Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why Are We Eating an Extra Meal a Day?

Recent data suggest that since the 1970s on average we're consuming in the neighborhood of 550 additional calories daily - about a meal's worth.

The question that matters of course is, "Why"?

Undoubtedly there will be many plausible answers. The world has changed quite dramatically since the 1970s with many of the changes impacting upon the way we choose to live our lives and the foods we choose to include in them.

One thing that's certainly changed is the ubiquity of food advertisements. A CSPI report notes that even in just the decade between 1990 and 2000, a decade where we were already well into the era of Big Food, the dollars spent on food advertising increased by 50%. While I can't find the figure I'd be surprised if food advertising dollars hadn't increased at least 10 fold since 1960.

Some people believe that common sense will see them past advertisements - that they can cognitively protect themselves against their impact.

I wonder if that's true.

A study in this month's journal Obesity, albeit a small one, examined the impact that photographs of food had on 8 healthy subjects' levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin (the strongest hunger hormone identified to date). Subjects were given breakfast at 8:30am and then at 10:30am fifty pictures in 6s intervals were presented to them. In one session they were shown neutral pictures, and in the other hedonic foods. Ghrelin levels were measured throughout, and were measured every 10 minutes between 10:30am and 11:30pm. Perhaps not surprisingly, but certainly importantly, ghrelin levels were found to increase in response to the photos of hedonic foods.

What this means of course is that those hundreds of billions of dollars that are annually being spent advertising junk food - they may well be turning on the production of a powerful hormone that hundreds of millions of years of evolution has designed to make you eat. So it's not about battling your will to resist, it's about battling your body's drive to survive.

Fortunately for the species, but unfortunately for modern day nutrition, the drive to survive will likely trump our best intentions.

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  1. Advertising and availability are likely part of the reason people overeat. Another factor is the omega-6 industrial seed oils in snacks and prepared foods. Seems excessive omega-6 gives a person the munchies.

  2. I think that the reason people are eating "fourthmeal" is obvious. It's because they're drunk, it's two in the morning, and that extra meal will prevent them from getting a hangover. The ad even hints at that: "You're out. You're hungry." Then, it says that the restaurant (is it Taco Bell or something?) has good music. Not too subtle.

    It's special circumstances only, and most of those folks are probably young and thin, too.

  3. Anonymous10:39 am

    Do you know how to read?

    Is everyone since 1970 drunk?

    Do you not realize that the image is there to illustrate a point and is not in fact what the article is referring to?


  4. Grehlin is miraclous. In addition, postprandial levels of grehlin stay high long after weight loss urging us to eat more and more & thus making weight management even more challenging

  5. Anonymous12:02 pm

    I just finished lunch, but , gee, that food looks pretty good ...

  6. Anonymous12:21 pm

    I've often felt there was a strong connection between obesity rates and the 24/7 flood of "food porn" via cable channels, foodie websites, coffee-table recipe books, "lifestyle" magazines that always have photos of rich food on the covers, etc.

    Also, does anyone ever talk about the way homes have been designed in the past 20-30 years, with the kitchen in the center? It's like the hub of much of the activity, designed with islands, desks and media centers so that you're encouraged to do your homework, surf the web, watch TV and visit with friends within constant view and reach of the fridge and pantry. When I've been to homes in Europe and Asia, or older American homes, kitchens are often in the back, behind a closed door, like a utility room.

    1. Jrochest3:14 pm

      But that's often because in older European houses, servants prepared the food behind closed doors. Even among middle-class and poorer houses, when it was Mom doing the cooking, the assumption was that it was to be done in private.

      Now cooking is seen as entertainment, and families want to be able to watch their children or talk to their guests while they're preparing food.

  7. I know when I started hearing about the movement to take vending machines out of grade schools, I was flabbergasted ... I had been blissfully ignorant that they had been put IN grade schools.

    I don't like to see discussions of these changes degenerate into some discussion of "kids these days," knowing how when I grew up we ate junk quite often & laid around watching TV. (We didn't walk uphill to school both ways, either.) However, I do sometimes wonder if part of it is the rise of "snack culture." Back to those vending machines -- when I was a kid, it was assumed that a normally healthy child could go from breakfast to lunch with only a sip of water from the fountain. We didn't have 24-hour convenience stores on every corner. And although I didn't participate in sports, I don't recall hearing anything from my classmates that were in sports regarding parents bringing munchies every single practice. (I can tell you there were no post-practice snacks for marching band, at least.)

  8. Just about everything involved with big food deals with manipulation of some sort. Advertising is just one piece of the puzzle of the puzzle. Everything from product placement in the grocery stores, to the appear and scent of foods is designed to manipulate you at a subconscious level.

  9. Get rid of your TV, people. Not only will you get rid of all this manipulation of you and your kids, but you will create vast new vistas of time to do all kinds of other things.
    You can catch up with all your shows in the old age home!

  10. Anonymous11:53 am

    Maybe you should change your header!

  11. Anonymous10:57 pm

    In 1970, cigarette ads were banned from radio and television. Perhaps it's time to ban all food ads from television, and see if it makes a difference in obesity rates. Couldn't hurt.