Where We Live: The Destructive Food Relationship

Is society punishing itself with food?

Michael Prager
Photo:Chion Wolf
Where We Live: The Destructive Food Relationship
Download Audio
Audio Playlist
Where We Live: The Destructive Food Relationship

San Fransisco is banning The “Happy Meal” – not just from McDonalds, but from any restaurant linking toys with fatty, sugary foods.

Some deride moves like this as a prime example of the “nanny state” in action – but many public health officials say the battle over obesity is one we have to take more seriously.

Former FDA commissioner David Kessler has taken on the food industry with his new book The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.

He explores how our brain chemistry has been hijacked by the foods we most love to eat – foods full of fat, sugar and salt.  He joins us to talk about what he calls “America’s largest public health crisis.”

We’ll also hear from a former Hartford Courant journalist who weighed more than 350 pounds.  Now that he’s dropped much of that weight – and kept it off for the past 20 years, he has written a book about his addiction to food.  

And we’ll hear about a UConn study that uses fancy lighting techniques to try and make kids eat healthier.



The underlying cause of our obesity epidemic.

I was given the book "The Spirit Level" subtitled "How equality benefits everyone." in it the authors show a mathematical correlation between obesity and income inequality. As income inequality increases in a state or a nation, obesity increases. As inequality increased over time, obesity increased. The correlation held for several other health and social problems. We are never going to successfully address these problems by band aid approaches to the symptoms. We need to address the underlying cause.

Food / nutrition / health

I've just listened to the broadcast with Michael Prager, and agree with his comments and viewpoint. The obesity "epidemic" is obviously serious and, to me, sort of frightening. I have never had a weight problem, and I pity those who do. I sometimes imagine how difficult it would be for me to literally carry around 30 or 50 or 60 additional pounds -- all the time! Social environment is crucial and it starts very young. I work at a nursery school and am often disturbed by the amount of "treats" that are given to the young kids; some of the teachers admit that these are bribes for good behavior, but it makes me sad as it seems that they are not aware of what they're actually teaching the little ones. I remember a friend in college who decided against a candy bar from a vending machine, saying "that's poison for me." That's the truth, and the best attitude! I am just fortunate that I actually LIKE sardines, olives, veggies, non-white bread and fish rather than beef. Please think about what you put into your body, and why. And things don't change overnight.

Listene Email from Patty

I am listening to your program today with great interest. I knew Mike Prager before his transformation and I congratulate him on his success in his battle with food.

I have come to believe in the power of a wholefoods diet, a clean diet and I think that the American diet is the cause of our high cost of medical care. In addition to that we live in a country where we are not conscious of where and when we eat. I just returned from Kripalu in Stockbridge Mass - the food they serve is so healthy and is a great example of what we could eat if that kind of food was more common in our culture.

Listener Email from Charlotte

This is a great discussion. I can relate to everything being said. I'm 30 and have been heavy/overweight since high school. I've been trying to make healthier food choices and I usually bring my own lunch to work. I might eat salad with a hard boiled egg, low fat yogurt and an apple. But around 3:00 in the afternoon, I'll find myself wandering around the office to the known candy-spots, looking for that mid-afternoon sugar rush. I'm tired and stressed at that point in the day, and a piece of chocolate, a cookie, a slice of cake – which are almost always somewhere to be found – is what helps me make it through to dinner. And I absolutely can't resist pizza. My husband and I will split a large pizza between the two of us, and I continue eating even if I'm full because it TASTES so good. In that moment, I don't care how bad it is for me – then regret it the next morning, or 15 minutes later. I'm very interested in both books being discussed, and thanks to the authors for coming on the show!

On the earlier topic of healthier food choices in schools, it made me wonder about the program in some schools to grow their own vegetables. In my own shopping experience, I find it very expensive to keep fresh produce in the house daily, so I wonder about the cost of it, too, if the kitchens are responsible for all costs. Hasn't it been found that when children are involved in planting, tending and harvesting fresh foods, they're more attached to it and will be more likely to choose the foods that they've helped to grow? Would it make more sense to install gardens in every school that the students can help with than to enhance lighting on the healthier choices?

Listener Email from Lisa

A few years ago, my son Gavin (4) and I developed multiple food sensitivities/allergies. In short, we can not eat gluten (wheat, rye, barley), dairy, soy, eggs, nuts, (we have not tried shellfish for obvious reasons). I thought I was a healthy eater before these allergies hit, eating pasta, lean meats, fruits and veggies, but I did consume alot of bread and other processed foods (bagels, cookies, etc.). I stayed thin (and still do) by running, swimming, etc. and have never had a weight problem.

However, now that our diet consists mainly of lean meats, some fish, veggies, fruits and very few grains, I have never felt better. Because gluten, dairy, and soy are present in nearly every processed food, we avoid them for the most part. I mostly shop in the outer section of the grocery store, avoiding the middle aisles, with all the boxes, bags and bottles, etc. When I revert back to some processed foods (e.g., gluten free cereal for breakfast instead of lean meat and fruit), I feel sluggish and un-nourished. We have to be careful to add folic acid and iron with supplements, because we are not getting the enriched grains.

When we were introducing food to my son at 7 or 8 months, he could not tolerate rice cereal or any typical "baby" food. Homemade pureed lamb and turkey and green veggies (zucchini, broccoli, greens) were the foods he first learned to enjoy. He is 4 now, and routinely chooses veggies and fruits at mealtime, even scolding me if I try to cook them first. Not that he would pass up a "safe" chocoloate bar if offered. It was a burden initially to make most of our food (especially since both my husband and I work 5 days/week). But it has gotten easier with habit and I can now say this food allergy stuff has been a real blessing.

Listener Email from Jessica

Recently I've worked as a long term sub in a Connecticut school.... I did lots of lunch duty and have 2 suggestions for healthier kids. First- stop feeding our kids canned vegatables! The little nutritional value they have is lost when the cafeteria workers cook the hec out of them, and they taste disgusting as well. How can we expect kids to enjoy veggies when we ruin them in the cooking process? Instead of spending money on projects to evaluate lighting in the schools, spend that money on buying fresh veggies (I've noticed that some schools have done this with fruits- and the kids are much more likely to eat them) and serving them al dente, not nuked. Serve more salads too. Second- I've watched so many kids exit the lunch line with a chocalate milk, piece of pizza, and an ice cream sandwich. Why not offer these fresh fruits and veggies and make a rule that the kids need to eat one serving of each before they can get up to buy dessert? Inform parents of this rule and send out a form requesting the students' veggie preferences - all kids usually like at least one veggie. If the kids/parents don't like this rule, parents can send lunch from home (and perhaps it will be healthier anyway) I think this type of limitation is just common sense (what your mother would do) and entirely appropriate for elementary and middle school students.