Children of the Corn (Syrup)

These days it’s impossible to turn on the TV or pick up a mobile device without reading or hearing about the child obesity epidemic.  From the First Lady’s Let’s Move Initiative to NBC’s latest installment of the Biggest Loser; which follows the weight loss journey of the youngest contestants in the show’s history to the discovery of pink slime in school lunches, obesity is everywhere all the time.

Yet, with all the recent media attention and fitness programs there has been little discussion with regard to the government’s role in protecting the public’s health.

In 2011, David Rosen wrote an article entitled The Politics of Obesity explaining that “a significant majority of people from all political affiliations saw obesity as a “serious issue”: 83 percent of Democrats, 71 percent “independents” and 65 percent of Republicans.”  However, the study he referenced by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPI) also highlighted that when the question was posed with regard to responsibility for the problem the opinions varied along political lines—with Democrats believing that both the individual and government were responsible while Republicans believe the onus falls largely on the individual.

Obesity has been framed as an avoidable issue—if you put the Twinkies and soda down and just “eat healthy” you’ll be fine.  Except the logic of the argument is faulty, it assumes that you can avoid sugar and processed nastiness by just staying away from junk food–but it’s not that easy, as Dr. Robert Lustig author of the new book Fat Chance discussed on MSNBC’s Morning Joe this week.

Dr. Lustig said “1/3 of the sugar in our diets comes from soda and sweetened beverages, you can taste it. 1/6th is in desserts, you know about those as well, but half of all the sugar consumed in this country comes from food you didn’t know had sugar in it like hamburger buns, hamburger meat and salad dressing for instance.”

So, even when people think they are being “good” and avoiding dessert and junk food there is still so much processed garbage in their food; which is helping to fuel America’s obesity epidemic and what’s worse, our government is subsidizing the problem they are alerting us to.

A few years ago a group of doctors at Mount Sinai got together and asked the government blatantly why they were subsidizing junk.

“High-fructose corn syrup [HFCS] now represents 40 percent of the non-calorie-free sweeteners added to U.S. foods. It is virtually the only sweetener used in soft drinks,” write Philip Landrigan, Mount Sinai’s dean for global health; Lisa Satlin, chair of the pediatrics department; and Paolo Boffetta, deputy director of the school’s Tisch Cancer Institute. “Because of the subsidies, the cost of soft drinks containing HFCS has decreased by 24 percent since 1985, while the price of fruits and vegetables has gone up by 39 percent.”

What’s funny is after the “assault on HFCS” went viral the manufactures did what companies always do they just changed the name from high-fructose corn syrup to “corn sugar” and the corn refiners made a commercial just to show us how safe it was.


This commercial is no better to me than the cartoon Joe Camel used to be.  Remember him?  Joe Camel was the “super cool” cartoon character that R.J. Reynolds had as their cigarette mascot until all of those pesky lawsuits surfaced and everyone started dying of smoke related cancers.  It wasn’t until these lawsuits and the subsequent campaigns that followed that cigarettes started to come under clear restrictions in this country.

Well, with nearly one-third of American children and adolescents being labeled as overweight or obese and being the first generation not expected to live as long as their parents, facing high cholesterol, diabetes, and other metabolic diseases, one wonders when the government will see fit to spring into action and not just to tell us to Move, although I love FLOTUS.  Or will the federal government just let the sugar pushers, advertisers and the food industrial complex have their way with us while they continue to subsidize the problem?   I guess we will just have WEIGHT and see.

Tune into Politini this Thursday (and every Thursday from 8-9pm EST) where we will be continuing the great “food debate”!