Why Self-Help Can't Solve It All

08/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Alison Rose Levy Health, food and environmental journalist; radio host, Progressive Radio Network

Would you buy a financial advice book from Enron executives about saving pennies for your retirement? No? Then what about former FDA Chief Dr. David Kessler's new self-help book on how people should "just say no" to neurologically seductive foods created by food industry scientists?

A former FDA chief advises people to call upon individual willpower to resist the sophisticated marketing of billion dollar industries. Unfortunately, the evidence-- massive weight gain, an obesity epidemic, a shorter life span for this generation's children-- demonstrates that many people find that to be impossible.

Had anyone but a former FDA Chief written this book, one could say, well, all he could do was warn us off.

I'm sure he's well-intentioned. But when he headed the FDA, why didn't Kessler challenge the food industry's right to monkey with human neurology and cause health harm? That would have been more helpful than the umpteenth diet self-help book. It's sloppy seconds to next tell people to withstand the marketing barrage that you failed to curb.

What this book reveals is a widespread blindness to the systemic forces at work in a nationwide health crisis.

Now all of the rest of us have to subsidize food industry profits through covering the health care costs of the resulting health problems.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for personal responsibility and indeed I write self-help books. My question is: Are government policies and industries fighting to help those who are trying to lose weight? Or against them?

Get the free Health Outlook at