Tag Archives: Robert Lustig

The Hacking of the American Mind

8232We first met Dr. Lusting in 2009 when UCTV presented his “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” lecture. That viral video now has over 7 million YouTube views, and more every day.

His latest program, “The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains,” coincides with the publishing of his new book of the same title.

In this half-hour interview, Lustig, a UCSF endocrinologist, explores the reward system in our brains – serotonin, cortisol, and dopamine – chemicals that drive our pleasure-seeking behaviors including overeating, drug use, and that ever-present cell phone. But he goes beyond just neural pathways and brain chemistry to impute the underlying economic machine that creates industries that profit off processed foods full of sugar.

He recommends a “four Cs” solution — connect, contribute, cope, and cook — urging a slowed-down lifestyle for the sake of our health and happiness.

In addition to the interview “The Hacking of the American Mind”, you may enjoy these short videos:

The Difference Between Happiness and Pleasure
Corporate Responsibility vs. Individual Responsibility
Are All Calories the Same?
Responsibility of the Food Industry
Processed Food and Pleasure

For a deeper dive, watch the video that started it all and other programs with Dr. Robert Lustig:
Sugar: The Bitter Truth
The Skinny on Obesity
Fat Chance: Fructose 2.0

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Reigning in Sugar with Regulation – “The Skinny on Obesity” Series Finale

This week we wrap up “The Skinny on Obesity” series with an argument for why obesity is a public health and economic threat that’s worthy of the same treatment as other public health problems like smoking and drug abuse. For our experts, nothing short of wholesale change in what we expect from the food industry will make a dent in America’s obesity problem.

Some might call Dr. Lustig’s argument for the regulation of sugar as the creation of a “nanny state,” but he insists that food manufacturers already benefit tremendously from government subsidies and have limited  consumer choice to predominantly high-sugar foods– precisely how we got so fat in the first place. It’s a provocative argument and one worth hearing out. Watch “The Skinny on Obesity: Drugs, Cigarettes, Alcohol..and Sugar?”

But don’t stop there. We’ve made plenty of resources available, including an editorial by UCSF Public Health Professor Laura Schmidt, who backs up the argument for sugar regulation, as well as an overview of the research that supports such interventions.

We hope you’ve gotten as much out “The Skinny on Obesity” as we have working on it. I know many of us here at UCTV have already made changes in how we eat and think about food. While we still have the ocassional birthday cake in the office, you can be darn sure that we’re calculating the toll it takes on our bodies, brains and society at large. It still tastes pretty good though.

Stay tuned in June for the next UCTV Prime series, “Our Digital Life.” The three-part series premieres June 15 and explores how researchers at UC Merced are using digital technology to inform and influence our lives.

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Regulating Sugar: It’s All About the Nudge

UCSF health policy Professor Laura Schmidt has plenty to say when it comes to the availability of sugar in the American diet. She agrees with the assement made by her UCSF colleagues in “The Skinny on Obesity: Drugs, Cigarettes, Alcohol..and Sugar?” that there is a definitive public health demand for regulation of the food industry in response to the obesity epidemic. Her research focuses on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to regulations and she made her case in  U.S. News & World Report editorial published on March 30, 2012. What follows is the unedited version:

“Regulating Sugar: It’s All About the Nudge,” by Laura A. Schmidt, PhD
Professor, UCSF School of Medicine

The overabundance of sugar in the American diet isn’t just making us fat.  It’s hurting our health.  We were all raised to think of sugar as benign “empty calories.”  But science shows that too much sugar—i.e., the amount consumed by the average American—leads to high blood pressure, dyslipidemia, fatty liver, insulin resistance and pancreatitis.  Excessive sugar consumption leads to metabolic disease, which leads to the main chronic illnesses that will eventually kill most of us: heart disease, stroke, cancer, as well as diabetes.  Sugar overload also creates a cascade of chemical changes in the body, turning off the hormones that tell us when we’ve eaten enough, and affecting brain neurotransmitters that leave us craving more sugar.   

The point is that too much sugar has all of these harmful effects on health in addition to its role in America’s obesity epidemic.   This growing awareness has led to a trenchant public debate about whether it isn’t time to regulate sugar.

The debate about regulating sugar is, however, based on a false assumption: If we regulate the stuff, we will wind up with government bureaucrats telling us what we can and can’t eat.  Fortunately, there are alternatives that lie somewhere between political extremes — in gentle, market-based alterations that improve health while actually increasing choice.

For decades, America’s main strategy to prevent obesity and metabolic disease has been education: nutrition labels, public service announcements, and mainly, school-based health education.  There is now solid evidence that health education doesn’t work to change behavior, especially for substances with abuse potential.  It can change attitudes and knowledge, but it doesn’t have lasting effects on what people actually do.

Most of us intuitively understand why health education doesn’t work. We may try for a while to eat healthy by limiting added sugar.  But we quickly find that it actually takes a lot of planning, money, and effort to not eat sugar, and that many of us crave the stuff due to effects on the brain’s “reward center.”

The fundamental problem is that we live in what addiction researchers call a saturated environment.  You know you live in a sugar-saturated environment when you have to go out of your way to find a drinking fountain or a fresh apple.  But junk food counters and vending machines line the walls of workplaces, airports, shopping centers and even schools.  Our saturated environment doesn’t just make sugar-laden products easy to get.  It makes them hard to avoid.

In their New York Times bestseller, Nudge, two professors from the University of Chicago School of Economics (a bastion of conservative politics) point out what public health researchers have known for years:  Most of the time, most of us tend to eat and drink what’s in front of us.  The best way to promote healthy weight and metabolism is to make the healthy stuff cheaper and easier to get than the unhealthy stuff.  These authors describe a simple experiment that vividly illustrates the point. A school cafeteria lady put the low-fat milk on the front shelf while the sugary drinks went up high and in back.  Guess what?  The lunch lady increased milk consumption while helping kids get off the sweet stuff throughout the school.

Effective public health regulation is all about the nudge.  It’s about making healthier options easier and cheaper to get, and asking people to reach a little farther for products harmful to health.  More importantly, it’s about nudging producers and distributors to increase the availability of healthier alternatives through market incentives: by ending subsidies and pro-rating taxes based on how much sugar has been added to the product.  There is now a vast body of international research showing that such simple strategies are easy to implement and tangibly affect population health.

But one question remains: How is it possible that regulating sugar will actually increase personal choice?  Well, we all know that junk food companies have massive marketing departments working 24/7 to figure out ways to nudge us towards their products.  That’s why candy in the supermarket checkout aisle is at eye level for a child, and why the milk is at the back end of the store.  That’s why 80% of the foods in America are laced with added sugar—to make us want to buy these more and more of these products. What we need is a nudge back.  At a minimum, there should be a level playing field for consumers to choose.

There is one assumption that lies at the heart of these new public health regulatory solutions — that, at the end of the day, most Americans want to live long, healthy lives and would prefer a smorgasbord of options for what they choose to drink and eat.  We don’t want anybody—government or corporations—telling us we can or can’t have a soda.  But we do want choosing health to be an easy option, if not the default.  This assumption, unlike others framing the current sugar debate, seems like a reasonable one to make.

Of course nobody wants a government bureaucrat telling us what we can eat and drink.  But neither should we want to live in an environment where powerful corporations tell us what to eat and drink, by continuously nudging us toward products that undermine our chances for a long, healthy life.

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Four Sweet Tips from Dr. Lustig

If you’ve been following our series “The Skinny on Obesity,” you’ve heard Dr. Robert Lustig explain what happens to the body and the brain when faced with processing excess sugars. But what do we do with our minds to try to mitigate the problem?

We asked Dr. Lustig for some practical advice to help you put his ideas into practice inside the home. Here are “Four Sweet Tips from Dr. Lustig.”

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Like Mother, Like Infant

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that by the year 2030, up to 42% of Americans will be obese, likely making this the first generation in the history of mankind to have a shorter lifespan than the generation preceding it.

Today’s epidemic of obese six-month olds is powerful evidence that obesity can be passed from mother to child, which is why researchers like Dr. Robert Lustig and his colleagues at UCSF’s Center for Obesity Assessment, Study and Treamtent (COAST) insist that obesity is a public health issue that can and must be prevented to protect the health of all generations to come. In “The Skinny on Obesity: Generation XL,” new this week on UCTV Prime,  we look at the importance of weight management and a healthy lifestyle for all women of child-bearing age — pregnant or not.

Also, if you’re a pregnant woman living the Bay Area, find out if you’re eligible to participate in the MAMAS study being conducted by the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC). The study is based on the idea that changes in diet and exercise may not be enough to help women manage their weight during pregnancy and that a stress reduction program, based on the Mindful Motherhood Training and other mindfulness programs, can offer women additional skills to deal with stress and food cravings, manage difficult emotions, increase awareness of hunger and fullness, and encourage healthy eating and physical activity. The goal of the study is to learn if this program can help women achieve healthy weight gain during pregnancy and reduce stress.

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