July 13, 2024

Processed-food consumption is destroying the health and futures of our children

I felt the usual instinctual responses this morning when I wrote about the tragic life and death of poor little Karmity Hoeb, who was killed by her mother feeding her a diet of Mountain Dew and baby formula—and nothing else.



Deep water.

If you know the story, I’m sure you probably feel the same way. Four-year-old Karmity was plied and pacified with a sugar-laden, nutrition-free diet by her mother, Tamara Banks, until all of her teeth fell out. As the little girl’s life ebbed away, she was in distress for days, but it was only when she turned blue and stopped breathing that Banks finally called 911. By that point it was too late. The poor girl was braindead, the result of acute diabetic ketoacidosis.

What makes the story even worse is that Karmity had a brother who had already ended up in a diabetic coma at the same age, presumably because he was fed the same diet as his sister.

In court, Tamara said she thought she “was taking care” of Karmity. Frankly, I find that hard to believe. And so did the judge, who sentenced the mother to nine years in prison. The father will be sentenced next month.

It’s not a bad thing that we should want to get Biblical with people who abuse, abandon, exploit and terrorise children, whoever and wherever they may be. We may be talking about a Tamara Banks, a Jeffrey Epstein or the CIA advisors who bribed aging Afghan warlords with Viagra so they could continue indulging in their favourite pastime, raping little boys—all deserve the closest we can approximate to the wrath of God on earth.

But in the case of Karmity Hoeb, I think we might do well to think a little deeper about some of the issues at play.

The pathetic fate of Karmity Hoeb isn’t all that different from the fate of millions of children across America and the developed world who are fed a diet that might as well be soda and baby formula: it’s made from the same basic ingredients, and it has the same basic effects on their development. Yes, these children may not die as Karmity did, but their young lives are blighted by ill health and obesity, and then the same happens as they grow older. These children—our children—are set up to fail by their parents and by society. A part of them that might have grown into something beautiful is killed.

Last year, a study showed that children in the US between the ages of two and five now derive 58% of their daily calories from ultra-processed food. A basic working definition of ultra-processed food would be foods that are a) prepared in a factory, b) wrapped in plastic and c) contain ingredients that you wouldn’t find in a typical home kitchen, which means things like emulsifiers, humectants, stabilisers and preservatives. Think of the pre-packaged food you see lining the shelves of your local Walmart or convenience store.

Only British toddlers have a worse diet than their American counterparts, deriving a full two-thirds of their calories from processed food.

Monosodium glutamate, a ubiquitous flavour-enhancer in processed food, damages the testes and prostate gland, reducing testosterone and reproductive function in men. pic.twitter.com/cOqhEZ5k8V

— RAW EGG NATIONALIST (@Babygravy9) January 30, 2024

The evidence for the harmful effects of processed-food consumption grows by the day. Virtually every one of the prevailing chronic diseases of modernity has been linked to processed-food consumption: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autism, Alzheimer’s. This is a type of food we’ve only been eating, as a species, for the last century, and the last century has seen an unprecedented rise in all of the conditions I’ve just listed. This is no coincidence.

What’s even worse is that these foods are specifically designed to be addictive. Food scientists call this quality “hyperpalatability,” and it means, basically, the optimal combination of a variety of different food sensations all at once—sweetness, saltiness and crunch, those sorts of things. Big Food pays an army of food scientists a lot of money to exploit the complicated neurobiology of pleasure and ensure that once you pop, you just can’t stop.

The full range of body- and mind-altering effects of massive processed-food consumption were on dramatic show in a BBC documentary broadcast during the pandemic. Dr Chris Van Tulleken, a pretty normal chap in his forties, spent four weeks eating a diet consisting of 80% processed food, which is now the standard diet for 20% of the adult population in Britain.

The physical effects were bad enough—Van Tulleken put on a considerable amount of weight, he was constipated and suffered hemorrhoids and heartburn—but perhaps even more worrying were the mental and emotional effects. His libido plummeted, he developed anxiety, he couldn’t sleep. And most of all, he just couldn’t stop eating. Even in the middle of the night. The doctor found himself at the fridge in the early hours, despite having eaten a substantial evening meal, gorging on chocolate mousse and sausage rolls. He knew he wasn’t hungry, and he said so, to the camera—but still he kept on eating.

When scientists examined his brain with an MRI, they found that his brain had been rewired in the manner of a drug addict, with significant increases in neural connections between areas of the brain associated with reward and automatic behaviour. Months later, those connections were still there, lighting up. His brain had been rewired, maybe permanently.

That’s hyperpalatability for you. That’s what’s happening to young children’s brains when they eat this stuff.

Childhood ill-health and obesity is a curse, whatever the latest anti-fatphobia guru might try to tell you. Healthy at any size is a lie, plain and simple.

Much of the damage cannot be undone either. For example, one recent study showed that young boys who go through puberty overweight end up with testicles that can be up to 1.5x smaller than those of men who were not overweight in adolescence. You only get one chance to go through puberty correctly, and so if you don’t, because you’re overweight, those effects remain with you for the rest of your life. You can lose weight, sure, but you’ll still have improperly developed testicles, which means you’ll still have less testosterone—the master male hormone that governs everything from muscle mass to mood—and you’ll be less fertile.

Allowing our children to eat this processed junk is a tremendous betrayal of our responsibility towards them. We may not be killing them like Tamara Banks killed little Karmity Hoeb, but we’re still killing their potential. And frankly, what’s the difference? Not much, as far as I can see.

The Silent Weather War On Humanity

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