Medicine and Health

How can we solve the obesity problem in America?
Answered by Dr. Mehmet Oz, Alessandro Stratta and 6 others
  • Dr. Mehmet Oz

    Dr. Mehmet Oz

  • Alessandro Stratta

    Alessandro Stratta

  • Eric Ripert

    Eric Ripert

  • Dr. Mehmood Khan

    Dr. Mehmood Khan

  • Thomas Keller

    Thomas Keller

  • Jose Andres

    Jose Andres

  • David Chang

    David Chang

  • Cheryl Pegus. MD. MPH

    Cheryl Pegus. MD. MPH

  1. Dr. Mehmet Oz Cardiac surgeon and host, The Dr. Oz Show


    A lot of folks throw their hands up in the air and they say we've got a system designed for what we have in America right now: an obese population. We've got folks who have very effectively marketed products that are not good for our health, and we've got a U.S. government that's subsidizing agricultural production of products that we don't have to have in higher quantities. And for that reason we have to pay more for healthy products like a bottle of water in school than for the chocolate milk in the school, which is free by the way.

    Or it's much easier for you to go out and get a $1 special at a fast food restaurant than it is to buy a piece of fruit. So I understand those pain points, but I don't look to Washington to fix that issue. I mean I've tried, I've lobbied, negotiated, testified -- they can't even balance the budget in Washington, so I'm not looking for solutions coming out of our nation's capital. But I'm happy and optimistic because I know that we actually control our health destiny, because we vote with our pocketbooks three times a day at least.

    We have an incredible amount of power, but only if we do it together. If I'm the only one putting my hand up making a stink about this, I'll get shot. But if we all do it, we can't all get shot at once. And that's how movements get started. That's how we begin to create a conversation, which is what my show is about more than anything else -- getting people to sit up in their chair and say, "Wait a minute, I've got to take notice of what's happening here. I didn't realize it. Are you kidding me? Is that right?"

    And all of a sudden you shake people up enough that they want to challenge their basic assumptions about what's happening in the world around them, which is what doctors historically have always done. I've always been a bit embarrassed that physicians have retracted a little bit from the civic discussion. I mean listen, more than 10 percent of the folks who signed the Declaration of Independence were doctors; they were curious people. About 5 percent of the people who served in the federal government the first hundred years of our nation were doctors; they were curious people.

    But for the last hundred years, less than half a percent of people in elected offices have been physicians at a high level. What happened to us? And I think as a physician I have a civic responsibility, as we all do because we're professionals, to speak out. What does a professional do? You have a body of knowledge you always protect because you're curious about it. You always take care of your client or patient -- in my case, number one. You police each other; we don't do that so well, but we're supposed to. And we have a civic responsibility to speak out and talk to people about what's going on, especially when the ship of society is teetering in troubled waters offshore.

    So I think we have an opportunity and responsibility to go out there and change the world, but we are the change in ourselves as well. I think folks recognize that they're not going to win this battle in someone else's playground. They're going to win it by making decisions today by becoming activists. And we're seeing that more and more as people begin to pull together to say, "OK, we're going to change the quality of that food; we're going to open a farmer's market; we're going to take care of this food desert; we're going to insist that you're a bit more thoughtful about what you might be doing to our water supply."

    All that begins to add up over time until you have this massive tidal wave of emotion appreciating the importance of food, because we have forgotten fundamentally that when you walk into a grocery store, you're walking into a pharmacy. There's a sacredness to that food that's irreplaceable, and when you lose the food supply -- and we are in this country -- it is hard to get it back. Forget about the subtleties of mono-culture versus multi-culture foods or whether we have the right number of GMO crops -- forget about all that stuff.

    The fundamental reality is that the amount of nutrients in the food that we eat, whether it's from the soil or how they're grown, has diminished dramatically over the last 50 years, and what we're eating has changed over the last several generations. And that is a perfect storm for a nutritionally depleted population, and that in part leads to obesity because the brain is not looking for calories, it's looking for nutrients. And so if you're feeding it calories, you keep looking for more food because you're looking for nutrients, and eventually you'll just have to eat a lot more food to get the nutrients you wanted, so guess what? Not surprising -- you gain weight.


    More answers from Dr. Mehmet Oz »

  2. Alessandro Stratta Executive Chef; STRATTA at Wynn Las Vegas


    I've been promoting that, and I don't want to turn away from what gave me pleasure and gave me whatever I have from the indulgence of dining. I mean, Alex was an indulgent place. Unfortunately, you can't indulge all the time. Indulge once in and a while. But I think that's it, I mean, the balance. I mean, but if I could really find a way to be able to put all the resources that I know and be able to say, "Oh, yeah, that's easy." Like a doctor; they don't know how to cook. It's funny, because I'm talking about people that are huge CEOs of companies, people that are incredible doctors, they come to you going, "Oh, my God, Alex, how do you do that?" I just look at them, "Well, you got to be kidding me."

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  3. Eric Ripert Chef/Co-Owner of Le Bernardin


    Well, obesity is linked to malnutrition, which is linked, very often, to low income and low education. So, for instance, in New York City, we have 1.8 million people living under poverty level. Most of them are obese. They are obese because they cannot, again, afford fresh food -- forget organic -- fresh food. They eat processed food, and then, they don't have a culture that helps them or they don't have an education that helps them to appreciate fresh products. I think the more we will educate the young generation, and the more we will see obesity disappear or being less important.

    Processed food, it's a problem. And it's cheap to produce, and people sometimes don't -- are also lazy. They don't want to cook at home. It's not in their culture, again, and therefore, they eat prepared food, which has a lot of chemicals and a lot of unhealthy ingredients in it.

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  4. Dr. Mehmood Khan Chief Executive Officer, Global Nutrition Group and Chief Scientific Officer, PepsiCo


    There are many contributing factors to the obesity that we're seeing not only in North America but around the world. At a very basic level, it's about energy balance. Are we consuming calories that are equivalent to the number of calories our bodies need? In other words, it's expanding.

    So if we think about it in a biological sense -- energy in, energy out. What is contributing to it? It's a mismatch. We're consuming more than our bodies are able to use. If you think about it from another lens, a historical perspective, on a per-person basis, we're actually consuming fewer calories in the year 2000 than we were in the year 1900. So over a hundred years, our per-day, per-capita consumption of calories has actually gone down. And yet our body weights have gone up.

    I think that fact alone starts to give you insight into what has happened. This is not just simply we suddenly started consuming more calories. We're actually consuming less. What we are not doing, however, is going out to the farm and cultivating and carrying and lifting and walking and all the things that needed us to consume the calories.

    So the first and foremost is we took this away and have not figured out how to balance, and it's going to take both. It's going to take, "How do we manage the consumption of our food, the portions and the quality of our food?" But at the same time, as a clinician I can tell you anybody who's managed anybody overweight, unless they change their physical activity and their lifestyle, they cannot sustain their weight loss, even if they're successful.

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  5. Thomas Keller Chef / Owner of The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery, Bar Bouchon & Ad Hoc


    It's certainly a huge problem for us and something that's very concerning for everybody. How do you produce good-quality fresh food and get it to the marketplace at a reasonable price for people to really enjoy? And then how do you teach those individuals how to cook? How do you make time for them? For many of them, both parents are working or it's a single-parent home.

    It's very difficult to be able to play a significant role in the next generation's ability to consume high-quality food, healthy food. And that teaching process really begins with teaching our children what a great peach tastes like. It's being able to produce that great peach at a price point that is accessible for them. Therein lies part of our problem. As a chef, I don't deal with that kind of situation. My goal is the quality of the product first, not necessarily the price. Or it's never the price; it's always about the quality. I understand the disconnect between freshness, high quality, and economics, and unless we are able to bridge that, we're not going to be able to give the opportunity to our fellow citizens to eat.

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  6. Jose Andres Chef/Owner, ThinkFoodGroup


    When I came to America, and especially when I came to Washington, D.C., 18 years ago, we opened Jaleo, a Spanish traditional restaurant. America, even with a big Latino population, had a few Mexican restaurants, Tex-Mex, but there were not restaurants doing the cooking of Spain. And I tried to identify what made Spain unique.

    Obviously we have many dishes that are only genuinely from Spain -- and ingredients. But what made Spain very, very unique was a way of eating that is almost a way of life. I thought, "Why don't I bring that attached to the new foods?" So we did the tapas -- T-A-P-A-S -- small dishes. Everyone told me, "There's no way a restaurant that serves small portions that you are encouraging people to share is going to make it. We do big portions, even if you call them tapas. It ain't going to fly."

    I'm so happy that we proved so many people wrong, because if you see today, 18, 19 years later, tapas, small plates, little dishes -- call it whatever you want -- is very much part of today's American cities. Many, many restaurants are doing exactly the same. This to me is very important because, again, we have an obesity pandemic. We have an obesity pandemic. And to me even, I'm selling Spain through the tapas and through the food. It's a hidden message. It's the message that small portions are the way to go, because we are overfed. And this is not possible in today's world. If anything, we should be healthier, more productive.

    I'm happy that somehow I did my little contribution to keep sending the message that less in so many ways today is more.

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  7. David Chang Chef/Owner of Momofuku


    I think that Americans need to develop a food culture. As you say, Americans have to change their food culture, but I feel that because we've been in, we've had a history, a short history compared to other countries, of abundance, particularly since World War II, we've never really had to want for anything. So food has remained cheap. I think when food prices rise, and fast food no longer becomes cheap, people will begin to learn by necessity.

    They're going to learn that, "OK, maybe I'm going to have to learn how to cook scraps. I'm going to learn how to make my own food. I'm going to plot a piece of land and then I'm going to plot a garden in the back of my yard." I don't know necessarily. I don't know what the answers are. I just know that the future is problematic, and I think that fast food will no longer be synonymous with affordable and cheap.

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  8. Cheryl Pegus. MD. MPH Former Chief Medical Officer, Walgreen Co.


    You started off asking what keeps me up at night. I think I mentioned to you this is where I struggle. I have to be honest, frontline struggle. So what I believe is that we can make some of these changes communities by communities. So, if I lived in Denver, Colorado, everyone walks. People actually eat healthily. The community does that on its own. There's a social community that's making that happen. I actually lived in a town in New Jersey that had a law that said you couldn't have fast food restaurants -- communities making that happen. New York City, my home, food calorie-counts on everything -- communities making that happen. That is how it will happen.

    I do not today believe that the scientific community will lead that type of social revolution, if you will. I think it will happen when communities say, "Here's how we like to live; here's how we like to develop." And that awareness that we talked about where information is being shared, where people are saying, "Wow, did you hear how that happened? Is that something we could do?" Where people connect and they learn -- a lot of people, no matter how easy it seems and how for granted we sometimes take it, people aren't obese and using a cane or sometimes a wheelchair because they want to.

    A lot of people don't know how to start. Information may be there, but how it's applicable and personalized to them -- it's people think, "Gosh, it's those people I see who are doing two hours a day of working out. Then they're eating this and they, frankly, have never, you know, if you're Latino, they don't know how I cook my rice and beans. What does it mean to me?" That's how communities are going to make that happen and make that change.

    It is not going to be, I think, some kind of national, "OK, we just did blank." It's going to be within those communities. It does keep me up, because I don't know if the way a Colorado, Miami Beach, different places, have made that happen by making it visible. It's almost a fashion to look and eat healthy. Until we make it that marketable that it's fashion and, frankly, maybe get some fashion and marketing executives involved, I'm not sure we, alone, from a science healthcare perspective, know how to do this. I have to be honest. I don't know if we know how to do all of this.

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