Illnesses Linked to Industrial Foods, Part II ( and health linked to non-industrial foods)

This is Part II of my report on the link between chronic illnesses and industrial foods consumption that I researched for a graduate-level class on social evolution taught by an archeologist. My goal was to discover and describe the markers (or in non-archeological terms “physical evidence”) that are found in the human body that indicate habitual industrial food consumption. What I found out was that in populations that consume mostly industrial foods, the markers are mostly chronic diseases, dental deformities and a few other pathalogies.

Research Results

“The way we eat has changed more in the last fifty years than in the previous ten thousand,” according to industrialized agriculture expert Eric Schlosser in the documentary Food, Inc. (Kenner 2009). Up until the past 200 years or so, most people lived relatively strenuous lives and subsisted on whole foods they foraged or produced themselves. When there was inadequate food, birth and survival rates either decreased to keep a population in equilibrium with the local ecology’s carrying capacity or there was societal collapse. Nowadays, the United States, the “leading industrial power in the world,” has longer life expectancies, longer daily work hours requiring little physical exertion and more affordable and abundant unhealthy convenience foods. This is resulting in both less access to nutritious foods and healthful physical activity and greater access to calories and unhealthful chemicals and food borne pathogens. Together these factors are making more and more Americans sick.

The United States relies on a fossil fuels-based and centralized food system that is highly resistant to change.Less than 0.6 percent of Americans are involved in producing their own food by farming, forestry/hunting or fishing (CIA Factbook 2009). In the United States where 60 percent of the adult population works in non-physically demanding service jobs, “restaurant bills account for 48 percent of spending on food” in 2008 according to National Restaurant Association (Bunker 2009; CIA Factbook 2009). The industrial diet most Americans eat is characterized by refined flours and food processed for increased profitability, shelf life and convenience instead of nutrition. Much of the industrial diet is “nutritionally worthless” (Pollan 2008:108). These foods often contain high proportions of simple carbohydrates and fat that are “energy rich and nutrient poor” according to Bruce Ames, a nutrition researcher at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute in California (Wroth 2009).

Self-contained societies devoid of chronic diseases

Self-contained societies that consume solely whole foods that they produce themselves seem to be devoid of chronic diseases, dental crowding and feedlot produced food borne pathogens such as E. coli 0157:H7. Epidemiologists call these communities “cold spots” for these illnesses of their rarity (Miller 2008:17). Medical doctor and nutrition researcher Daphne Miller traveled and documented the cuisines of“cold spots” for chronic diseases and published them in a nutrition self-help book titled The Jungle Effect (Miller 2008). She documented the correlation between diet and health in self-contained societies where chronic diseases such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and breast and colon cancer are rare to non-existent (Miller 2008). Dentist and medical researcher Weston Price found many traditional self-contained societies in the 1920s and 30s, some of them are located in isolated European communities in Switzerland and the Outer Hebrides Islands, that didn’t suffer from chronic diseases and dental problems that were currently endemic in the United States and industrialized Europe (Price 2008). Both researchers documented a link to the diets and these illnesses (as opposed to inherited genetic traits or socioeconomic factors) by tracking the onset of these chronic diseases in genetically and economically identical populations of decedents or relatives who became sicker and exhibited dental problems once acculturated to industrial foods (Miller 2008; Price 2008).

The diets of hunters and gatherers and early agriculturalists reveal dietary markers in the human skeleton and dentition. A Paleoepidemiological study of genetically continuous human remains of Native Americans in Georgia for about 3,500 years (2200 B.C. – A.D. 1150) by Clark Spencer Larsen, of the Southeastern Massachusetts University, shows a decrease in maxillary bone growth and an increase in nutritional stress, infectious diseases and dental caries with the shift from hunting and gathering to corn agriculture (Larsen 1981). Studies of other pre-European contact dentition remains of Native Americans show an increase in the frequency of dental caries with the consumption of “highly-processed stone ground” flour derived from maize (corn) or gathered acorns (Schollmeyer 2004). The presence of dental caries in the teeth of acorn gathering hunters and gathers in California and mandible and dentition bone growth decreases in agriculturalists (that were once hunters and gathers) in Georgia show that dental pathologies stem more from diet than anything else (Larsen 1981; Schollmeyer 2004).

In my conclusion, in Part III of “Illnesses Linked to Industrial Foods”, I posted a summary of my secondary research results of illnesses attributed to processed foods consumption and the references I cited in this paper.

In the previous section, Part I of “Illnesses Linked to Industrial Foods”, I introduced this topic by citing the latest research (as of Fall 2009) attributing chronic non-infectious diseases with a poor diet of processed foods that are common in an industrial society such as the United States. I also defined some terms used my research of published reports of these illnesses in public health, nutrition literature, and archeological research.