FOOD, FACTS and FADS

Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

An Obesity Timeline – Was It Something We Ate?

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I recently found a great timeline on the history of heart disease, i.e. how did we get to where we are now on thinking about the relationship between heart disease and diet.  Although the emphasis was on heart disease, buried in the timeline are some very interesting facts about our food supply that may also be applied to our rising obesity and diabetes rates.

1825

A French lawyer named Brillant-Savarin said in a publication entitled The Physiology of Taste:  “More or less rigid abstinence from everything that is starchy or floury” is a cure for obesity.  Sound familiar?

1830

Sugar consumption, mainly as molasses) had increased in the U.S. to 15 pounds per capita. Where is the High Fructose Corn Syrup??

1863

William Banting lost 65 pounds on a high fat, carbohydrate restricted diet and subsequently published, Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public.

1880 – 1910

One out of three people lived on a farm and ate from what they raised and grew there – today with 300 million people, only about 1% do so.  The risk of getting type 2 diabetes was 1 in 30 in a lifetime – now it is 1 in 3. (CDC estimates). Butter consumption was 18 pounds per capita and deaths from heart disease was below 10% – In 2000 it was below 4 pounds and now heart disease mortality is about 40% eating concocted supposedly healthier alternatives – e.g. “ I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”.

1911

Proctor and Gamble introduced Crisco – a highly hydrogenated vegetable fat and cheap alternative to lard – the primary cooking fat at the time.  The advantage to the manufacturer and the cook was a longer shelf life but provided a multitude of hundreds of pounds of unhealthy trans fatty acids.

1920

Sugar consumption reaches 100 pounds per capita in the U.S.

1930

Margarine consumption reaches 2.6 pounds per capita.  By 1957, margarine consumption increased to about 9 pounds – surpassing butter for the first time ever.

1934

A blood test for cholesterol was developed.  Here comes trouble.

1937 –  The Debate Begins (aka What’s going on here?)

Columbia University biochemists David Rittenberg & Rudolph Schoenheimer demonstrated that dietary cholesterol had little or no influence on blood cholesterol. This scientific fact has never been refuted.

Cholesterol in food has no affect on cholesterol in blood and we’ve known that all along.”  These are the words of Professor Ancel Keys, American Heart Association board member and author of The Seven Countries Study who, in retirement, recanted the idea that dietary cholesterol raises blood levels. His recant has been greeted with silence. FYI – Keys studied 22 countries, but chose data from only 7.  He also excluded France with high fat and low rates of heart disease.

Recently, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a landmark study from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute that has turned current fat recommendations upside down. The verdict from the study is that “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk for heart disease.’’

1950  – 1955

Dietary emphasis on fats and cholesterol in the diet became a hot topic due to Ancel Key’s study and in 1955; President Dwight Eisenhower had a heart attack.  His twice-daily press conferences focused on his cholesterol levels and he was put on a low fat diet.  Dietary fat also became a culprit for weight gain.

1957

Margarine outsold butter for the first time – more trans fat and an increase in omega-6 fats shown to be inflammatory to the body tissues. Some animal research had suggested that omega-6 fats alone encourage weight gain.

1961 – Let The Diet Books Begin

Calories Don’t Count was published by Dr. Herman Taller.  The low-calorie diet is a humbug, he declared.  A native of Romania, he studied medicine in Italy and became a Brooklyn obstetrician-gynecologist specializing in natural childbirth. He was also a dieter whose weight ballooned up to 265 lb. on a 5-ft. 10-in. frame. Previously, a cholesterol researcher suggested an oily substance to help bring down his high cholesterol level. Taller also found that he was losing weight–65 lb. in 8 months–even while consuming 5,000 calories a day.  The oily substance was a polyunsaturated fat that was claimed to stimulate the body to burn fat. Taller therefore recommended a high-fat diet supplemented by polyunsaturated safflower oil capsules high in omega-6 linoleic acid.  Back in the 1960’s vegetable fats were newish and everyone wanted them to be a new health food.  This has not been supported in the last 50 years of scrutiny.

The American Heart Association adopted the well-known low-fat diet that began an era of fat maligning and the glorification of low fat foods.  Dieters began to count fat grams daily.  However, during our national experiment with a low-fat diet, people continued to pile on the pounds every decade.

1978

High fructose corn syrup enters the sweetener market.  By 1985, 50 percent of the sweetener was consumed in America.

1980 -1990

Obesity levels had remained between 12-14 percent from 1960 to 1980.  After 1980 and then again in 1990, obesity grew dramatically until today when 49 states have obesity rates over 20 percent (Colorado is under 20 percent). Type 2 diabetes is now reported to have a 1 in 3 lifetime risk.

1992

The Food Guide Pyramid was introduced, recommending 6-11 servings of breads, cereals, rice or pasta a day without mentioning whole grains options.  Fats and oils were restricted without mentioning healthy fats versus less healthy ones.

2000

Soybean oil has 70 percent of the edible fat market in the U.S.  Lard consumption is less than 1 pound.  Sugar consumption in the U.S. 150 pounds per capita. Butter consumption is less than 4 pounds per capita.

2004

After 50 years of Egg-beaters, low fat cheese, margarine, skinless chicken breasts, and highly processed soy and Canola oils, and two Food Guide Pyramids and 11 releases of the USDA Dietary Guidelines,  one third of Americans are obese; 25 percent are diabetic or pre-diabetic.

2005.

Food Guide Pyramid is revised to My Pyramid with little dietary changes and was criticized for its misunderstandings and format.

2008

Sugar consumption is now 160 pounds per capita. Compare that to the 15 pounds per capita in 1830.

2011 No More Pyramids

A simplified MyPlate is introduced as the latest attempt at Food Guides.

The Future?

About 287 people per 100,000 had heart attacks in 2000. By 2008, the rate had dropped to 208 heart attacks per 100,000. Deaths from heart attacks also declined. That is good news.

What’s going on?

Over the same period, the use of drugs to treat high blood pressure and high cholesterol increased quite a bit. Meat consumption has been declining for the past few decades.  But the gains could be short-lived.  In the last decade the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes has increased by almost a percentage point. Over the same period, obesity has increased by three percentage points.  If that trend continues, heart disease rates may again rise.

Unless we have been infected by a yet to be discovered obesity virus, we have a national eating disorder that needs to be fixed.  Big food has made quite a mess of our food supply.  Is saturated fat the culprit it was made out to be?  Can excess refined vegetable oils or excess sugar or excess fructose to blame?

Will our food culture ever be able to return to a diet of whole, real foods to replace the refined, processed, chemical-laden foods forced upon us by the food industry?  Will the experts in the AHA, the USDA and big food ever get it?  Don’t count on it.  The solution may just have to rely on getting the message  to consumers with more reliable nutrition education who then may make more demands for a healthier and safer food supply.

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One thought on “An Obesity Timeline – Was It Something We Ate?

  1. Pingback: The Food Guide Pyramid | Veggie and Herbs

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