We have been divided and conquered by Big Food


Let’s face it: we have been divided and conquered by the food and beverage industry. It’s not pretty. In fact, they have been running circles around us, more or less unopposed on their way to almost gaining 100% control of what we eat and obviously making mega profits along the way. Most people probably never realized there was a match on. Sometime in the future, I am sure we will ask ourselves how we could let them get away with so much, just like we today are asking ourselves how we failed to control Big Tobacco.


Here are some of the things they have been getting away with:

– loading our food with toxins, chemicals, preservatives, pesticides, antibiotics and steroids

– adding sugar, salt and fat to pretty much everything to make it more palatable and cover up any bad tastes

– specifically targeting children in their advertising

– increasingly producing “food” in factories without any natural ingredients or nutrients

– saying they want to be part of the solution, for example by reducing calories, but then doing the complete opposite

All of these changes have been very gradual so that no one would notice. Historically, we have been suckers for these slow changes. As an example of just how toxic our food environment has become, picture yourself time-travelling from the 1950:s, just before the rise of the junk/fast food industry, to today. You would be stunned at the amount of junk food on offer, and the brash and cynical marketing that accompanies it (think toys to children from the latest children’s movie, for example).

Now, thankfully, the tide appears to be turning. More and more people are waking up and not liking what they are being served or how mega food companies operate, and are starting to find more healthy and sustainable food sources or even growing their own. Crucially, consumers are also getting more and more connected and organized in fighting back, particularly in the US. This is where the fighting appears to be at its most fierce, since this is also where the food environment is worst.

We have to be mindful, however, of not falling for more of their classic divide and conquer tactics. One such example is when we as researchers try to link a particular junk food or beverage to a particular health outcome, such as obesity or depression. By just focusing on one adverse health outcome, and endlessly debating this, we are shooting ourselves in the foot and not getting anywhere. What we have to do is to analyze the total cost of junk food, including all known health problems and the negative effects on the environment (which are massive).

I doubt that we can count on politicians to solve this for us, this needs to come from the bottom up, i.e. consumer power. And once enough people get fired up and organized, then we will start to see real change happening, i.e. real food, packed with nutrition and grown in a truly sustainable way, available to everyone.


Polarity abounds and why it’s time for a new way of doing things

It appears to be a human condition to react very slowly, if at all, to adverse changes that happen very gradually (think the obesity epidemic). If bad things happen very quickly, then we have no problem mobilizing at all, such as what happened during the SARS outbreak just over a decade ago. Moreover, the factors that are feeding the obesity epidemic, such as processed junk food, stress, and socioeconomic adversity, have changed steadily but very gradually as well, making for one gigantic slippery slope that we have apparent problems reacting to.

It seems as if many things in society, including the drivers of the obesity epidemic, are now reaching some kind of peak polarity, i.e. you are either very poor or very rich, you either eat only nutritious organic food or only junk food, and you either exercise 7 times per week according to the latest hype, or you refuse to exercise at all. In terms of socioeconomics the middle class is disappearing fast, and the 1% seemingly flourishes at the expense of the rest of society.

Polarities abound in the present time, and this makes it very difficult to make any inroads into creating the conditions we need in order to produce successful obesity prevention and treatment programs. In short, it is very difficult to separate the fortunes of the individual from the rest of society, and society is not in a happy place right now.




Politically, there is much current upheaval in the world, possibly with some kind of peak fear with war in the middle east, ebola outbreaks, water shortages, extreme weather, and an economy in tailspin – can it get any worse?

The good news is that more and more people are waking up to the fact that the current systems, i.e. politics, finance, food environment, lifestyles, etc, are obviously in need of major reform. Maybe we are even getting close to some kind of breaking point for the current dysfunctional way of doing things. I thick that we are, and when enough people wake up to this reality, that is when we can create the conditions we need for preventing obesity globally.

Do we, for example, want to keep eating junk food when it is abundantly clear that such food is very harmful to our health, do we want to keep the current financial system that only seems to work for the 1%, and do we want politicians that are heavily influenced by corporate interests. Or do we want something better? It’s not as utopian as many people think that it is.


Erik Hemmingsson


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We need to unite


There are many things we need to do in order to banish the obesity epidemic, such as flushing the junk food and sugar industry down the toilet (please watch this trailer for the movie Fed Up), reform the economy so that we can create equal opportunities and prosperity for all as opposed to the current system that creates more wealth for the already wealthy 1% and more debt for the rest of us, reduce stress levels, reduce toxicity in our land, air and sea, and create a social environment where people feel happy, balanced and in harmony. This can obviously take a while, but I am convinced that by standing together and saying enough is enough to the things listed above, we can truly move mountains together.

Conversely, if we remain isolated and uninformed, we are sitting ducks for the mega corporations and others who would like nothing better than to keep the status quo. Many people are understandingly frustrated with the current situation and are expecting and waiting for a top-down solutions to our problems. But I have become less optimistic about the ability of governments and organizations to rectify these problematic situations, which have grown increasingly worse during the last 2-3 decades.

I have become more and more convinced that lasting and genuine change needs to come from the bottom up, from the people, the grassroots, the 99%, i.e. people like you and myself. For example, through this simple blog I have connected with so many people I would never have come into contact with before, demonstrating that it’s so easy to communicate these days. The ultimate aim of my work is to get rid of obesity, quite a grand ambition for sure, but it is certainly possible if enough people believe that it is.


In order to accomplish this goal, it is very important that we collaborate more, unite more. This is not exactly something academics are renowned for, myself excepted of course… (Yeah, right!). We have to get rid of our egos (should be fun) and do this together. I just started using a Twitter account to alert you to good things around the web, because there are very clear signs that many people are uniting and changing things together. And please send good things back to me and I will be very happy to pass them along. So let’s stay connected, and together we will achieve lasting change for the better.

Erik Hemmingsson


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Emotions trumps rational thought


Modern medicine is only just starting to understand the raw power of emotions. Yet the society we have created is very much geared towards rational thought, and using rational thought to plan ahead to get us where we want to be. For example, since the amount of adipose tissue we carry around is a function of the laws of thermodynamics, the rational person, i.e. the medic, will prescribe a combination of diet and exercise to prevent new cases of obesity, and the people will do as told. If it was only that easy. 

It’s not as if people don’t understand the logic behind the prescription, it’s probably more a case of the prescriber being a little naive, for example when it comes to emotions and how they guide us. And once emotions are involved, rational thought pretty much goes out of the window. If you are on a diet, for example, you may know (using your rational mind) that binging your favorite food would be a mistake, but if you feel sadness, shame, guilt, anger or frustration, and binging some of that favorite food would take away those negative emotions, then over time it is a very uneven contest (especially when the thrill of weight loss is past).

Vader cookies

Many people seem to not really understand how big a role emotions play in shaping their lives. Consider a major decision you have previously made, for example starting a new relationship or changing a job. Did you act according to rational thinking, or did you go by emotions and gut feelings.

Obviously you can act according to a combination of rational thinking and emotions, but whenever I use my brain too much in making a decision, I usually end up getting it wrong. When I listen to my feelings and emotions, if I feel really excited about something, I get it right 99% of the time. We ignore our feelings at our own peril.  

But in many ways it seems as if we have increasingly disconnected from our emotions, and labelled them as something taxing and difficult. If you have a lot of negative emotions in your life, such as sadness, anger or frustration, that is certainly true. Conversely, your life will be pretty good if you frequently experience happiness, love and gratitude. 

What seems to happen in our so called modern society is that we come up with a rational plan for how to get more of those positive emotions, for example, when I get that new job I will be so happy, or when I have some more money then I can finally have all those things I dream about. But this increasingly feels like a pipe dream. Will we ever be satisfied, will we ever stop chasing more? Perhaps the challenge is to just be happy with whatever we have and to be more in the moment, more in the now? And then we can perhaps enjoy more of those positive emotions and life will not be a struggle anymore.   

And once those negative emotions and worries are cleared out, observe how health and quality of life improves.  

New study: Stress lowers your metabolism


Todays’s post will be quite short but very interesting. It’s about a new study showing that stress significantly lowers your resting energy expenditure and fat clearance after a meal. The work comes from Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and her group in Ohio, and I am sure there will be many more investigations into this highly interesting topic.

What they found was that women who reported a large number of stressful events within the last 24 hours had significantly lower resting energy expenditure following a meal. The effect was equivalent to 100 kcal over a 6 h period, which (in theory) adds up to about 5 kg per year of adipose tissue.

Those who experienced more stress also had lower lipid clearance after a meal, and higher levels of cortisol and insulin, which helps to promote appetite, weight gain and abdominal obesity.  

This study clearly indicates that the rampant levels of stress we have created for ourselves plays a huge role in the obesity epidemic, and that we need to do something about this if we are to successfully help prevent new cases of obesity. It also indicates a powerful role of reducing stress levels in terms of inducing lasting weight loss. 

On that note, I hope you have a nice stress-free weekend.



Kiecolt-Glaser et al. Daily stressors, past depression, and metabolic responses to high-fat meals: a novel path for obesity. Biol Psychiatry 2014, epub 14 July.