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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 3, November/December 2007

The MSG/child obesity connection

Almost everyone who reads or listens to the media knows that we have a child (and adult) obesity crisis in North America—though Canada is not quite as bad as the US in this health crisis. The obesity epidemic is at the root of another crisis—the huge increase in Type 2 diabetes in children. Much attention has been rightly focussed on junk food in schools but we also know that it is very hard to get kids to switch to healthier foods if junk food is in any way accessible.

But what most people don’t know is why. And it’s not that sugar and fat tastes better than vegetables and fruit. The nasty little secret, known by food researchers since at least 1978, is that what really addicts kids to junk foods is not the natural taste. It’s the MSG (monsosodium glutamate) that is added to virtually all junk foods. And to make matters worse, it’s not just traditional junk foods that are stuffed with this addictive chemical, it is a huge range of processed foods.

There are two threats to children from this food additive; it is clinically addictive and it stimulates the pancreas to create more insulin, which in turn drives kids to eat even more. This latter discovery was first made in the late 1970s. But by now there have been literally hundreds of studies taking advantage of this discovery. How? Scientists using rats and mice in experiments often require obese animals for their tests. But rats and mice are not normally obese, so scientists inject the rodents at birth with MSG and presto! They have obese subjects. The MSG triples the amount of insulin the rat’s pancreas creates. If you doubt the connection, go to the National Library of Medicine, at www.pubmed.com and search under "MSG Obese" and check some of the 127 studies that come up.

John Erb, formerly a researcher at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, documents the MSG story is his book The Slow Poisoning of America. The stuff is in everything, even in some of the coffees you buy at your favourite coffee shop; it’s even injected into turkeys. It’s in Campbell’s soups, the Hostess Doritos, the Lays flavoured potato chips, Betty Crocker Hamburger Helper, Heinz canned gravy, Swanson frozen prepared meals, and Kraft salad dressings, with even more in the low-fat versions. It is in almost all canned, processed foods. Literally every fast-food joint uses MSG. And because it has nearly a dozen aliases, it’s not always easy to tell which foods contain it. Included in its other names are: natural flavouring, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, Accent, Aginomoto, autolyzed yeast extract, and natural meat tenderizer.

In his book, In Bad Taste: The Msg Symptom Complex, Dr. George Schwartz identified new research as showing links between MSG and the dramatic rise in cases of asthma, ADHD, migraine, Parkinson’s Disease, and heartbeat irregularities. Much of the concern about childhood obesity has focussed on the problems it will cause sufferers later on in life. But according to the University of Florida News, researchers at the University of Florida have discovered "a link between morbid obesity in toddlers and lower IQ scores, cognitive delays and brain lesions similar to those seen in Alzheimer’s disease patients." Dr. Daniel J. Driscoll, a University of Florida professor of molecular genetics and microbiology in the College of Medicine and the lead author of the study, stated: "...we’re postulating that early-onset morbid obesity and these metabolic, biochemical problems can also lead to cognitive impairment."

Driscoll’s study compared normal-weight children and adults with children and adults who had become obese as toddlers "...for no known genetic reason..." and they found that patients with early-onset morbid obesity had an average IQ of 78 compared to the control group of normal-weight siblings’ average IQ of 106. Driscoll points out that the studies are preliminary and more are planned.

Food processors, of course, know exactly what the impact of MSG is on the human body. The web site of the Glutamate industry—msgfacts.com—boasts of the impact on food consumption in the elderly: "Studies have found that adding MSG to certain foods, such as soup and mashed potatoes, has been successful in increasing the food intake in institutionalized elderly populations." They don’t mention its impact on the "food intake" of children. Oh, yes, and while the kids are eating MSG-laced junk foods they wash it down with diet soft drinks loaded with another taste enhancer, aspartame, which studies have shown also promotes obesity.

– Murray Dobbin

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