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Big Food is the New Big Tobacco. We Must Take Them On

The world is almost three times more obese than it was in 1975. It took COVID-19, which is much more likely to be deadly if a patient is obese, to show us the dangers of obesity.

To treat it, we must first understand what caused it. We have been fed lies by the processed food industry about how calories affect our body, and about what foods we should and shouldn’t eat.

Big Food is now as dangerous as Big Tobacco ever was—in fact Big Food is Big Tobacco. General Foods Corporation and Kraft Foods Inc. are owned by Philip Morris USA.

Many of us believe that a combination of counting calories and following restrictive diets is the key to losing weight and getting healthy. Like believing that the world is flat, it’s intuitive, but not supported by science.

Diet fads and unhelpful dietary guidelines are what has got us here. A true scientific understanding of what natural foods we should be eating will get us out of it.

In 2005, a group of scientists predicted that American life expectancy would decline by the middle of the century due to the obesity epidemic. They were wrong; life expectancy is now declining in the U.S., for the first time since World War I .

Today’s children will have a worse health outcome than their parents. One in five children are obese, including one in seven preschoolers. This is not a problem confined to the U.S.; in the U.K. nearly 10 percent of 4 and 5-year-old children are obese.

“Diabesity” isn’t just a health problem, it’s an economic one. A 2015 study showed that the medical costs of type 2 diabetes are $50 billion greater than smoking and tobacco medical costs. Globally, obesity and diabetes costs us around $2.6 trillion a year.

It’s time to treat Big Food the same way we treat Big Tobacco. They are the same corporate entities, using the same deadly and deceptive tactics to harm us, particularly lower income and minority communities.

We must expose and challenge the lies and half-truths they tell us about their products.

Obesity is not a character deficiency; it is an information deficiency and one of the most hidden but deadly examples of systemic discrimination. That information deficiency starts at the top. As part of her “Let’s Move” campaign, Michelle Obama said, “It shouldn’t be so hard to get [kids] to run around and play, right?”

She’s right, it isn’t. But the real cause of obesity is not a sedentary lifestyle, it is poor quality information about the food we eat and many communities’ (especially minorities’) unequal access to health-supporting foods.

A shopper browses in the snack aisle.
David Ryder/Getty Images

In the 1980s, a group of scientists developed set point theory, which demonstrated why traditional dieting only works for one in 20 people, and leaves many worse off. They found that our body’s “set point” is the level of blood sugar and stored fat our body works to maintain by subconsciously regulating our appetite and metabolism.

This set point can feel like an invisible force that keeps our body at a certain weight, regardless of what we do about it. Our set point is determined through an interaction between our brain, our gut and our hormones. If the hypothalamus becomes inflamed, our metabolism’s set point increases and our brain fails to block hunger, triggers cravings and prevents us from shedding excess fat.

Eating high quality fats, proteins, vitamins and Omega 3 containing foods can lower this inflammation and in turn reduce cravings, regulate our hormones and help us to lose weight.

On the other hand, it is processed grains like bread and pasta that lead to a huge spike of sugar in the body, which has no choice but to be stored as fat, no matter how much we try to exercise.

You would know none of this by reading the nutrition information on food, counting calories, or following diets.

This is contrary to the message spread by both dieticians and Big Food, that exercising more and eating “low-fat” alternatives can help you to lose weight.

As well as getting the right information to individuals, we have to make sure they can easily buy the right food. In the U.S. there are about 39.5 million people, or 12.8 percent of the population, living in food deserts—areas with extremely limited access to affordable and healthy foods.

This could be easily fixed by providing subsidies or tax cuts to fresh grocery stores in underserved communities.

We also need to change the information we have on food and diet. Our children need to understand the notion of a set point so that they can work to maintain a healthy lifestyle for the entirety of their lives.

And we need legislation that requires food to be accurately labeled, beyond a simple calorie count. That also means stopping the misleading labeling of “healthy/low fat” products that are full of carbohydrates and sugar.

Just as we have challenged Big Tobacco by ensuring that every American knows how harmful cigarettes are, we need to push back against Big Food’s normalization of processed foods that are slowly killing us—and our children.

Jonathan Bailor is a New York Times bestselling author, and the founder and CEO of metabolic healing and diabesity treatment company SANE Solution. He starred in the .

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.