Obesity and Its Link to Starvation

Dr. Mark Hyman has an interesting article on his site called, “Not Having Enough Food Causes Obesity and Diabetes.” You read that right — obesity caused by not enough food. Considering the fact almost all of what we’re told about obesity and its related diseases refers to it as a disease of excess — you’ll be forgiven if the title confuses you.

But Hyman is absolutely right. And our false understanding of obesity is costing us our health. Here’s a good example of why.

Mississippi is the poorest state in the U.S. with a poverty rate of over 20 per cent. It’s also one of the most obese states, with over a third of the population considered obese. Childhood obesity is off the charts and they have one of the highest rates of diabetes and premature death. Which raises the question, how can a state barely able to feed itself be topping the obesity charts?

In two words: Food insecurity. The Life Sciences Research Office, a non-profit organization which provides unbiased scientific research, says food insecurity exists, “Whenever the availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or the ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (e.g. without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing or other coping strategies) is limited or uncertain.”

While, globally, food insecurity means not knowing where your next meal is coming from, for North Americans it generally means eating cheap, low-nutrient, high-calorie foods in order to fill the belly rather than to nourish the body. As Hyman puts it: “For a large portion of Americans floating on or sinking beneath the poverty line, this means bingeing on cheap, sugary, starchy, fatty calories in order to avoid hunger.”

Sugary beverages, processed foods and other assorted junk foods fill the belly to take care of hunger. But they don’t provide the needed nutrients to keep the body healthy. Unfortunately, we’ve set up a system in which these empty “foods” cost little, while real, nourishing whole foods are prohibitively expensive. A loonie will get you a burger at a fast food joint, a big bag of corn chips or a head of broccoli. Which are you going to go for when you’re starving?

Make no mistake — when the body takes in foods that are lacking in nutrients, it goes into
starvation mode, even if the belly is full. High-calorie, low-nutrient foods are quickly stored as fat. Metabolism slows, muscle is lost and insulin resistance sets in — all biological responses to starvation. At this point, a pattern of bingeing on nutrient-poor foods is established and, with the addictive properties of most of these foods, it’s a difficult pattern to break.

Hyman gives a few possible solutions to this problem, including ending government subsidies for filler crops like corn, soy and wheat — crops that all end up in processed foods. Why are we subsidizing the crops that are killing us? Why not subsidize organic vegetables, fruits and meats, making these truly healthful foods more reasonably priced?

He also recommends taxing sugar and other junk food ingredients to make their monetary cost reflect their cost to our health. Maybe these taxes could literally pay for the growing health care costs stemming from chronic diseases.

If we’re serious about ending the issues with chronic disease plaguing our continent, or indeed our world, we need to start enacting real change from the ground up, changing the very foundation this problem has been built upon. This isn’t about replacing processed foods with low-calorie, low-fat, processed foods — it’s about access to real, whole, health-promoting foods (fresh vegetables, fruits and clean, organic meats).

Access to these kinds of foods is a right every person on this planet should be entitled to.

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale