Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

How "Hyperpalatable" Foods Could Turn You Into A Food Addict -

How "Hyperpalatable" Foods Could Turn You Into A Food Addict - 

Over a third of the global population is now overweight, and the percentages are increasing. Some neuroscientists have suggested that the rise of so-called "hyperpalatable foods" may partially explain the unprecedented rates of obesity.

Our food environment has changed dramatically over the years, most notably through the introduction of so-called "hyperpalatable" foods. These foods are deliberately engineered in such a way that they surpass the reward properties of traditional foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Food chemists achieve this by suffusing products with increased levels of fat, sugar, flavors, and food additives.

Conditioned hypereating

David A. Kessler, author of The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite and former head of the FDA, claims that the food industry has combined and created foods in a way that taps into our brain circuitry, thus stimulating our desire for more. On their own, these ingredients aren't particularly potent, but when combined in specific ways, they tap into the brain's reward system, creating a feedback loop that stimulates our desire to eat and leaves us wanting more — even when we're full.

As Kessler told the New York Times, restaurant chains like Chili's cook up "hyper-palatable food that requires little chewing and goes down easily," while a Snickers bar is "extraordinarily well engineered." As we chew it, he says, the sugar dissolves, the fat melts and the caramel traps the peanuts so the entire combination of flavors is blissfully experienced in the mouth at the same time.

Eventually, the experience of eating impossibly delicious foods results in what Kessler describes as "conditioned hypereating." When we consume enjoyable sugary and fatty foods, it stimulates endorphins in our brains — chemicals that signal a pleasurable experience. In turn, and in Pavlovian fashion, these chemicals stimulate us to eat more of that type of food, while also calming us down and making us feel good.

But is it really addiction?

Conditioned hypereating sounds suspiciously similar to what we might call food addiction. And indeed, studies have shown that hyperpalatable foods may be capable of triggering an addictive process — one that's been postulated as a possible cause of the obesity epidemic.

But is it fair or reasonable to categorize food — something we need to keep us alive — alongside such things as illicit drugs, alcohol, and gambling? Some scientists say yes.

Last year, for example, neuroscientists from Connecticut College claimed that Oreo cookies are more addictive than cocaine. The researchers came to this conclusion after measuring a protein called c-Fos in the brains of rats. They found that the cookies activated more neurons in the accumbens — a region of the brain associated with pleasure, and studied for its role in addiction and reward-processing — than addictive substances like cocaine. Not surprisingly, the researchers were harshly criticized for suggesting that something as apparently benign as an Oreo cookie could be compared to a notorious party drug.

These concerns aside, evidence is mounting in support of the idea that food addiction is actually a thing.

It's known, for example, that food cues and consumption activates neurocircuitry, such as the meso-cortico-limbic pathways, implicated in drug addition.

In addition, work done in Bart Hoebel's lab at Princeton University have shown that rats overeating a sugar solution develop many behaviors and changes in the brain that are consistent with the effects of drug abuse, including withdrawal symptoms. Other studies support these findings, suggesting a reward dysfunction linked to addiction in rats who overeat hyperpalatable foods. Importantly, much of this compares reasonably well to humans, including cravings, continued use despite negative consequences, and diminished control of consumption. On the face of it, food addiction certainly exhibits all the hallmarks of conventional forms of addiction.

If it looks like a duck...

As noted by Nicole Avena and Mark Gold in a short-paper on the effects of sugars and fats on hedonic overeating, many of these "studies are supported by clinical research showing similarities in the effects of increased body weight or obesity and abused drugs on brain dopamine systems, as well as the manifestation of behaviors indicative of addiction."

Importantly, a relationship has been found to exist between binge eating-related disorders and addiction-like eating habits facilitated by the consumption of hyperpalatable foods. As summarized by addiction expert Adrian Meule:

In humans, increasing evidence suggests that individuals with binge eating-related disorders, i.e., bulimia nervosa (BN), binge eating disorder (BED), and obesity, experience behavioral symptoms and neurochemical changes that are highly comparable to other addictive behaviors. Moreover, increased prevalence of drug use can be found in BN and BED, but not in anorexia nervosa. In recent years, neuroendocrine pathways have been identified that are involved in both drug- and food-seeking behaviors. Specifically, appetite-regulating peptides like ghrelin, neuropeptide Y, orexin, or leptin have also been associated with craving for alcohol or tobacco. On a neurochemical level, reduced striatal D2 receptor availability has been found in obese patients similar to patients with substance use.
In light of this evidence, some researchers are suggesting that "food addiction' join other non-drug addictions, such as sexual compulsivity and gambling.

Tackling the Problem

Though the addictive potential of foods continues to be debated, a number of strategies have been proposed to address the situation. Back in 2011, Ashley Gearhardt and colleagues reviewed some policy and public health strategies that have proven effective in reducing the impact of addictive substances. They concluded that:

Corporate responsibility, public health approaches, environmental change, and global efforts all seem essential in reducing food- and substance-related problems. Such approaches could be enacted in conjunction with individual-focused behavioral and pharmacological efforts that could also benefit from considering similarities between food-related conditions like obesity and drug addiction. Ignoring the analogous neural and behavioral effects of foods and drugs of abuse may result in a substantial loss of time, resources, and lives, as we rediscover lessons learned in reducing the impact of addictive substances.
Amongst their many recommendations, the researchers proposed that hyperpalatable foods be taxed like cigarettes, have their accessibility reduced (e.g. removal of vending machines from specific locations), and that manufacturers be limited in terms of marketing and sales (e.g. by not allowing certain products to alter the food environments of developing nations). It has been shown, for example, that obesity rates in countries such as France and the United Kingdom have been rising in parallel with increases in the availability of highly processed foods and fast-food chains.

Lastly, by recognizing and appreciating the neurological underpinnings of overeating, researchers will be encouraged to find new ways of improving treatments, while policy makers will have added support for implementing broader and more impactful health policies.


SEC Official Claims Over 50% Of Private Equity Audits Reveal Criminal Behavior -

SEC Official Claims Over 50% Of Private Equity Audits Reveal Criminal Behavior - 

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Last week, Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism penned a fantastic piece leveraging a talk by SEC official Drew Bowden. Mr. Bowden heads the SEC’s examinations unit, and at a private equity conference he explained that “more than 50 percent of private equity firms it has audited have engaged in serious infractions of securities laws.” What is so incredible about the talk, is that while Bowden goes into details of shady practice after shady practice, he ultimately admits that the SEC isn’t being particularly aggressive with the private equity industry because “we believe that most people in the industry are trying to do the right thing, to help their clients, to grow their business, and to provide for their owners and employees.”

Yes, go ahead and read that again. The industry regulator is assuming that private equity firms are trying to do the right thing, despite the fact that audits demonstrated to a tune of greater than 50% the opposite to be true.

Private equity managers are some of the savviest people in finance and they know exactly what they are doing. What the SEC is basically admitting, is that private equity firms are also “too big to regulate” and, of course, “too big to jail.” After all, every single person at the SEC is likely angling for a big payday at a PE firm via the revolving door. Of course they aren’t going to regulate.

Meanwhile, if you are just an average citizen, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law if you commit even the most minor infraction. This sort of behavior led to the death of prodigy Aaron Swartz, the incarceration of political prisoner Barrett Brown, a swat team raid on a young kid in Peroia, Illinois for a parody Twitter account, the firing of a constriction worker for not paying for a $0.89 soda refill. This list goes on and on. Yet private equity crimes, which likely run into the billions collectively, are treated with kid gloves. As I have maintained many times before, this is how the social fabric of a society dies.

From Naked Capitalism:

At a private equity conference this week, Drew Bowden, a senior SEC official, told private equity fund managers and their investors in considerable detail about how the agency had found widespread stealing and other serious infractions in its audits of private equity firms.

In the years that I’ve been reading speeches from regulators, I’ve never seen anything remotely like Bowden’s talk. I’ve embedded it at the end of this post and strongly encourage you to read it in full.

Despite the at times disconcertingly polite tone, the SEC has now announced that more than 50 percent of private equity firms it has audited have engaged in serious infractions of securities laws. These abuses were detected thanks to to Dodd Frank. Private equity general partners had been unregulated until early 2012, when they were required to SEC regulation as investment advisers.

Bowden heads the SEC’s examinations unit, and his rap sheet was based on his two years of experience in auditing private equity firms. As bad as embezzlement and other sharp practices are, at least as troubling is the revelation that the limited partners have been derelict in their duties. They’ve agreed to terms in their relationship with the general partners to make it easy for the general partners to abuse the investors. The general partners can steal from their limited partners because the limited partners are asleep. The LPs have failed to negotiate for contractual protections when they have the most leverage, prior to investing, and they’ve been unwilling or unable to monitor their investments effectively once they’ve handed over their money. Note that the industry was warned about this possible outcome; it corresponds to the worst scenario, ” A Broken Industry,” in a 2011 paper by Harvard Business School professor Josh Lerner.

Bowden pointed out that private equity is unique among the investment advisers the SEC supervises. The general partners’ control of portfolio companies gives them access to their cash flows, which the GPs can divert into their own pockets in numerous ways.

He went on to describe some of the common fee skimming models. For example:

Some of the most common deficiencies we see in private equity in the area of fees and expenses occur in firm’s use of consultants, also known as “Operating Partners,” whom advisers promote as providing their portfolio companies with consulting services or other assistance that the portfolio companies could not independently afford.
Here’s how this scam works. PE firms raise funds by showing prospective investors a strong team of professionals who are going to find attractive companies to buy and manage them. The limited partnership agreement, which is the contract between the private equity firm and the investors, typically says that the private equity firm has to pay for the wages of people working on the fund’s behalf. However, unbeknownst to the investors because it was never disclosed, part of the PE firm “team”, usually the members that work with portfolio companies, are actually being paid as independent contractors. The private equity firm then bills most or all of these sham independent consultants to the portfolio companies with whom they interact.

Most troubling of all is that we have reports from industry insiders that Bowden failed to mention the most egregious forms of stealing, which may cost investors billions of dollars annually. As we understand it, the SEC is on to a couple of large-scale scams perpetrated by some of the biggest firms.

The SEC may be pulling its punches because it may be uncertain about what to do with the rot it has found. Side by side with the the unprecedented, detailed litany of numerous forms of lawbreaking and bad conduct, Bowden was also peculiarly deferential, which gave his speech a schizophrenic feel. For instance:

Some questioned why we would show our hand in this way, to which there’s a simple and sensible answer. We believe that most people in the industry are trying to do the right thing, to help their clients, to grow their business, and to provide for their owners and employees. We therefore believe that we can most effectively fulfill our mission to promote compliance by sharing as much information as we can with the industry, knowing that people will use it to measure their firms and to self-correct where necessary. Put another way, we are not engaged in a game of “gotcha.”
So you see, an average citizen gets locked up for life, yet a private equity partner is given the benefit of the doubt and, at worst, asked politely to change behavior by the SEC.

State legislators need to understand what is going on here. They have granted public pension funds and public endowments across the U.S. the exorbitant privilege of secrecy in private equity investing, even to the point of making these contracts virtually the only ones that are exempt from state-level Freedom of Information Act laws.

State legislators need to understand what is going on here. They have granted public pension funds and public endowments across the U.S. the exorbitant privilege of secrecy in private equity investing, even to the point of making these contracts virtually the only ones that are exempt from state-level Freedom of Information Act laws.

I recently wrote that private equity will deservedly emerge as the financial industry’s major villain in the next crisis. I detailed why in my post, Leaked Documents Show How Blackstone Fleeces Taxpayers via Public Pension Funds, which is a must read in the context of the article above.

Full article from Naked Capitalism can and should be read - here - http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2014/05/sec-official-describes-widespread-lawbreaking-material-weakness-controls-private-equity-industry.html