In the midst of the worst storm of 2011, the discussion about a health crisis likened to a tsunami was being held down the street from the site of a water main burst in Capitola. At the end of an already long day, educators, doctors, nurses, child care providers, and students came to listen and learn how to stop an epidemic of obesity and diabetes. 187 people came because they care what is happening to our children and wondered what, if anything, we can do to improve their future. The event’s Keynote speaker, Dr Robert Lustig, UCSF pediatric endocrinologist, drove through that relentless downpour for three hours to deliver his message. He said, “If one person stops drinking soda or juice, then it will be worth the drive”. He came to explain that food manufacturing practices have created a “toxic environment” that dooms children to being overweight.
“Changes in food processing during the past 30 years, particularly the addition of sugar to a wide variety of foods that once never included sugar, and the removal of fiber, both of which promote insulin production, have created an environment in which our foods are essentially addictive,” he adds.
He passionately talked about the fact that children don’t wake up one day and choose to be fat. He said, “This notion of self- control and just saying no never works”.
“The concept of personal responsibility is not tenable in children. Children are not responsible for food choices at home or at school, and it can hardly be said that preschool children, in whom obesity is rampant, are in a position to accept personal responsibility.”
His words were inspiring and thought provoking. Even if you wanted to avoid excess sugar you have little choice; sugar and high fructose sugar are in places you would never expect. Why do we need high fructose sugar in our chicken, canned vegetables or soy milk?
Lustig says that fructose is toxic in large quantities because it is metabolized in the liver in the same way as alcohol, which drives fat storage and makes the brain think it is hungry.
“People are searching for answers to this epidemic that make sense,” he says. “The science of fructose metabolism in the liver and fructose action in the brain turn the normal cycle of energy balance into a vicious cycle of consumption and disease.”
“What I have proposed is quite controversial: that our food supply has been adulterated right under our very noses, with our tacit complicity. But I think the public gets it, and the tide is turning.”
Lustig’s powerful words remind us that we can and need to inspire one another. It is a time to get educated and take bold action. Recognition should be given to the leadership of Congressman Sam Farr who empowered the audience to act, Assemblymember Bill Monning for his approach to address the problem, and County Superintendent, Michael Watkins, for his insight to bring the entire event together.
With our children in dire need of good nutrition, the simple intervention of an individual can make a huge difference. And when we act collectively, far greater change is possible. History will decide whether we acted quickly enough to give the next generation the healthier outcomes they deserve. Through collaboration and actions of individuals, community groups, business, educators and government, let’s send a message that tells our children we can and will take better care of their health.
Watch a recording of this presentation on Community TV online here.
By Carole Mulford, Santa Cruz County Office of Education, Child Development Programs