A recent study found that fully 80% of metabolic disease can be attributed to lifestyle, e.g. poor diet and a lack exercise. Eighty percent. That is a staggering finding especially when one considers that 476 million people worldwide have diabetes, most of them Type 2 (T2). This represents a 129% increase since 1990, when the number stood 211.2 million. During the same time frame, the rates of cardiovascular disease have increased from 271 million to 523 million. Underlying a significant percentage of these conditions is the obesity epidemic, with 13% of the world’s population considered obese and 39% considered overweight and heading towards obesity.
In the US, the situation is quite dire, only 12-20% of the population, depending upon the criteria utilized, are considered metabolically healthy. Clearly, our approach to metabolic health is not working and yet, much of the focus in health research remains centered on either identifying that one medication or combination of medications that resolve all of our bad choices or an overly simplistic approach to health represented by balancing the calories in/calories out equation. As evidenced by the exploding numbers of metabolic disease, neither of these perspectives seems particularly useful.
While both personal choice and calories play a role in these epidemics, the problem is much broader. The food ecosystem has been decimated and in its place, we have non-nutritive chemical-toxicant food-like products that were designed to be highly addictive. When consumed, these products fundamentally change the metabolism of the individual who consumes them, and not for the better. Every bite of a chemically processed food is one step closer to metabolic disease. Beyond that however, the choice to allow industry to create, utilize, and ultimately dump these chemicals into food, other products, and into the environment, rests on us as well. Those are choices too; choices that affect the metabolic health of communities, and more broadly, the world.
We tend to think of industry and the pollution they create as amorphous, self-propelling and promoting agents of doom, forgetting of course, that each and every one of these organizations is made of people; people like you and me who make decisions to produce and promote these chemical poisons; people who choose to put poisons in foods under the auspices of the pathetically weak and ineffective GRAS guidelines. People make these choices. We do not get forever chemicals that fundamentally disrupt all aspects of metabolism without people who chose to create them, others who chose to use them in common products (and deny any and all risk), and all of us who relish in the novelty of these products. We do not get 80,000 synthetic chemical entities currently on the market without people putting them there. We do not get 1.8 billion pounds of glyphosate used every year, enough for every person on the planet to consume 4lbs annually without people that made choices to produce, use, and not regulate this chemical. We are the problem. We made these choices. We are the ones who are destroying our health and the health of others by the choices we make.
So when we look at the skyrocketing numbers of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity, it is not enough to say ‘eat better and eat less’. We need to clean house, top to bottom. We need to stop producing the garbage food that pollutes our bodies and the environment. We need to take responsibility for all of the choices that lead us to the point where only 12-20% of the population can be considered metabolically healthy.
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