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The Hypocrisy of Federal Fitness Promotions

Childhood Obesity

Story at-a-glance -

  • Childhood obesity has more than doubled in young children and tripled in adolescents over the past 30 years; 18 percent of American children between the ages of six and 11 now fall in the obese category
  • Five percent of American children are “severely obese,” which puts them at grave risk for chronic diseases typically reserved for adults, such as heart and liver disease
  • Ironically, the celebrities chosen for the First Lady’s <i>Let’s Move!</i> campaign are the same people telling them to eat Oreos, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Burger King, and to drink Pepsi and other “designer” sodas
  • While most kids surely need more exercise, it must be understood that more exercise is not enough to counter the ill effects of a high refined-fructose, processed food diet
  • You do not get fat because you eat too many calories and don't exercise enough. Your consumption of grains and sugars, especially fructose, will determine whether or not you're able to manage your weight and maintain optimal health

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By Dr. Mercola

Childhood obesity has more than doubled in young children and tripled in adolescents over the past 30 years. A whopping 18 percent of American children between the ages of six and 11 now fall in the obese category—up from seven percent in 1980.1

And, according to the latest statistics from the American Heart Association,2 five percent of American children are now "severly obese," which puts them at grave risk for chronic diseases typically reserved for adults, such as heart and liver disease.

In light of such facts, the First Lady's Let's Move! campaign is a welcomed effort to teach kids the basics of a healthier lifestyle. I just wish the campaign would "get it together" in terms of its overall messaging...

At present, the people telling your kids to "get moving" are the same people telling them to eat Oreos, Dunkin' Donuts, and Burger King, and to drink Pepsi and other "designer" sodas.

Fortunately, I'm not the only one taking notice of such hypocrisy. As reported by the featured article in Time Magazine:3

"There is no denying the First Lady's Let's Move! campaign is an historic effort to improve the health of America's youth with unprecedented collaborations between families, schools, food companies and legislators. But while the message is admirable, the messengers are causing some to take a critical look at the program's strategies.

One reason for the Let's Move campaign's success since 2010 has to do with the fact that its primary spokesperson and cheerleader was none other than First Lady Michelle Obama... Obama has since brought on some of the country's biggest celebrities and athletes to support the cause and motivate children to exercise more.

But what happens when these high-profile stars have junk food gigs on the side?"

The Burdens of a Role Model

One of the stars enlisted to entice kids to get moving is the popular singer Beyoncé. A couple of years ago, she created the popular "Move Your Body" music video for the campaign. One uploaded YouTube version of it has garnered close to 28.4 million views. Another upload has over 4.7 million views. Clearly, it can be considered a successful outreach.

This is why her recent $50 million Pepsi deal garnered all the more criticism. Clearly, drinking Pepsi is by no means going to improve anyone's health or fitness. Despite junk food industry jargon about "energy balance," there simply is no justification to promote soda to kids. For optimal health, they don't need any amount of soda. Ever. And that message needs to be understood clearly and effectively if we ever hope to address the obesity epidemic.

Unfortunately, the Let's Move! campaign seems to have chosen to overlook the simple fact that kids who worship stars like Beyoncé and Shaquille O'Neal—another famous spokesperson for the campaign—are not going to reason their way through the slick PR messages of various ad campaigns and figure out that their idols' promotion of exercise is valid, but their promotion of soda or junk food is not...

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What Does "Moderation" Really Mean When It Comes to Soda Consumption?

While Beyoncé is hawking Pepsi, Shaq has launched his own line of soda, called Soda Shaq Cream Soda—his face prominently displayed on each can. According to the featured article, each 23.5 oz can contains 72 grams (17 teaspoons) of sugar. Remember, I frequently recommend limiting your sugar and fructose intake to a maximum of 25 grams per day if you're in good health, and as little as 15 grams a day if you are obese, have insulin/leptin resistance, high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease. Based on the statistics mentioned earlier, this applies to nearly 1 in 5 children under the age of 11. For them, just one can of Soda Shaq equates to nearly five days' worth of recommended sugar allowance!

"In addressing the conflict, O'Neal said to the Associated Press, 'As parents, everything that we do for our children should be done in moderation. I don't drink my soda every day.' A good point, but that message of moderation doesn't appear on any of his soda signage in the stores," the featured article states.

Precisely. Nor is the message getting out that the word "moderation" equates to maybe one can of soda per week, or better yet, per year, or even lifetime... It's important to remember that your diet accounts for about 80 percent of the health benefits you reap from a healthy lifestyle; the remaining 20 percent from exercise.

It's also worth noting that research has clearly shattered the old myth that "a calorie is a calorie," and that you get fat from eating more calories than you expend through physical activity. As I'll explain below, this simply isn't true. So what we have here, really, is a flimsy attempt to excuse—and still promote—a junk food diet by telling kids to "just exercise more."

While most kids surely need more exercise, it must be understood that more exercise is not enough to counter the ill effects of a high refined fructose, processed food diet. Their food choices have to change, too! And that means cutting out sodas and junk food—the very items promoted by the same stars telling them to exercise more. It's hypocritical. Worst of all, it teaches kids nothing about what a healthy lifestyle really entails.

You simply cannot exercise your way out of the ramifications of a junk food diet, and neither can your kids. They need whole-food nutrition for growth and development. Childhood obesity is directly attributable to a diet that is excessively high in fructose (read processed foods and sugary beverages), and the statistics will not budge until this fact is recognized and addressed.

Don't Fall for Flawed, Outdated Calorie-Counting Advice

Coca-Cola Company is another beverage giant trying to fan the flames of the myth that you can eat and drink junk as long as you exercise more. Coke's multi-million dollar "anti-obesity" campaign again promotes the sentiment that:

"...beating obesity... [is] based on one simple, common-sense fact: All calories count, no matter where they come from. ...And if you eat and drink more calories than you burn off, you'll gain weight."4

Again, this "conventional wisdom" has been firmly debunked by peer-reviewed science. Not all calories count equally. And the "calories in, calories out" hypothesis for maintaining weight has equally been shown to be incorrect. It is in fact FAR more important to look at the source of the calories than counting them.

In short, most people, including you, do not get fat because you eat too many calories and don't exercise enough. You get fat because you eat the wrong kind of calories. The timing of your calories also plays a role. At the end of the day, your consumption of carbohydrates, whether in the form of grains and sugars (especially fructose), will determine whether or not you're able to manage your weight and maintain optimal health.

This is because these types of carbs (fructose and grains) affect the hormones insulin and leptin, both of which are very potent fat regulators. Fats and proteins affect them to a far lesser degree. Recent research also shows that when you consume fructose, you may actually be "programming" your body to consume more calories, as fructose fails to trigger that feeling of fullness, and tends to fuel continued hunger pangs.

I cannot think of any instance where you might need a soda in order to maintain correct "energy balance." It is simply a blatant nutritional lie to justify buying their product. You can achieve optimal health without any added sugar, or artificial sweeteners for that matter. In fact, if you want to truly understand energy balance, read up on how to become fat adapted rather than being a sugar burner. This requires cutting out virtually all added sugars.

Coca-Cola is also trying to shift your attention to its no- and low-calorie beverages, telling you and your children that, essentially, you can have your cake and eat it too if you opt for these even far worse alternatives .

This is yet another massive misinformation campaign, as artificial sweeteners have actually been shown to produce even greater weight gain than regular sugar and even high fructose corn syrup! Studies have also shown that artificial sweeteners worsen your insulin sensitivity to a greater degree than sugar, so diabetics stand to lose a great deal too by falling for this scientifically-unsound propaganda.

Why Calorie Counting Doesn't Work

Dr. Robert Lustig, an expert on the metabolic fate of sugar, explains that fructose is "isocaloric but not isometabolic." This means you can have the same amount of calories from fructose or glucose, fructose and protein, or fructose and fat, but the metabolic effect will be entirely different despite the identical calorie count. This is a crucial point that must be understood.

Fructose is in fact far worse than other carbs because the vast majority of it converts directly to FAT, both in your fatty tissues, and in your liver. And this is why counting calories does not work. As long as you keep eating fructose and grains, you're programming your body to create and store fat, while simultaneously impairing its ability to actually burn that fat as fuel when you need it. So you wind up getting fatter and fatter with virtually no possibility of ever burning the excess fat.

Furthermore, research by Dr. Richard Johnson, chief of the Division of Renal Diseases and Hypertension at the University of Colorado and author of The Sugar Fix and The Fat Switch, demonstrates that large portions of food and too little exercise are NOT solely responsible for why you are gaining weight. Rather it's fructose-containing sugars that cause obesity—not by calories, but by turning on your "fat switch," a powerful biological adaptation that causes cells to accumulate fat in anticipation of scarcity (or hibernation).

You Cannot "Exercise Off" the Detrimental Effects of a Junk Food Diet...

As stated in the featured article, the star power selected for the Let's Move! campaign promote junk foods and beverages that are completely at odds with the campaign's main message. For example:

"NFL star Eli Manning has also participated in a Let's Move! event, and has promoted Double Stuff Oreos and Dunkin Donuts. Soccer great David Beckham made a Let's Move appearance and starred in Burger King advertisements.5

"It's unfortunate, the high number of high-profile entertainers that have supported the campaign do commercials promoting fast food," says Michael Jacobson, Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has called out Let's Move! on its celebrity guests multiple times. The message is completely inconsistent with Let's Move!... Kids are especially influenced by celebrities. They think if they consume their product, a little of that glamour or athletic prowess will rub off on them."

Clearly, using celebrity and athlete endorsements help get the message out and influence buying decisions, otherwise the companies would not pay tens of millions of dollars to these celebrities. But kids cannot distinguish between positive and negative messages being promoted by their idols. The reason popular celebrities are chosen for any ad campaign is precisely because kids are attracted to them no matter what they're promoting.

The lines will likely get even more blurred if soda-promoting celebrities end up getting involved in the Drink-Up initiative,6 aimed to get Americans to drink more water. As Andrew Cheyne, a researcher at the Berkeley Media Studies Group, told Time Magazine:

"We can't expect kids to turn off that admiration when the same person is selling sugar. At best, kids might be confused. At worst, they'll think the messages about soda are the same as the messages about water, and those two beverages aren't the same."

Research Overwhelmingly Supports High Intensity Exercise

Now, while your diet accounts for the majority of the health benefits of a healthy lifestyle, exercise is a crucial adjunct. For the time-crunched—which includes most kids too these days—there's good news. Compelling and ever-mounting research shows that short bursts of high intensity interval training (HIIT) beats longer endurance-type workouts, which means you can get much more shorter workouts.

Not only does HIIT beat conventional cardio as a more effective and efficient form of exercise, it also provides health benefits you simply cannot get from regular aerobics, such as a tremendous boost in human growth hormone (HGH), aka the "fitness hormone," which aids with both muscle growth and weight loss. For example:

  • One study published in the Journal of Obesity7 reported that 12 weeks of HIIT not only can result in significant reductions in total abdominal, trunk, and visceral fat, but also can give you significant increases in fat-free mass and aerobic power.
  • Research published in the journal Cell Metabolism8 showed that when healthy but inactive people exercise intensely, even if the exercise is brief, it produces an immediate measurable change in their DNA.

    Several of the genes affected by an acute bout of exercise are genes involved in fat metabolism. Specifically, the study suggested that when you exercise your body almost immediately experiences genetic activation that increases the production of fat-busting (lipolytic) enzymes.

  • Another study9 found that unfit but otherwise healthy middle-aged adults were able to improve their insulin sensitivity and blood sugar regulation after just two weeks of interval training (three sessions per week).
  • A follow-up study10 confirmed that interval training positively impacted insulin sensitivity. In fact, the study involved people with full-blown type 2 diabetes, and just ONE interval training session was found to improve blood sugar regulation for the next 24 hours.

Teach Your Kids the Basic Tenets of Optimal Health

Leading a common-sense, healthy lifestyle is your best bet to achieve a healthy body and mind. And while conventional medical science may flip-flop back and forth in its recommendations, there are certain basic tenets of optimal health (and healthy weight) that do not change:

  1. Proper food choices: For a comprehensive guide, see my free optimized nutrition plan. Generally speaking though, you'll want to focus your diet on whole, ideally organic, unprocessed or minimally processed foods. For the best nutrition and health benefits, you will want to eat a good portion of your food raw.
  2. Avoid sugar, and fructose in particular. All forms of sugar have toxic effects when consumed in excess, and drive multiple disease processes in your body, not the least of which is insulin resistance, a major cause of chronic disease and accelerated aging.

    I believe the two primary keys for successful weight management are severely restricting carbohydrates (sugars, fructose, and grains) in your diet, and increasing healthy fat consumption. This will optimize insulin and leptin levels, which is key for maintaining a healthy weight and optimal health. Sources of healthy fats include:

    Olives and olive oil Coconuts and coconut oil Butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk
    Raw nuts, particularly macadamia Organic pastured egg yolks Avocados
    Grass-fed meats Palm oil Unheated organic nut oils


  3. Regular exercise: Even if you're eating the healthiest diet in the world, you still need to exercise to reach the highest levels of health, and you need to be exercising effectively, which means including high-intensity activities into your rotation. High-intensity interval-type training boosts human growth hormone (HGH) production, which is essential for optimal health, strength and vigor. HGH also helps boost weight loss.
  4. So along with core-strengthening exercises, strength training, and stretching, I highly recommend that two to three times a week you do Peak Fitness exercises, which raise your heart rate up to your anaerobic threshold for 20 to 30 seconds, followed by a 90-second recovery period.

  5. Stress reduction: You cannot be optimally healthy if you avoid addressing the emotional component of your health and longevity, as your emotional state plays a role in nearly every physical disease -- from heart disease and depression, to arthritis and cancer. Meditation, prayer, social support and exercise are all viable options that can help you maintain emotional and mental equilibrium. I also strongly believe in using simple tools such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to address deeper, oftentimes hidden, emotional problems.
  6. Drink plenty of clean pure water.
  7. Maintain a healthy gut: About 80 percent of your immune system resides in your gut, and research is stacking up showing that probiotics—beneficial bacteria—affect your health in a myriad of ways; it can even influence your ability to lose weight. A healthy diet is the ideal way to maintain a healthy gut, and regularly consuming traditionally fermented foods is the easiest, most cost effective way to ensure optimal gut flora.
  8. Optimize your vitamin D levels: Research has shown that increasing your vitamin D levels can reduce your risk of death from ALL causes. Sun exposure is the best way to optimize your vitamin D levels as your body has built-in "fail-safe" mechanisms that prevent detrimental side effects from occurring. For more information on how to safely and effectively optimize your vitamin D levels, please see my previous article, How Vitamin D Performance Testing Can Help You Optimize Your Health.
  9. If you opt for oral vitamin D supplements, make sure you use D3, not prescription D2, as the latter may do more harm than good. Also, if you take supplemental vitamin D, you're creating an increased demand for K2—not K1 that is typically in vegetables as it will not work synergize with vitamin D. Vitamin K2 deficiency is actually what produces the symptoms of vitamin D toxicity, which includes inappropriate calcification that can lead to hardening of your arteries. Together, vitamin D and K2 help strengthen your bones and improve your heart health.

  10. Avoid as many chemicals, toxins, and pollutants as possible: This includes tossing out your toxic household cleaners, soaps, personal hygiene products, air fresheners, bug sprays, lawn pesticides, and insecticides, just to name a few, and replacing them with non-toxic alternatives.
  11. Get plenty of high quality sleep: Regularly catching only a few hours of sleep can hinder metabolism and hormone production in a way that is similar to the effects of aging and the early stages of diabetes. Chronic sleep loss may speed the onset or increase the severity of age-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and memory loss.

Be a Role Model for Your Own Kids

You may not be a celebrity, but do not underestimate the power of your influence as a parent. Leading by example is one of the most effective teaching tools there is. Remember, your child's diet is your foremost tool when it comes to keeping his or her weight in check.

Exercise then boosts and reinforces the benefits of a healthy diet to truly optimize their health and development. For example, exercise encourages your child's brain to work at optimum capacity by causing nerve cells to multiply and strengthening their interconnections. Exercise also triggers the release of brain chemicals that have a direct benefit on brain functions, including learning. Integrating the basic tenets of health listed above into your day-to-day life can go a long way toward improving the health of everyone in your family, and will teach your children to make better decisions on their own.