In this third post in the It’s not your fault series, we’re going to look at at the ways in which the harms of sugar have been kept from us: both naïveté and the suppression of information.
There’s a certain amount of “forgiveness” that we can offer to corporations and public health, in that we just didn’t really know how bad refined sugar is for a long time. As with smoking, the hard evidence didn’t start emerging — and public support for regulation — until many, many years had passed. Through the 1970’s and 1980’s as the obesity epidemic began to emerge, blame for overweight was placed squarely on the shoulders of the victims: overweight people were judged for a lack of control. At the time, it wasn’t so widely known that processed foods and sugar disrupt our biology, making hard to keep off excess weight.
Prevailing wisdom at the time was the “Calories-in/Calories-out” model of weight loss, which simply said that if you use up more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. While this may have been what our extent of science understood at the time, it is also true that as new science emerged the processed food industry suppressed new understanding as it was not to their advantage. The calories-in/calories-out model places the blame on the individual. They pushed this model through tremendous low-fat and low-calorie marketing efforts, and by supporting scientists who held this view.*
The current understanding of weight gain has more with how sugar and processed flours, meats and oils all disrupt our natural bodily processes, creating inflammation and sending our hormones into dysfunctional responses, making it very difficult to take weight off unless these foods are removed completely from the diet.
The fact that we now know that sugar and processed foods are highly addictive and extremely dangerous to the body, and the fact that these foods continue to be marketed and sold without any regulation whatsoever, is sinister on the part of the industry, and negligent on the part of the government.
If we are to address the “health care crisis” and avoid the extreme costs and suffering that come with chronic diseases that are fueled by sugar and processed foods, then we must take a multi-pronged approach that includes education, legal protection, and economic development.
- In schools: Teach about nutrition, including opportunities to learn about cooking, as well as teaching the principles of media literacy so that there is critical thinking around the cultural “norms” that are portrayed in all forms of media we consume.
- With legislation: Create laws to protect children from the advertising of unhealthful foods (which is the case in several other countries).
- Through green business development: Ensure that fresh, whole foods are available in every neighborhood.
I hope you will join me in the effort to raise awareness about the harms of sugar and processed foods, and protect yourself and your family from the chronic diseases they create.