Amid rising obesity levels, Jacques Peretti traces those responsible for our current eating habits. He travels to America to investigate the story of high-fructose corn syrup.
Browse content similar to Episode 1. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
More people in the world are overweight than undernourished.
Obesity levels are rising.
I'm Jacques Perretti and in this series, I'm going to trace
those responsible for a revolution in our eating habits.
I'll be looking at how decisions made behind closed doors
transformed food into an addiction...
People have a hard time controlling their weight.
Their brains are being hijacked.
..at how business changed the shape of a nation...
From a marketing standpoint, as long as it didn't curtail
or anchor you in a negative way, you were fine.
..and at how the food industry itself choreographs temptation.
Everybody who says it's you, it's all your own fault, forget it.
The evidence is the exact contrary.
It is a war.
It's a war between our bodies
and the accessibility that modern society gives us with food.
I'll be telling the story of those
who turned eating food into an epidemic.
Two-thirds of British adults are overweight
and one in four of us is obese.
That's 40% over our ideal weight.
It's officially categorised as a disease.
What's strange is how quickly this has all happened.
The average person in Britain is nearly three stone heavier
than they were 50 years ago
and this extra weight doesn't just affect the way we look -
it massively increases our chances of getting a host of related diseases.
It's a new kind of epidemic.
DANCE MUSIC BLARES
At any one time, a quarter of the population is doing battle with their weight.
But we don't know how it came to this.
Is it down to us, or the companies which produce our food?
Ursula is starting a new regime.
From childhood, I was always overweight, always.
Keep it going, bring the arms out in front.
While Beulah has managed to lose 2½ stone.
It's always that temptation - you've had a little bit,
you want a little bit more.
Excellent, keep it going.
I still see myself going into a shop and looking at the labels -
buy one, get one free, or buy one, get two free, sometimes.
I tried many times.
There's always fruits and vegetables in the house,
it was just my choice that I used to always go for the unhealthy food.
It's sort of like, "Yeah, I really shouldn't have eaten that".
Sometimes I thought that I was buying healthy food,
but I never looked at the labels.
Only later, when you empty the packages, you realise "what have I done?"
It's too late now.
You've got to have great determination, got to be really strong.
We're not becoming lazier or greedier, but the food industry
has changed the very nature of what we eat in the last 40 years.
And that may have changed our shape, too.
'What's even more worrying is the fat we CAN'T see.
'I wanted to find out whether changes in our food have altered
'even those of us who don't consider ourselves overweight.
'An MRI machine is about to show me the horrible truth.'
Hello, Jacques - how are you?
'There may be quite a lot more fat in me than I think.'
We can actually look inside your body to see how much fat you have
externally and internally.
OK, so you'll be up to see all the fat that is inside my body.
Absolutely. Your fat will have nowhere to hide.
'Professor Jimmy Bell is a research scientist
'working at Hammersmith Hospital in London.
'He studies how fat is distributed INSIDE the body.'
We're just finishing this set.
Yes, then we'll move on and do the axial images.
'After half an hour in the MRI machine, I'm nervous.'
I will show you some of the images.
The fat appears as white,
very bright white, so you've got,
as you see, fat external - the subcutaneous fat we're all familiar with -
but the fat we are interested in is the fat here,
what we call internal fat, especially visceral or intra-abdominal fat.
There does seem to be rather a lot of it.
Well, it's interesting that you have very low levels of
external fat, subcutaneous fat, but you have a considerable amount -
more than one would expect
for someone of your size - of internal fat, or visceral fat.
You can see here, for example,
your kidneys are actually swimming in a sea of fat.
At a glance, I would say you have 4 to 5 litres of internal fat
that you're carrying around your organs.
-4 to 5 litres?
-And is that normal?
We expect someone of your age,
someone who is fit, to have less than two litres of internal fat.
Wow, so I've got twice as much fat inside me as I should have.
Exactly, but you have to realise that someone who is very obese
will carry 10 to 15 litres of internal fat.
You're a very good example of what we define as someone who is thin outside,
so very little external fat, and fat inside - so that's a toffee. Thin outside, fat inside.
'That's me - toffee - thin outside, fat inside.
'It's this kind of invisible obesity that threatens many of us -
'these hidden fat deposits put me at risk of diabetes
'and cardiovascular disease.'
-Long-term, this actually could be quite troublesome for your health.
'And it's the same for millions of us.'
Unfortunately, normality in the UK has become someone who is overweight or obese,
who doesn't have enough sleep, drinks too much
and who works very long hours.
'It's believed our appetite for high-calorie foods
'came about 10,000 years ago, when we were hunter-gatherers.
'Now the food industry has made fattening foods available everywhere.'
We're cavemen that moved from a cave into a supermarket,
and there were all these delicious things that I want to eat.
Some of us restrain ourselves from doing it,
other people find it very difficult.
Genetically, we haven't changed,
but our environment, our access to cheap food - that's changed.
We've been bombarded all day, every day by the food industry
to consume more and more food.
That's their job - make money making us fat.
It is a war.
It's a war between our bodies
and the accessibility that modern society gives us with food.
As a scientist, I feel really depressed,
because we are losing the war against obesity.
Britain has got fat in just 40 years.
To find out, we have to go back to America in the early '70s,
and the political deals that were done.
Richard Nixon was president.
The country was in crisis, torn apart by the Vietnam War.
But a bigger threat to Nixon came from housewives,
protesting at the soaring cost of food.
Food prices shot up higher last month than they ever have
in the past 40 years.
Farmers wanted fewer restrictions on their output
and with an election looming, Nixon needed their support.
His solution was to appoint this man - Earl Butz -
the Secretary for Agriculture in 1971.
It was a decision which would have a profound impact on the food
we eat today.
Butz was from a rural Indiana family, but he was no hick.
He was a shrewd academic and more importantly,
a friend to the farmers.
Now, in rural life,
we have all the amenities of urban living and should have,
and therefore agriculture becomes a way of making a living.
I want as good a living for these family farmers as their city cousins can get.
Butz had a vision - to transform agriculture from small farms
into mass production, delivering cheap food on an undreamt-of scale.
When Earl Butz became the Minister of Agriculture in 1971,
he urged farmers to farm from fencerow to fencerow.
His motto was, "get big or get out"
and he was to change the American landscape.
It was the death of the smallholding and the birth of this -
giant industrial farming.
'This surge in farm production
'would ultimately lead to a surge in obesity.
'George Morton farms the land around Lafayette in Indiana.
'As a young man, he knew Earl Butz
'and was taught farm economics by him.'
Tell me a little bit, George, about fencerow to fencerow farming -
what did that mean?
-It means you just produce as much as you can.
You don't leave any land unproductive.
You keep producing as much as you can.
How did you feel when these changes were taking place -
what did it feel like for you here?
It felt great, because that was the opportunity we had to prosper.
The new, larger harvests of corn became feed for the mountains
of cheap beef pouring into supermarkets.
-'Earl Butz encouraged farmers to grow still more.'
'George Morton's farm went from 20 to 3,000 acres.'
'Butz's idea was simple -
'to grow more corn than had ever been grown before.'
There's been some criticism of that policy.
I describe that policy in a single word - I call it plenty.
The more farmers grew, the more they sold, but there was still a surplus.
Butz championed a new product which would change everything.
A Japanese scientist had invented a process
that turned corn into a cheap sweetener.
By the 1980s, high-fructose corn syrup would become
the number one substitute for sugar.
And it would make farmers like George very rich.
I love the way, George, that this corn is gold. It really is gold!
-It's gold in colour.
-It's the right colour!
-It's the right colour!
And so it is gold, that's right. Gold to the farmer.
The genius of the whole thing was that they were about to produce
a fortune, not just from the fat of the land, but from the waste -
the surplus corn that would have gone rotten could now be used
to produce a brand-new industrial sweetener.
Earl Butz transformed the American diet and, ultimately, its waistline.
The nutritionist, Marion Nestle, has analysed
how Butz paved the way for obesity.
The number of calories produced in America
and available to American consumers
went from 3,200 in the 1970s and early '80s
to 3,900 per person -
almost twice as much as anybody needed -
and that enormous increase, I think
is the cause of a great deal of difficulty.
The Super Bowl has come to Indianapolis this year
and is America's biggest football game.
and after Thanksgiving, its biggest binge.
On one day, the US consumes 14,000 tonnes of tortilla chips,
4,000 tonnes of guacamole,
1.25 billion chicken wings.
40 years on, America is reaping what Earl Butz and the farmers sowed.
This is the great American meal - beef, fed on corn.
Bread, made with corn syrup to make it last longer.
Fries, fried in corn oil.
Ketchup, made with corn syrup.
Soda, made with corn syrup.
There's a direct link, I think, between the overproduction
in the '70s of corn and the overconsumption of food today.
Thanks to Butz, corn syrup spread into almost all processed foods -
everything from coleslaw to pizza toppings.
But its greatest impact was when it was put into soft drinks -
the largest single source of calories in the American diet.
By 1984, Coke and Pepsi had replaced sugar with corn syrup.
It was a decisive moment, because corn syrup had now arrived.
It was flowing into the bloodstream of America.
Hank Cardello was the marketing director of Coca-Cola USA
as Coke was adopting corn syrup.
Hank, when corn syrup was introduced,
what was it like for the food industry?
It was an innovation. I mean, clearly,
it's not like the industry wanted to go to high-fructose corn syrup.
The pricing of sugar was going up, then they had to convince
themselves that if they switched to whatever it was - corn syrup or
any other sweetener, that the tastes of the products weren't compromised.
'It was a massive risk for Coke to mess with the taste,
'but savings justified it. It was a third cheaper than sugar.
'The economics were compelling.'
When you sell four billion cases of a beverage, for instance,
that's a big difference.
So it doesn't take much - even a 10% reduction would make
a huge difference in the price.
Once you got past the taste, the quality, there's no downside.
Again, there was nothing on the radar that said
something is problematic here.
You don't have obesity,
there's no voices in the wilderness telling you you have a problem here.
So obesity wasn't on the agenda at all?
Wasn't even on the radar. In fact, the CDC - the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta -
didn't start mapping out where states had increasing rates of obesity
until 1985, so really, we were going along pell-mell.
Our goal at the time was to make our products ubiquitous,
as any marketer would.
So, from a marketing standpoint,
as long as it didn't curtail or anchor you in a negative way, you were fine.
The savings from replacing sugar with corn syrup caused
a boom in profits and inspired the drinks business to sell even more.
They were on a roll.
There were bigger bottles for the home
and ever-larger cups for fast food outlets.
Coca-Cola says these decisions
were based on the ever-evolving desires of its customers.
Quite frankly, the soda marketers became better marketers.
And I think the company at the time got more aggressive.
In two decades, average consumption of soft drinks almost doubled,
from 350 cans a year to 600 -
and America got fatter.
Endocrinologist Dr Robert Lustig has analysed
the impact of America's love affair with sweetened drinks.
High-fructose corn syrup has a sweetness index of 120,
so it's actually sweeter than sucrose.
So you'd think, gee, if it's sweeter,
you should be able to use less.
But they don't - they use more. The question is, why is that?
That's a question that only the soft drink companies can answer,
but I can give you my impression.
It's because they know that the sweeter they make it,
the more we buy.
The manufacturers reject this view.
They deny that the increased consumption of soft drinks
has made us fatter.
Do you think that soft drinks contribute to obesity?
No, I do not.
In spite of all the evidence
that they do contribute to obesity?
Well, there is... The evidence...
..says that obesity is caused by people consuming too many calories
and not getting enough exercise to balance it out.
Certainly, our full-calorie,
regular soft drinks are a source of calories, so I guess if you're
consuming too many calories,
and watching too much television or not getting enough exercise,
then you're going to have a problem.
It's like saying because you go in the ocean,
you're going to get bit by a shark.
Well, people go in the ocean all the time and swim
without getting bit by a shark,
so there's a lot of work to try to establish causality
and I don't know that I've seen any study that does that.
it's easy to demonise the soda companies as making America fat.
But at the time, when you talk to people like Hank,
who worked at Coca-Cola, the decision was simple -
it was a no-brainer.
High-fructose corn syrup was going to bring costs down
and the public seemed to love it.
It was a very simple business decision,
but one that just happened to have some very serious consequences.
In 1994, the figures showed a frightening increase
in people's weight at the very time that corn syrup
in America's food and drinks had spiralled out of control.
And so Lorna is going to basically hook up the patient.
'So was corn syrup to blame for America's obesity?
'At San Francisco's General Hospital,
'the food scientist Dr Jean-Marc Schwarz is studying how sugars -
'including corn syrup - are converted into fat.'
What have we got here, Dr Schwarz? This is for Ken to drink?
So he's going to drink that every hour today, all the way to 11pm.
He will have one of those little shakes.
'The shake is a liquefied version of Ken's normal daily diet -
'but with a marker added, that enables Dr Schwarz to track
'how the sugars affect different parts of Ken's body.'
-How was that, Ken?
-My third one today.
-Pretty good - I'm getting used to it.
-And how does it taste?
-Is it sugary?
-Kind of sweet.
A little different to Jamba juice, but kind of sweet.
'With this apparatus, the team can trace exactly where in the body
'the sugars in his food are metabolised
'then converted into fat.'
So here we go in the kitchen, and that's where we prep the diet.
Actually, Marlene is here.
She's getting the diet ready for the subject.
-These are the drinks you give to your patients?
'What Schwarz has found is that the sweetness of our food
'contains one potentially toxic element associated with weight gain.
'It's called fructose.'
What we discovered was that some sugar will be converted to fat
and some are not converted to fat and fructose is one sugar
that really can be easily converted to fat.
Fructose is in the two major sweeteners we consume -
corn syrup and table sugar.
It's this overall payload that is key.
It's in almost everything that's sweet in the American diet
and it's the sheer amount of it now being consumed
that makes it so potentially poisonous.
It's not like you...
Have a toxic effect like lead -
it's not comparable to lead or mercury -
but it's the quantity that makes it toxic.
The sugar industry claims that every scientific review of evidence has
concluded that sugar in itself is not linked to any lifestyle disease.
But the unpalatable fact is that Americans now eat 90lbs of added sugars a year -
more than twice what is regarded as safe.
You're interested in the effect that this payload of sugar
has on the body and the liver in particular.
Exactly. And I like to describe that as a tsunami -
you really have this huge load of sugar going to the liver and that's...
That's the impact,
not only on fat in the blood that may lead to cardiovascular disease,
but also maybe to fat accumulation in the liver,
which could have some impact for diabetes and other chronic disease.
The sugar industry claims that total calorific intake is to blame,
not just sugar.
The scientists are now beginning to think that there's something
very specific about fructose which accelerates obesity.
They found that it suppresses the action of a vital hormone
Leptin goes from your fat cells, sitting here,
goes to your brain and tells your brain you've had enough.
You don't need to eat that second piece of cheesecake.
'When you overload the liver with sugars,
'leptin simply stops working.
'You can carry on eating and your body won't ever say stop.'
It makes the brain think you're starving.
And now, what you have is a vicious cycle of consumption,
disease and addiction.
Which explains what's happened the world over.
'The sugar industry rejects the claim that any one ingredient
'can be responsible for weight gain,
'but if doctors Lustig and Schwarz are right,
'the effect of fructose on the liver
'is what's driving America's obesity.'
But how did we get fat in Britain?
In the late '70s, we were about to turn the same corner as America.
Here, products like Coca-Cola were sweetened mainly by sugar,
rather than corn syrup,
but the impact was just as critical.
Manufacturers wanted us to buy more
and had found a new way to make it happen...
That's my sister - she adores the kids.
It was called snacking,
and it was all about inventing new times of the day to eat
and eating one kind of snack in particular - sugary treats.
In the '70s, eating between meals was still frowned upon.
But the food industry was working hard to change that.
The snack society is threatening the old style of eating at home.
On Sundays, food is still a family affair.
During the week, the young, with money in their pockets,
rely less and less on home cooking.
Britain's calorie intake went up as we found new times
and new places to eat.
The brilliance of this idea for the food industry was that
it moved food beyond the meal table and into what had always been
for them the empty times of the day between meals.
It literally created a gap in the market.
This clever little concept is now worth £6 billion a year.
The food industry say it's just following a trend.
We lead busy lives, we have to graze from time to time
and what the food industry has done
is provide nutritious products
that consumers can take advantage of on the move
that match those busy lifestyles.
Professor Philip James was one of the first to identify obesity
as a serious medical issue.
The increase in snacking is something that we continue
not to focus on and it's a major deficiency, I think.
But if you go to the industry, they love it,
because that's a huge burgeoning part of their profit.
Snacks didn't just change when we ate,
they also increased our overall intake of sugar.
# A finger of Fudge is just enough to give your kids a treat... #
Well, there were a series of products which were...
Let's call them bite-size, they were just small.
The number of products like that which were, I guess, something you could just eat
and be quite nice to eat, but they weren't filling.
Advertising executive Paul Simons was one of those who helped develop our taste for treats.
# A finger of Fudge is just enough to give your kids a treat. #
The key words in that ad being "just enough".
Just enough, yes. Just enough.
So, it's just picking that moment that many people do
and putting that product into that moment.
The march of sugar was aided by a brand-new high-tech arrival
to British kitchens - the freezer.
Paul Simons began visiting restaurants
looking for luxury desserts
that could be turned into frozen products.
If people are eating Black Forest gateau, let's say,
when they go out for supper, dinner,
well, why not make something like that that you can freeze,
because then you can have it when you want it.
So it was basically going out, seeing what people were eating
-and thinking, "We can stick that in the freezer".
We can make that and there will be millions of people who'll buy it.
The nation's tables were transformed.
Dishes like Black Forest gateau were no longer
just for special occasions, but every day.
And the number of calories being consumed went up dramatically - processed food had arrived.
Anything that was more difficult to make at home,
that was a bit more complicated, that you could produce in a mass sense and freeze,
that was our job - that's what we did for a living.
The downside was that no-one knew what was in pre-prepared meals.
But the reality was that levels of sugar
and salt consumption were rising.
But Britain's love affair with American eating habits
was only just beginning.
In 1974, a new kind of experience had touched down in Britain
that would seize the imagination of every child in the country.
For my 10th birthday, I was brought here,
to Leicester Square in London, to see Star Wars.
It was the most exciting day of my life.
But to top that day, I was taken to something even more extraordinary -
it looked like something beamed down from outer space
and it was bright orange and it was called...
In the next 20 years, high street fast food outlets quadrupled.
and obesity expert Professor Philip James
began to notice something peculiar.
Suddenly, the movement of obesity, you could see it as we got
bits of figures from different surveys - it was going up.
And if you say, "Why didn't we intervene earlier?"
you bet we should have done.
But I would have liked to have a bit more data.
Now we're beginning to get this information.
Now we can begin to operate, but we've been very slow.
In America, as in Britain, people were starting to put on weight
but nobody knew why, or even IF it mattered.
In the '70s, obesity wasn't even an issue.
The big health concern was heart disease
and it boiled down to one simple question - what causes it?
Sugar or fat?
This man - Ancel Keys - claimed he had the answer to heart disease.
His theory had a decisive impact on what we would all eat,
but it also had a devastating side-effect - creating the conditions for obesity.
He was already pretty famous here in America
because he was the originator, the inventor of the K Ration.
The K Ration was a way of getting 12,000 calories
in a very small, compact little box that soldiers during World War II
could carry with them as sustenance during battle.
The K Ration contained a lot of very sweet food like chocolate,
because Keys believed sugar was energy -
never for one moment that it could be harmful.
Keys' theory was that fat alone caused heart disease -
an idea he picked up in Britain.
In 1952, Keys did a sabbatical in England,
where he saw the epidemic of heart disease himself,
and correlated it with the enormously poor British diet.
Fish and chips, et cetera. You know what I'm talking about.
And decided that saturated fat had to be the culprit.
And he actually said that back in the '50s, before he did any studies.
And he spent the next 50 years attempting to prove himself right.
Keys's view on fat as the enemy became the orthodoxy,
widely accepted, not least by the food industry.
But on this side of the Atlantic, one man disagreed.
Whilst Keys's argument was sweeping all before it,
here in Britain, one lone voice contested what he was seeing.
In 1972, an academic called John Yudkin published a small
but very important book.
It was called Pure, White and Deadly.
Yudkin was an outspoken nutritionist who thought, controversially,
that sugar was to blame for heart disease, not fat.
But his views were years ahead of their time.
In front of us, day by day,
increasingly more and more very tempting foods are put.
So it's really unfair to use the word "greedy".
This makes people feel guilty.
And this is why they resist, many of them, dieting.
Yudkin's belief in the harm done by sugar
was diametrically opposed to Keys's view.
Professor John Yudkin, who I used to work with
when I was a young scientist, said, "Well, wait a minute.
"There may be other things in the diet.
"Let's consider sugar as well as the other things."
Dr Richard Bruckdorfer worked closely with Yudkin on his nutritional research.
He pointed out that sucrose is something which only
came in our diet about eight generations previously,
and was a sort of interloper into the British diet.
And that was probably the biggest change that had taken place over the last two centuries.
But Yudkin wasn't listened to, and he had made an enemy.
There was a huge lobby from industry, particularly
from the British sugar industry and the American sugar industry,
which he complained bitterly about, that he thought
were subverting some of his ideas because it wasn't convenient to them.
The battle over sugar and fat got personal.
Yudkin's ideas were rubbished by his rival, Ancel Keys,
and Yudkin's work was forgotten.
Keys won the battle. Yudkin was thrown under the bus. And...
In what way was he thrown under the bus?
Well, he was discredited by numerous societies,
basically saying that he did not have the data
to make his claims about the importance of sugar.
It was a disaster for Yudkin, and the rest of us.
Sugar had got off scot-free, and as a result,
we were now free to consume ever-greater amounts,
without any fear of the consequences.
I think Yudkin was a prophet. I have such respect for him.
If you read "Pure, White And Deadly," it's all there.
And for him to have been discredited as he had been
was a real disservice not just to him, but to society.
The obesity crisis we face today is in part caused by
our ignoring Yudkin's warnings about sugar.
We carried on eating sugar with no idea of the dangers.
And what's more, the industry developed a wave of new sweet foods,
perfectly formulated to appeal to our insatiable appetites.
OK, Sam, so we'll come through to the scanner, there.
For those who study the causes of obesity,
the focus has now moved to the brain.
We're going to put you in the scanner.
Here in the UK, Dr Tony Goldstone is researching how the mind reacts to sweet foods.
His subject, Samantha, is on a waiting list
to have a gastric band operation to help her lose weight.
I think every diet that I've tried, obviously, has failed.
I've tried hard, but no, they've all failed.
But I do try. I do try to keep to fruits, I do eat fruit.
With the surgery, what's your kind of ideal?
Erm... To be more active.
To be more confident.
And to go out and to spend more time with my kids.
OK, Samantha, you're going to see some images on the screen, now.
-And just rate the images accordingly, OK?
The researchers show her pictures of high-calorie food,
like chocolate cake and pizza, and healthy food, like vegetables and salad.
The calorie level of the food has a direct bearing on which part of the brain is activated.
Foods that are high in fat and sugar taste good,
so we know that they activate brain reward systems,
even when we show pictures. Or if we just had a word, "Chocolate",
very similar bits of the brain would light up.
-Take your time, cos you've been lying down.
So, these are Sam's results. As you can see,
the high-calorie foods are pretty well all five,
the low-calories score just over three.
It shows which parts of the brain react when Samantha sees food.
Dr Goldstone is interested in one area in particular.
We have an area here called the nucleus acccumbens,
and that's an area that's involved in the drive and motivation to have reward.
And the area we are particularly interested in, also,
is the orbitofrontal cortex, that's here on either side,
just above the eyes.
And that's an area that seems to encode how rewarding we find food.
So we find, for example, that if people rate things as more tasty
or more appealing, you get more activation in that area.
Dr Goldstone's work is nothing less than decoding obesity,
discovering precisely where in the brain appetite is triggered.
How tasty the food is, how good it looks,
even what it sounds like, even what the crunch is like.
So, all these different factors, the type of food,
what our psychological make-up is,
and these external signals from the rest of the body,
all meet together somewhere. Not in our big toe - in our brains.
And that's where they integrate to alter whether we actually reach out
and buy something, or choose it in the shop or the restaurant or at home.
So, Tony, what you're looking at is an incredibly complex interaction
of things within the brain every time you just see, smell some food.
That's obviously what the food industry spends a lot of time developing.
The way the brain stimulates appetite is the holy grail
for both the food industry wanting to sell more food,
and the scientists fighting obesity.
Dr David Kessler was once head of the all-powerful
US Food And Drug Administration.
He is now highly critical of the food industry he once regulated.
It could be tobacco, it could be illegal drugs, it could be sex,
it could be gambling. But what's the most socially acceptable cue,
certainly in our countries?
I mean, it's food. And it's everywhere.
You can't walk more than 100 feet in the United States
and not be cued with some signal that food is available.
So, what's going on,
is my brain is constantly being activated by these cues.
Here's the fish place, here's the taco place,
And, I'm not even thinking about food.
The food industry denies that it exploits neuroscience.
But Kessler believes some foods are designed to create
what neurologists call a hedonic response.
Hedonic means highly pleasurable.
It gives you this momentary bliss.
So, when you're eating food that is highly hedonic,
it sort of takes over your brain.
The problem is, this highly pleasurable food
is often high in sugar, highly processed, and highly fattening.
Here's the way America eats. Here is a bowl of chicken.
There are nutritional components in it,
but it's become so highly processed, so stimulating.
I mean, you can almost sense,
just by smelling it, how overpowering it is.
Dr Kessler's findings suggest that the pleasure some people get
from eating these foods is overpowering.
It takes the brain prisoner.
Not everybody. But for people who have a hard time controlling their weight,
their brains are being hijacked by these highly palatable foods.
When you put it in your mouth, you have sensors,
receptors, that are hard-wired to the emotional core of your brain.
So the circuits that are involved, the neural circuits,
the learning, memory, habit and motivation circuits
that are being activated are the same circuits that are involved in addiction.
The idea that certain foods can be addictive is highly controversial.
The food industry wholly denies that foods can make addicts out of consumers.
The number one reason we like to eat foods or beverages
is because of how they taste, and what you think tastes good
and you like to eat or have a craving for may be different
than I would choose, whether it's apples or grilled chicken,
or a soft drink or a piece of chocolate cake.
So I think we need to make clear there's a big difference
between liking to eat something because it tastes good and being addicted to it.
Do you think that the food manufacturers
know what they're doing by producing hedonic food?
They knew that people come back for more.
-Did they understand the neuroscience? No.
But they learned experientially what worked.
The food industry has always used the position with regard to obesity
that it is the responsibility of the individual to curb their eating.
Would you think that's a fair defence?
I don't think it's fair just to talk about personal responsibility
and not corporate responsibility.
It certainly hasn't been fair to people who have
this wanting, this problem controlling their eating.
If Kessler's neuroscience is right, overeating is not down to greed.
The food industry could also bear a crucial part
of the blame for the obesity epidemic.
The US government had their own part to play in the obesity crisis,
back in the '70s when the first warnings came.
But in trying to fix it, they made it worse.
In 1977, this man, George McGovern,
was set the task of changing American eating habits.
Beaten by Nixon in the 1972 presidential election,
McGovern threw himself into work for a committee
to create the first-ever set of dietary guidelines for Americans.
It would go disastrously wrong.
Nick Mottern was the committee's researcher.
I was hired by the committee to write a report
that would be like the Surgeon General's report on smoking.
We gathered, I guess, probably half a dozen nutritionists in the country
who were willing to talk about eating less fat, eating less sugar, eating less meat.
The report recommended moderate reductions in fat, salt and sugar.
But when it hit the press, the food industry was incensed.
I don't think that McGovern anticipated the kind of kickback
from the food industry that he got on that.
Because we had held hearings,
it was clear that the science was on our side in terms of our recommendations.
The food industry, and the sugar lobby in particular,
brought its muscle to bear to bury the report.
This is an incredible letter that you've got here
from The Sugar Association,
and it says in it that your suppositions are false.
That there's no evidence for what you're saying.
And there's two lines in particular that are incredible.
It says, "For several years now,
"the sugar industry has had to live with two myths.
"One, that consumption is increasing annually,
"and secondly, that consumption of sugar is directly responsible for death-dealing maladies."
What they say here is "both suppositions are false."
What do you think about that?
Well, possibly it could have been written by the same people
who wrote letters for the tobacco industry, protecting their product.
In the media coverage in the weeks after the report was published,
sugar was barely mentioned.
Instead, reducing fat
became the concession the food industry was willing to make,
just as Ancel Keys had advocated years before.
The science historian Gary Taubes says this was pivotal moment.
They had these hearings.
One of the staff members who put together this report said that
after the hearing, he walks out, an industry analyst walks out with him,
and basically puts his arm round his shoulder and says,
"I don't know what you think is going to happen, but if you think people
"are going to start eating more broccoli and more kale and spinach
"because you've now put together dietary goals, you're crazy.
"What you've said is people should eat less fat,
"so the industry is going to jump on this and create low-fat products
"and they're going to label them as heart-healthy or whatever,
"and they're going to be able to carve out a portion of the market for their new products,
"and everyone else is going to have to play catch-up. And that's what they're going to do.
"And the next thing you know, they're going to have shelf after shelf
"in the supermarket of junk foods that claim to be low-fat
"and good for your heart," and that's exactly what happened.
Overnight, a whole new type of food was invented - low-fat.
Sold as much better for us, or so we were told.
The food industry had turned the attack on unhealthy food into a business opportunity.
It was genius.
But the problem was flavour.
Dr Alice Pegg is a food scientist
whose job is to design lower-fat foods.
Her challenge is to replicate the taste fat brings
to foods like mayonnaise.
-Does it taste like mayonnaise? THEY LAUGH
It's good, because it's 80% fat, isn't it? 80% fat.
-The fat tastes good.
Because fat tends to stay in the mouth.
If you think about it, fat and water don't mix,
so when you swallow, some of the fat remains in the mouth.
And you'll tend to have flavours that are dissolved in the fat,
-and so you keep getting a lingering flavour of the thing you like.
When you're replacing fat and you're producing something low-fat,
I mean, do you have to replace it with calories?
You know, what are you replacing it with?
You really have to completely reformulate the food.
When the low-fat first came out,
it was a case of just taking the fat out being the issue,
NOT to do with how many calories we're eating.
And therefore, it didn't matter so much what you were putting in.
But it DID matter when obesity became an issue.
The trouble was that many manufacturers replaced fat with - guess what - sugar.
The problem is, when you take the fat out of the recipe,
food tastes like cardboard.
No-one would ever eat another processed food again
if the fat was taken out.
Ask any kid if they'll drink skim milk and the answer is, "Absolutely not."
But if you put chocolate in it, that's a different story.
Indeed, that's exactly what the entire food industry did.
They took the fat out and they added the sugar in.
Any potential benefit from the lower level of fat was cancelled out by this increase in sugar.
'There was a theory, actually,
'that if a food didn't have a fat in it,'
it couldn't make you fat.
This was one of the many theories that sort of got embraced with the low-fat dogma.
And that meant you could drink all these sodas,
you could drink these fruit juices, they couldn't make you fat.
TANNOY: 'Attention, shoppers.
'Reduced-fat Snackwell's Creme Sandwich Cookies
'have just arrived in aisle three.
'That's aisle three.'
Of all the low-fat success stories, Snackwell's was the most famous.
A cookie marketed at people trying to reduce their fat intake.
-..you eat 'em! Wa-a-ah!
What a creamy way to cut the fat.
Snackwell's Creme Sandwich Cookies - so good!
They flew off the shelves.
There would be huge lines of people waiting when the truck arrived
to deliver the boxes to grocery stores.
It was an incredible phenomenon.
Within three years of its launch,
annual sales were worth half-a-billion dollars.
But the low-fat label didn't mean it wasn't fattening.
People, when they ate the low-fat products,
thought that they didn't have any calories in them.
The sign, "Low-fat,"
indicated to a lot of people that you could just eat as much as you want, and you could eat BOXES of them,
and they wouldn't have any calorie effect.
And so, that also was a stimulus to eat more.
Snackwell's was a marketing triumph,
but a disaster for America's waistline.
By the time anyone began to ask if it was a good thing to replace fat with sugar,
it was too late.
If fat's the cause...
..that's a good thing to do.
If sugar is the cause,
that's a disastrous thing to do.
And I think that over the last 30 years, we've answered the question.
By 2000, here in Washington, the tide was turning.
Public health specialists from the new science of obesity
were now talking about sugar.
And the food corporations were getting very nervy.
The food industry has one of the most powerful lobbies here in Washington.
They spend millions every year, so as the science of obesity grew up and became better understood,
that lobby was working overtime.
With the spotlight on sugar,
very powerful interests got to work the defend it.
2003 - Britain and America were assembling forces to invade Iraq.
But some of Washington's most powerful politicians
had another crisis on their minds.
the World Health Organisation was about to issue a report
that set global limits on the amount of sugar in our diet.
It was time for the sugar lobby to mobilise its own tanks.
The sugar industry went berserk.
They got their lobbyists to write a big position paper
to argue with the World Health Organisation that they shouldn't do this.
The Sugar Association wrote direct to the WHO's director general,
threatening the organisation's 406 million of US government funding.
They forced the Department of Health and Human Services
to threaten the World Health Organisation with withdrawing funding from it
if they didn't lighten up on that recommendation.
The US Health Secretary himself flew to Geneva
to put the sugar industry's case in person.
The WHO never did make that recommendation.
What happened in Geneva shows how powerful the food industry really is.
But today, with a third of American adults now classed as obese,
the food industry is at last offering to change.
All the time, science is changing,
and how they're thinking about how to tackle the problem is changing.
This is an industry which takes, you know, with its scale,
takes its responsibilities very, very seriously,
and has already done an awful lot, and will continue to do so.
And we know that there's real commitment behind us playing our full part in public health.
The former Coca-Cola executive Hank Cardello
now has his own consultancy aimed at getting corporations to tackle obesity.
The beauty, if you can look at the silver lining
in the challenge of obesity, is that, even though it's a problem,
it creates a galvanising effect.
Companies need to make money,
and consumers need to eat food that is convenient and tastes good,
and from the public health perspective, we need products that are healthier.
And all those need to come together.
This is a dilemma for the food companies.
While obesity has ballooned, so have profits.
Healthier food might be good PR, but it's a commercial gamble.
The men who made us fat revolutionised what we eat.
What they did in the '70s gave us sweeter food, and too much of it...
led to one man's warnings being ignored...
while another gave the risks in sugar a clean bill of health.
And another man's work left us so-called low-fat food,
with hidden calories where we least expected them.
Theirs was a disastrous legacy.
we're still struggling to cope with our inheritance from these men.
The number of obese adults has TREBLED since the 1980s.
Obesity is costing the NHS over £4 billion a year.
It's astonishing to find such a clear link between a few politicians
and thinkers in '70s America and our present crisis.
The question is not why there are so many fat people,
so many obese people, it's why there are thin people
in an environment where it's leading us all to be obese.
It's pretty difficult to cope in this obesity epidemic
with the prevailing conditions.
And everybody always says to you that it's all your own fault.
Forget it. The evidence is the exact contrary.
Next week, I go on the trail of the men who supersized
our appetites in the quest for profits.
He realised that if he increased the portions, that he could sell more.
Because people didn't like the idea of going back for two.
They changed the rules,
because then everyone started running around thinking, "We've got to make a bigger bar."
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Around the world, obesity levels are rising. More people are now overweight than undernourished. Two thirds of British adults are overweight and one in four of us is classified as obese. In the first of this three-part series, Jacques Peretti traces those responsible for revolutionising our eating habits, to find out how decisions made in America 40 years ago influence the way we eat now.
Peretti travels to America to investigate the story of high-fructose corn syrup. The sweetener was championed in the US in the 1970s by Richard Nixon's agriculture secretary Earl Butz to make use of the excess corn grown by farmers. Cheaper and sweeter than sugar, it soon found its way into almost all processed foods and soft drinks. HFCS is not only sweeter than sugar, it also interferes with leptin, the hormone that controls appetite, so once you start eating or drinking it, you don't know when to stop.
Endocrinologist Robert Lustig was one of the first to recognise the dangers of HFCS but his findings were discredited at the time. Meanwhile a US Congress report blamed fat, not sugar, for the disturbing rise in cardio-vascular disease and the food industry responded with ranges of 'low fat', 'heart healthy' products in which the fat was removed - but the substitute was yet more sugar.
Meanwhile, in 1970s Britain, food manufacturers used advertising campaigns to promote the idea of snacking between meals. Outside the home, fast food chains offered clean, bright premises with tempting burgers cooked and served with a very un-British zeal and efficiency. Twenty years after the arrival of McDonalds, the number of fast food outlets in Britain had quadrupled.