November 6, 2020 • By Dennis Beaver
“Recently, some of the largest manufacturers of opiates have entered into multi-million dollar settlements for their role in facilitating America’s opiate epidemic,” began an email from “Pete.”
“Shouldn’t the same reasoning be applied to television cooking programs which contribute to the obesity epidemic? Laura, my wife, and our three children have become terribly obese after watching these TV shows, especially America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country, where, like Rachel Rey, the hosts have become obese before viewers’ eyes.
“Laura watches these programs and then prepares meals using their recipes. I tell her, ‘Just look at the hosts, how obese they have become. This isn’t normal, it isn’t ok, and it is dangerous. You have hypertension and are diabetic.’ She says, “They seem ok with being fat, and I am too.’
“Mr. Beaver, I am not fat-shaming my wife, but it is as if she is addicted to the calorie-dense food the hosts prepare.
“Why don’t the producers of these programs think of what their recipes are doing to viewers who make the dishes? Why don’t they encourage much healthier eating? I wrote the programs and asked those questions, but never got a reply. Perhaps you might have better luck.”
At home, we watch these shows–purely as entertainment–but I can’t argue with a thing that Pete says. He raises some very timely questions. I emailed the programs’ media rep, Brian Franklin and asked why no one replied to Pete and got no response. Later, I again wrote, but instead of addressing these serious health concerns, his flippant response was: “Attacking and criticizing the appearance of anyone, let alone our hosts is not worthy of a response.”
In 2019, according to the CDC, deaths from opiate overdose in the United States were close to 70,000. And from obesity?
The National Institutes of Health tells us, “Obesity and overweight together are the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States, close behind tobacco use. An estimated 300,000 deaths per year are due to the obesity epidemic”
The Harvard School of Public Health puts a “$190 billion price tag on the cost of obesity to our country. This includes the value of lost work, and employer-paid insurance. Annual medical spending is $2,741 higher for obese individuals than for people who are not obese.”
Google TV cooking shows and obesity
If you use Google or Google Scholar and search “TV cooking shows and obesity,” the number of entries and university studies on this topic will amaze you. Viewers who prepare the recipes, have an average weight gain of eleven pounds. That’s just an average. But their influence on food selection is powerful and often unhealthy.
A compelling study of the impact television cooking shows have on weight gain was conducted just a few years ago by researchers from Cornell and the University of Vermont. They found:
1 – Watching chefs prepare indulgent dishes on TV, or a famous host enjoy over-the-top foods with other people, or viewing social media food pictures and recipes suggests a social norm for preparing these types of food.
2 – Televised food programs reinforce bad eating habits, where the hosts are seen as authorities on food, a status that gives their guidance more credibility.
Recent covid and obesity study is a wake-up call
A collaborative study by the University of North Carolina and the World Bank released at the end of August found that, “Obesity increases the risk of dying of Covid-19 by nearly 50% and may make vaccines against the disease less effective.”
One commentator wrote, “Anyone who, today, thinks that obesity is no big deal just doesn’t get it, and to judge by most of the TV cooking shows, it is clear that they not only don’t get it, but do not care about what they are doing our health.”
The Pleasure Trap
I ran Pete’s observations by Dr. Alan Goldhamer, co-author of The Pleasure Trap, a fascinating book about how our brain “traps” us into unhealthy eating habits.
“Pete used the term addiction to describe his wife’s behavior around food, and that is precisely what the food industry–and cooking shows in particular–have done to us. Our brains love calorie-dense food, secreting the pleasure hormone dopamine. I call it SOS – Salt, Oil and Sugar which dominate today’s diet leading to health problems virtually unknown fifty years ago.
“Dennis, in my opinion, these TV shows should come with a warning: Watching this program could be hazardous to your health.”
Perhaps one day a class action law firm will file a lawsuit, where plaintiff’s greatest proof will be videos of what eating their own recipes did to their hosts.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.