The Expanding Circle

…health, the environment, and social justice…

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Meta

Archive for the ‘Diabetes’ Category

Why I care what other people eat

Posted by tinako on December 15, 2010

I was commenting at a blog the other day in favor of recent proposed legislation meant to nudge people into making better food choices.  A reply to my reply asked me why I care what other people eat.  I had to think this over a bit, but I have an answer, and prefer to give it its own space here on my own blog.

I care what other people eat because of compassion, the food environment my family faces, and concerns about costs and sustainability.

First the background.  People are not making food choices in a vacuum.  They are making those decisions in an environment which is slanted in such a way that they are encouraged to make unhealthy choices.  Unhealthy food is subsidized by the government (through grain which is converted into meat, sugar, and fat) and is more profitable for food companies and retailers.  Unhealthy quantities are pushed on us through ubiquitous placement and marketing by a food system that needs us to buy more, more, more, in order to remain competitive.  The fact that we can only eat so much has been ignored and, actually, disproved; turns out we can eat more calories than we used to, and than we should.

What this means is that the status quo, expecting people to suddenly make better choices, regardless of whether they are children, whether they can afford it, whether it is available in their neighborhood, and whether they are relentlessly marketed unhealthy food, is unrealistic, as has been proven by decades of rising obesity.  Thirty-four percent of the U.S. population is now obese, and an additional 34% are overweight.  Yes, that’s 68% of adults over a healthy weight.   Almost 17% of U.S. children ages 2-19 are obese.  How is a two-year-old responsible for being obese?  How will blaming the child’s parents help the child?  Scroll down at this page from the CDC to see an amazing map showing the population relentlessly getting heavier, state by state, through the years.  Blaming individuals hasn’t worked for the past 30 years, as obesity rates have risen, so what makes us think that it’s going to work in the future?

The U.S. Center for Disease Control introduces their entire obesity section not with an urge to “put down the fries, fatty,” but with this:

American society has become ‘obesogenic,’ characterized by environments that promote increased food intake, nonhealthful foods, and physical inactivity. Policy and environmental change initiatives that make healthy choices in nutrition and physical activity available, affordable, and easy will likely prove most effective in combating obesity.

But to return to the question, so what?  I provide good food for my family and we are healthy.  Why don’t I mind my own business?  Why should I care what my proverbial neighbor eats?

I care because I have compassion.  The same compassion that leads me to forgo eating animal products leads me to support legislation that tries to undo the unfair food environment in which we are immersed, an environment I have been lucky to resist not because I’m a superior human being with stronger character (I’m not) but probably because of a combination of good genes, good socioeconomic status, a mother who ate well during pregnancy and nursing and cared about nutrition and family suppers, and a leaflet someone handed me that led me to become vegan.  I have compassion for the 68% of overweight adults and the real suffering that ensues; the risks for these diseases increases:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides)
  • Stroke
  • Liver and Gallbladder disease
  • Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
  • Osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint)
  • Gynecological problems (abnormal menses, infertility)

People who are overweight also suffer social stigma, employment bias, and low self-esteem, often along with a continual struggle with the unhealthy food that surrounds them.  Overweight people often report that they never stop thinking about food – it controls their lives much like an addictive drug.  For this I have compassion, and if I can speak up to encourage laws to prevent overweight and obesity, I will.  I care.

I have compassion for the 925 million hungry of this world who would like to eat the grain wasted when it is fed to animals.  Thirty-six million people died of malnutrition in 2006.  Of course this is not all our fault, and this is a complex issue, but our country’s food policies, including subsidies which not only encourage our inefficient consumption but also unfair trade, absolutely play a strong role.  I support domestic and international policies and encouragement of personal diets that take world malnutrition into account.  I care.

I also have compassion for the animals suffering in this food system under government-skewed economics that encourage us to eat more of them because their feed is subsidized and their negative environmental and health impacts are not paid for at the checkout counter.  If I can encourage legislation that brings the price of meat in line with the real costs, I will.  If I can lift the veil of secrecy that hides the horrible things done to farm animals in our name, I will.  I care.

My children eat well at home, and I pack lunches for them because the school lunches are not healthy.  Did you know there is currently no limit to the amount of sugar that can be in a USDA-approved school lunch?  And yet there are minimum calorie requirements, and insufficient funding.  Hmm, how can schools put in enough calories with hardly any money?  Sugar and fat are the cheapest calories (remember corn oil and high fructose corn syrup are subsidized by the government?), but the fat actually is restricted to 35% of calories (still a lot), so now you know why school lunches are loaded with fat and sugar.  So I support legislation to improve school lunch standards for other kids, even though I side-step them myself.  Here are some other ways I mentioned in an earlier blog about how the food environment impacts my kids despite my best efforts.  We seldom eat out or watch TV, but my kids have personally encountered these:

Restaurant kids meals are always horrible, commercials on TV encourage kids to eat unhealthy food, teachers have kids visit web sites from candy companies in school, unhealthy snacks are often given to kids in preschool programs, lollypops are handed out on the way out of restaurants, fast food restaurants line the streets near schools, candy and sugary drinks are sold at gas stations and drug stores on the way home from school, schools have vending machines selling sports drinks and candy, weekly birthday or holiday parties include cupcakes with 4″ of icing, classes that behave well earn pizza or doughnut parties; chips, cookies, ice cream, and Little Debbie snack bars are sold daily in the lunchrooms, and on the first day of school my son’s teacher handed out taffy to kids who raised their hands.  Every one of these situations makes parents’ job, to raise healthy kids, harder.

Someday soon my kids will be on their own.  I hope that I, like my mother, can inoculate them against the toxic food environment they will face 24/7.  But if I can speak out to help improve that environment to make healthy decisions easier, I will.  I care.

I’m concerned about our nation’s diet’s effect on health care costs.  The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine makes the connection between this issue and our hair-tearing about the high costs of medical care:

“Even if the steak and cheese produced on American farms foster health problems, our government rallies behind agribusiness all the way to the emergency room.  Sadly, every administration in recent decades has been caught up in a system that not only tolerates ill health, but encourages it.” – Barnard

Almost 10% of total U.S. medical expenditures are attributed to overweight and obesity.  The Congressional Budget Office calculates that if obesity rates continue to rise from 2007’s 28% to 37% in 2020, health care spending will be 7% higher than it would be if obesity rates were to be reversed and drop to 20%.  I support legislation that will lead to a reversal in obesity rates because I care about health care costs that our family pays through insurance premiums and taxes.

I’m very concerned about the environmental unsustainability of Americans’ current eating patterns, and trends in the developing world.  We eat more meat per capita than any other country except Uruguay, so we can hardly ask others to cut back, but the planet cannot, cannot support even the current worldwide population eating like Americans do.  I’m not talking about causing some pollution somewhere, maybe a few frogs die, I mean it’s physically impossible, but on the way to the impossible we will irreparably harm our planet.  Our choice of diet is having an enormous and unsustainable impact on water usage and pollution, acid rain, soil erosion and pollution, air pollution, global warming, wildlife, oceans, antibiotics, and non-renewable energy.  I don’t mean that our unavoidable need to eat causes these problems, I mean we make them magnitudes worse than they need to be because of the discretionary foods we choose to put in our mouths.  The example we set, the culture we export, and our inability to ask others to do what we cannot is setting the stage for a disaster.  The U.N. knows this and is urging the world to adopt a plant-based diet.  One of the suggestions to reduce energy use from a University of Wisconsin researcher who calculated energy use of foods is to “decrease consumption of beef, sugar, and highly processed foods.”  But right now our government is subsidizing exactly these foods through grain subsidies, making them cheaper and therefore increasing sales.  I support ending those subsidies, or if that is politically impractical, counterbalancing them with taxes on unhealthy foods or subsidies on healthy foods.  I care what people eat because our diet is ruining our planet.

All legislation is not equal.  We can debate the merits of particular bills, their costs and effectiveness.  But first we need to care.

Posted in Animals, Cancer, Cardiovascular, Diabetes, Disease, Environment, Nutrition, Osteoporosis, Schools | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Killer at Large

Posted by tinako on September 22, 2010

I just watched the movie Killer at Large – Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat.  This documentary is a collection of interviews and clips from journalists, researchers, doctors, and public health figures regarding the obesity epidemic.  I must warn you that it inexplicably opens with graphic footage of an obese 12-year-old girl getting lipsuction.  I made the mistake of sitting down with my lunch to watch, and I don’t recommend that.  I think this scene would have been better later on in the movie, or perhaps not at all – I’m not sure what function it served.

However, once past that the movie was very good.  It returned frequently to the point first made in the film by Surgeon General Richard Carmona: people are frantic about terrorism, but obesity is much more dangerous.

The movie covers schools, and I enjoyed hearing what the vending machine rep said to a gym teacher who was trying to get vending machines out of his school.  The dire consequences of this act would be that 1. kids would get in their cars to drive to a store to buy the item they could no longer get in school.  On the way they would be killed in a car accident, and that would be on the gym teacher’s head.  Dire consequence number 2. was that instead of soda bottles with bottlecaps, the kids would have soda cups with lids, and the soda would spill all over the carpets.  I guess the gym teacher would have to live with that, too.  So, every kid in school would die and they’d have a whopper of a carpet cleaning bill.  Ultimately, money won out and the school would not give up the $1,000 that the kids were feeding into the machines.

Absolutely astonishing was footage of parents outraged that junk food was being removed from schools.  They staged demonstrations where they passed junk food in through the schoolyard fence to kids who were being deprived.

Other parents demonstrated against Sesame Street when Cookie Monster told kids that cookies were a sometimes treat and they should eat their veggies.  Parents and children marched with placards showing “C is for cookie, not carrots!”  More signs said “No carrots!” or showed carrots with the circle and line X-ing them out.  Of course, parents were handing out cookies to the kids as they all marched around.  ????

I loved the segment regarding the Shrek “Get out and play an hour a day” public service ad.  The documentary shows representatives from 8-10 processed food companies together with George Bush and the head of Human Services meeting to try to take some action on this obesity thing.  Did the representatives have any suggestions regarding improving the nutrition of their products?  Not that I could discern.  The outcome of the meeting was apparently the Shrek public service announcement, the industry’s typical shunting of blame to the exercise side of the obesity equation, to avoid any embarrassing scrutiny of the diet side.  Steven Colbert takes over from there, and I’ll leave you with him: Clip

Posted in Diabetes, Nutrition, Schools | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

King Corn

Posted by tinako on September 9, 2010

I just finished watching King Corn, a fascinating documentary about how cheap corn powers a cheap food economy.  This film is very well done, with engaging graphics and music and good camera work.

I was dubious at first of  Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis’ idea.  Driving to Iowa in January to plant an acre of corn seemed like a pointless exercise in literally watching grass grow.  But they seem to have spent their time well, interviewing the locals and experts including Michael Pollan, whose The Omnivore’s Dilemma inspired the movie.  There was no way for them to follow their own corn, which is mixed in with everyone else’s, so they took a journey before the harvest to see where their corn might go.  They even made their own high fructose corn syrup when  no manufacturers would let them in to see it done.

This is a quiet film.  I like how these understated, good-natured guys just let their subjects talk, allowing the viewers to come to their own conclusions.  This approach sometimes caught the interviewees in some bizarre statements, such as the feedlot owner who said he got a warm fuzzy feeling looking out at the cattle and knowing he was feeding a lot of Americans.   I was most surprised that many of the people involved expressed their reservations that this is a very good system.

One of the more interesting parts for me was their visit to Earl Butz, who set up these subsidies under Nixon.  Unapologetic, he said Americans pay less for their food than ever before, so we can spend more on other things.   He’s very proud of that.  Cheney and Ellis show great understanding when they say it’s easy to see how someone like Butz who grew up with a hard farm life where food was expensive would see this system as a great success.

Nevertheless, they go from there to a store that is filled with cookies, crackers, and soda.  They look at the shelves, and you know this can’t be a good system.

Watch the movie to find out what they do with the corn they grew and the land they grew it on.

Posted in Diabetes, Environment, Nutrition | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Forks Over Knives

Posted by tinako on May 27, 2010

Movie coming Summer 2010

Posted in Cancer, Cardiovascular, Diabetes, Disease, Menus, Nutrition, Osteoporosis | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Diabetes and the Vegan Diet – Links

Posted by tinako on December 16, 2009

This is my on-going catch-all post for links I find relating to a diabetes and a vegan diet.  This is a follow-up to The China Study – Diabetes posting.

Posted in Diabetes, Disease | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The China Study 7 – Diabetes

Posted by tinako on December 16, 2009

This posting continues my discussion of Dr. Campbell’s book, The China Study.  I am just a reader, not a doctor.  If you find this interesting or want more of his sources (23 in this chapter), get the book!

Dr. Campbell gives a great explanation of diabetes: “Almost all cases of diabetes are either Type 1 or Type 2.  Type 1 develops in children and adolescents, and thus is sometimes referred to as juvenile-onset diabetes,” accounting for 5-10% of all diabetes.  “Type 2, which accounts for 90-95% of all cases, used to occur primarily in adults age 40 and up, and thus was called adult-onset diabetes.  But because up to 45% of new diabetes cases in children are Type 2 diabetes, the age-specific names are being dropped, and the two forms of diabetes are simply referred to as Type 1 and Type 2” [p.145].

Both types have a problem with glucose.  Normally, we eat food, it’s digested, and glucose is released.  It enters the blood, and insulin is produced in the pancreas to deliver it around the body.  This process breaks down in diabetes.  Type 1 diabetics cannot produce enough insulin because their pancreas is not functioning due to autoimmune disease (autoimmune diseases are discussed elsewhere in the book).  Type 2 diabetics can make insulin but it doesn’t work – the body doesn’t pay attention to it.  In both types the result is that the glucose is not distributed and rises to dangerous levels in the blood.  Diabetes is diagnosed when the glucose “spills over” into the urine.  All this sugar in the blood leads to many serious complications.

There is no cure for diabetes.  Diabetics can maintain a reasonably functional lifestyle, but the current drugs do not treat the cause of the disease, so diabetics are in for a lifetime of costly treatment.  The U.S. total is $174 billion per year.

It has been known for hundreds of years that diabetes is not evenly distributed throughout the world, and that populations with low rates eat a different diet than populations with high rates.  There is an incredibly counterintuitive chart on p. 148 showing diets and diabetes rates, 1925, with these studies [*, endnote 1] as sources.  It shows 6 countries, their percent of calories from carbohydrates going from about 50% in the U.S to about 85% in Japan, fat going from almost 40% in the U.S. to about 5% in Japan, and diabetes death rates going from .02% in the U.S. down to about .0025% in Japan.  These are smooth data lines running though all six countries, showing the diabetes rate falling as fat goes down and carbohydrates go up.  The reason I found this surprising is because I thought carbohydrates were the bad guys for diabetics.

So what’s going on?  We get our calories from protein, fat, carbohydrates and alcohol.  Looking only at the fat and carbs, in the U.S we were getting a lot more of our calories from fat, and a lot fewer from carbohydrates, than other countries.  These patterns represent the difference between a plant-based diet and an animal-based diet.

Another study verified this, bringing animal protein into the data set.  High carb countries had much lower diabetes rates, and Urguay, the country with the highest diabetes rate, had a typical western diet, high in calories, animal protein, total fat and animal fat.  The countries with lower diabetes rates particularly ate a lot of rice.  They enlarged their study and found that diabetes was most strongly correlated with excess weight and cholesterol.  Remember what was discovered about cholesterol, that it is more strongly correlated with animal protein than with dietary cholesterol and saturated fat.

Of course, these cultural studies can be chalked up to genetics or physical activity.  So researchers studied Seventh Day Adventists.  Due to religion, about half of them are vegetarian.  Very few are vegan, and so they still get many of their calories from animal products.  But even the meatiest among them eat much less meat than the average American, about five servings per week.  So this group is interesting to study because researchers can compare moderate vegetarians to moderate meat eaters.  This isn’t a big difference, but even so the vegetarians are much healthier than the non-vegetarians, with half the rate of diabetes and obesity.

In another study, researchers looked at U.S. sons of Japanese immigrants, who had 4 times the diabetes rate as similar-aged men who stayed in Japan.  The ones who developed diabetes also ate the most animal protein, animal fat, cholesterol, and total fat, and had excess weight.

Dr. Campbell lists the results of four other studies, showing variously that increased fat increases Type 2 diabetes; the Type 2 diabetes rate in Japanese children has tripled in 25 years, along with increased consumption of animal protein and animal fat; diabetes rates dropped during WWII rationing in England and Wales, when fiber and grain intake went up and fat intake went down.  Rates went back up in 1950 when people returned to eating more fat and sugar and less fiber; of 36,000 non-diabetic women in Iowa followed for 7 years, those less likely to get diabetes were those eating more whole grains and fiber.  These studies show that “both across and within populations, high-fiber, whole, plant-based foods protect against diabetes, and high-fat, high-protein, animal based foods promote diabetes.

These are all observational studies.    How about some controlled studies, where researchers change the diets of diabetics or pre-diabetics?  Dr. James Anderson put 25 Type 1 diabetics and 25 Type 2 diabetics through a diet change.  None of them were overweight and all were taking insulin shots.  First he put them on the American Diabetes Association diet for one week, then switched them over to his experimental “veggie diet.”  This was a moderate diet of whole plant foods but allowing the equivalent of a cold cut or two of meat per day.  After three weeks, the Type 1 diabetics, who you will remember cannot produce insulin, reduced their insulin medication by 40%, lowered their cholesterol by 30%, and improved their blood sugar dramatically.  All but one of the Type 2 diabetics was able to discontinue their insulin medication within a matter of weeks. One man, a 21-year diabetic, had been taking 35 units per day, and was able to discontinue his medication after eight weeks.

In another Anderson study of 14 diabetics, patients lowered their cholesterol by 32% in under three weeks by diet alone.  It remained low for 4 years while on the diet.

Another study, at the Pritkin Center, prescribed exercise and a low-fat plant-based diet to 40 diabetic patients.  34 were able to discontinue all medication after 26 days.  Benefits continued for years as the diet was adhered to.  Remember, this is an “incurable” disease.

Want some more?  Here is a meta-review of 11 diabetic-diet studies, all of which resulted in improved blood sugar and cholesterol.  Another study placed 3,234 non-diabetics with elevated blood sugar into three different groups.  Group one received standard dietary information and a placebo.   Group two received the same dietary information and the drug metformin, and the third group received lifestyle intervention, with a moderately low-fat diet and exercise plan to lose at least 7% of their weight.  After three years, group three had 58% fewer diabetics than group 1; group 2 had reduced the number of cases by only 31%.  Both treatments worked, but clearly the diet was more effective.  Dr. Campbell also points out that the diet would solve a lot of other health problems as well, whereas the drug would not.

Dr. Campbell ends this section by saying it is too bad that Dr. Anderson says his low-meat diet, while effective, is “impractical for home use for many individuals.”  So it is more practical to have a lifelong condition that can’t be cured by drugs or surgery, and which often leads to heart disease, stroke, blindness, or amputation, and which might require you to inject insulin into your body every day for the rest of your life… than to change your diet.

Next – Studies I’m not interested in.


1. Himsworth, HP, “Diet and the Incidence of Diabetes Mellitus,” Clinical Science 1935

Posted in Diabetes, Disease | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »