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The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite

by David Kessler '73

I first started thinking about the subject matter of The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite when I was Dean of the Yale School of Medicine.  I was meeting informally with a group of residents and fellows and we were talking about what it takes to stay alive.  We knew that most people will die of heart disease, cancer, or stroke.  As we examined these causes of death, I realized that obesity is an underlying cause in many of these deaths.  I asked the librarian at Yale to pull and organize a number of articles on these topics for me and, in the course of her work, she lost 30 pounds.

But most people, even knowing that being overweight is unhealthy, knowing that they would be happier with themselves if they weighed less, wishing they would not eat as much as they do, feel helpless when it comes to controlling their eating.

I set out to discover what gives food such power over so many people.  It took me 7 years and it involved my own scientific research and detective work, hundreds of interviews of other scientists, consumers, and people in the food industry, and the formulation of a theory of food and eating in this country.

In order to do all this I had to wade through thousands of popular "diet" books, dumpsters behind restaurants, and the misconceptions of a lot of people.  I also had to come to terms with my own history of weight gain and loss.  In the end, however, it was the science that led me to my theory of "conditioned hypereating."  

It was important to me to make that knowledge accessible to the general public while maintaining my standards for scientific scholarship.  The motivation behind much of what I do in my professional life is to improve public health.  How best to do craft this book to do that was a challenge.

SUGGESTED TOPICS TO KEEP IN MIND

What cultural changes in the second half of the 20th century have contributed to the epidemic of weight gain in the United States and, increasingly, elsewhere?  Is it possible to alter or reverse such changes?

How has brain imagery, studies of behavior in lab animals, and an understanding of human neurobiology affected our knowledge about food and eating?

What does the food industry understand about hyperpalatable foods and levels of consumption?  What is the industry's responsibility for the public health?

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