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Dr. Jonny Bowden Headshot

Addicted to Oil, Addicted to Sugar

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There are some striking parallels between the gas crisis and the obesity crisis.

Nobody disagrees that we're "addicted to oil". The debate about what to do about it illuminates a divide that neatly parallels the divide over what to do about obesity.

Clamoring for cheaper gas and offshore drilling (which no one seriously claims will do anything significant) is the equivalent of looking for a way to keep eating crap and not get fat.

The fact is we don't need cheaper gas. We need more expensive gas. So expensive that we will finally be motivated to replace our addiction to oil with forms of energy that are better for the planet and for our pocketbooks.

But this is as painful as giving up sugar and junk food. Most of America- at least if you judge by the endless infomercials at 3 in the morning- is still looking for a way to lose weight "painlessly", without "deprivation" without effort. (Never underestimate the ability of a pill that promises easy, effortless weight loss to make millions for its creators.).

The real solution- like the real solution to the oil crisis- is painful.

Giving up oil is going to hurt (at first). So does giving up cigarettes. So does giving up sugar and corn syrup and the Olive Garden.

But it's the truth. To get and stay healthy, we've got to give up some of (OK, most of) the stuff we're addicted to.

And that's not particularly welcome information.

The response to this information about food parallels the response to this information about oil. People don't like it. The oil companies deny that there's a problem, and if there is one, it's not their fault. They simply rebrand themselves as champions of clean energy, which is as believable as Phillip Morris' anti-smoking stance. The oil companies' loyalty is- as it should be- to their shareholders, not to the planet.

And the loyalties of the big food companies are to their shareholders, not to their health. So they'll take whatever marketing buzzword seems to have a patina of "wholesomeness" (from "organic" to "whole grains" to "omegas") slap it on the same old junk and pretend that they're actually doing something about the obesity crisis. (Whole grain Cocoa Krispies? Organic Twinkies?)

Truth be told, if we did what we needed to do to really fight obesity, diabetes and ill health, we'd put them out of business.

And they know this.

This is where you can see the parallels between the political and nutritional landscapes. It's hard for government agencies to give advice that will undermine the very pillars of the economy. That's why tax breaks for companies developing wind and solar energy have gone nowhere in Congress and why you'll never hear the USDA issue a recommendation for us to stop eating sugar and corn syrup. When industries are foundational to our GDP, "cutting back" has huge economic consequences.

Remember the Upton Sinclair maxim, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it".

What to do, what to do?

Solving difficult and arcane political problems is beyond my pay scale. What I do know is that in life and in health, the truth is sometimes tough to hear and even tougher to act on. But if you want to lose weight, if you want to get healthy and if you want to live long, there isn't a "simple" and "painless" and "effortless" way to do it. You have to give up your addictions. The rewards come (and they do come) further on down the road, not a location Americans are particularly fond of. (There are also stunningly obvious parallels between our obesity crisis and our unparalleled credit card debt. Need I bother to elaborate?)

Giving up addictions- be it to oil, cigarettes, junk food or the jewel-encrusted Paris Hilton edition of the iPhone that maxed out your Visa- isn't easy at first, especially for the most entitled generation on the planet. But having given up more than my share of addictions myself, I know it can be done.

The inconvenient truth is that kicking addictions comes with a price: it's not easy, it's a pain in the ass, it's occasionally uncomfortable and it requires some sacrifice.

But in the end it works.

The question to ask is not whether it can be done painlessly.

The question to ask is whether it's worth it.

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