First published on on April 10, 2013

No one wants to be fat, yet 73% of our population is. Why?

It’s not an exercise problem. Normally, when we humans exert ourselves less, we eat less–our inborn biological mechanisms unconsciously match our food intake to our energy output.

Instead, something in modern America has overpowered–one might even use the word “hacked”–these mechanisms.

There are many ways to hack our eating controls. Among the simplest is enabling eaters to wolf down calories quickly, before their bodies can chemically perceive that calories have been ingested and generate the “full” feeling that stops eating.

Both liquids and processed foods excel at this. It takes about 10 times as long to eat a pound of apples (17 minutes) as to drink a pound of apple juice (1.5 minutes). People eat just 13 grams of raw carrots per minute, versus 130 grams of boiled carrots from a glass container. Two bites of a Big Mac, with its high-fat sauce, will give you far more calories that two heaping forkfuls of red beans and rice.

The food industry has done a fantastic job at engineering enticing, inexpensive processed foods that, deliberately or not, confuse our Stone Age satiety mechanisms.  Meanwhile, the foods that best suit human physiology–vegetables especially–are so inconvenient and expensive (on a per-calorie basis) that consumers understandably walk past them.

Government should implement price incentives to counterbalance evasions of our innate eating controls. Thus, a cap-and-trade system, with “credits” calculated according to nutritional and other characteristics of foods, would make good food available at great prices, and bad foods available at higher prices. Just as importantly, increasing the profit margins on good foods would steer industry’s remarkable talents in a direction that improves American diet, American health, and American waistlines.

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