured out that it is a pretty big market. In 2021, sugar was worth 12 billion in America alone and it is expected to grow to 26 billion by 2028, . . . . so it will more than double, thats cool. This, of course, is not including high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is currently worth around 9 billion (throat clearing) and is estimated to be valued approximately another billion by 2029. So it's kind of a bit business and unfortunately the previous numbers are only domestic stats. Worldwide, we consume just shy of 400 billion pounds of sugar yearly, that's approximately 50 pounds of sugar per person per year; once again this is only talking sugar, not HFCS, honey or other sweeteners. I'm thinking we have a bit of a love for the sweets, and by love I mean addiction. This is an addiction so strong, that it drives our emotions and psyche and we no longer, as a culture, view it as an unhealthy choice. It's emotionally difficult to think about the idea of no longer consuming it.


If you want to better understand this drive on human emotion, go talk to a marketing guru; they understand the human psyche better than anyone. They might not be able to scientifically tell you about the physiology or anatomy of the brain but they can run circles around neurologists on how to manipulate the human psyche. We may think a product is popular due to its utility but it doesn't get recognized for such until it has been heavily marketed in the right way and to the right people. For example, when Proctor and Gamble came out with Fabreze, it was initially viewed by many company executives to be an utter failure. Fabreze is revolutionary, in that it actually eliminates odors, it doesn't just mask it like other products. It was originally marketed as an odor eliminator; it did not do well, despite being an amazing product. The marketers finally realized that the American psyche doesn't want to hear about its impact on the negative. It wants to hear about its impact on the positive, so they changed their scheme and marketed the fresh smell it created in a room and on furniture and the rest is history; sells exploded. So when we look at ads created by sugar manufacturers, we can actually see what drives American desires and perceived needs. This is a good start to understanding the obesity crisis in America and worldwide alike. Looking at worldwide trends in obesity and comparing them to the marketing of sugar and other products certainly does not show causation but it does give us compelling data points for understanding the why and how.


The beauty of looking at international obesity rates is that it's further evidence of refined carbohydrates and processed food's role in the disease. You see, before the mass exportation of fast food and American food company products, obesity was much more rare. Below you can see that Brazil, Chile, the Bahamas and Mexico found their obesity swing in the 90's; interestingly that is around the time fast food restaurants decided to enter the international fray. Sodas have been around in a lot of countries prior to the 90's but Coca-Cola's American marketing influence got really big in the 1990's in Latin America. Incidentally, the countries that consume the most soda are Argentina, the United States, Chile and Mexico and they all have over 30% obesity rates. You can also see below that America's obesity problem started a few years prior to the 90's; you can probably guess we had a head start on these products.


I don't actually believe that soda and fast food are the only ones to blame for our obesity epidemic but they are definitely key players in it. In reality, it's any major food or drink corporation that figured out how to market their product so perfectly that it promoted an addiction in Americans and non-Americans alike.


Who is to blame? the individual buying and driving the demand? The companies that market to the individual that drives the demand? I'm a believer in free will; I certainly don't believe that will power has been removed from everyone, but the problem is that all the blame is being placed on the individual. I would argue that the company with the vast amounts of knowledge about how to psychologically instill addiction should take the brunt of the blame. Big food companies hire psychological marketers to know how to tap into what we want and how to make us want it. The beautiful thing about sugar is they only need us to try it once or twice and then the cravings provide free marketing. The hormones can then take over. High sugar consumption for a long period of time can then lead to high insulin levels over a long period of time. Gut health suffers as well causing an imbalance as sugar consuming microbes are able to dominate the intestinal walls while the fiber consuming microbes suffer. Insulin resistance sets in due to the high insulin levels and inflammation caused by the dysbiosis. High insulin levels, in and of itself will cause obesity but combine that with resistance and you have a recipe for chronic high insulin levels that even a day of fasting can't correct. Insulin resistant individuals are famously leptin resistant as well, so now you have a recipe for intractable hunger and so the cycle continues.


Where do government health agencies come into play? How do they determine what can help? Well for starters, they could probably objectively look at the vast amounts of data that a small time Nurse Practitioners is able to find on PubMed and not listen to self-interest lobby groups. Then, they could attack the issue by the root cause. People need an easy approach, too much information and you can get lost and not know what to do. This also leads the many to extrapolate their own ideas on what causes obesity. The amount of expert opinion out there that "saves" people from having to do what actually works is never-ending.


While in Mexico, I saw one of the methods the Mexican government is using to combat obesity and it's a little less embarrassing than our government's efforts. They put labels on the upper right corner of food company's packaging if the product is high in certain nutritional substances. Below are a couple image examples of this. This is kind of a good idea but just like the U.S. government's methods, it doesn't focus on the root cause. They do have a "too much sugar" label, but they also have a "too many calories" label and a "too much sodium" label. Don't let me forget the "too many saturated fats" label as well . . . my favorite. The point is that if saturated fats and calories are to blame, I would put them in the single digit percentage arena for their effects on obesity. We and they need to focus on sugar; if we can reduce the sugar consumption and bring us back to pre 80's to 90's era sugar consumption, we will end up eating less calories. Insulin levels will decrease, leptin levels will improve and human bodies will return back to appropriate insulin and leptin sensitivity and we will better be able to regulate our nutritional intake. I'm willing to bet the average American could lose 15-50 pounds the first year. Imagine that, Disneyland would look a little different.



The point is, despite the massive amounts of evidence against sugar and other sweeteners causing our obesity epidemic, we continue to consider it a multifactorial problem. Our health agencies need to refocus their efforts. I have never been successful in my goals when I cast a broad net to all of my weakness and on a larger scale in any country's populace, it is no different. Attack the biggest issue when it comes to a problem and the other issues either work themselves out or can be addressed afterwards.










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