THE END OF OVEREATING: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, by David A. Kessler, M.D. Rodale, 320 pp., $25.95.
Dr. David A. Kessler, who, as commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the 1990s, once took on Big Tobacco - and won - has a new enemy: Big Food.
Kessler writes that this book was conceived as he watched Dr. Phil on "Oprah" talking to an obese woman who cried when she spoke of her constant obsession with food - and two-thirds of the audience said they shared that obsession.
Kessler, who admits to food issues himself, found that there's a "bliss point" - a combination of sugar, fat and salt - that makes a food "hyperpalatable," or practically irresistible. The food industry works to entice consumers with these ingredients, or what one anonymous food executive calls "three points of the compass." Restaurants also use layering, or "loading" - fats upon fats, as in potato skins or buffalo chicken wings, for example - which he calls "sugar on salt on fat on fat on fat." Kessler's source calls the food industry "the manipulator of the consumers' minds and desires."
Foods that are the most successful create "a lot of fun in your mouth," another food executive says. Add chemicals for more flavor and a pinch of advertising, and consumers are hooked. "Once you've crossed the threshold, the floodgates open," one scientist says. People the most at risk from this lethal combination of "conditioned hypereating" in "All-U-Can-Eat-America"? Children, of course.
For a national policy guru, Kessler's take on what we can do about our food obsessions is surprisingly, uh, low-fat. He proposes a "truth campaign," similar to the one led by young people against tobacco, but not about who might fund or lead it. His other suggestions include better food labeling, posting calorie counts on restaurant food menus (many do already), and close monitoring of food marketing. Again, by whom? Unfortunately, his solutions are full of empty calories.