How the Free Market makes you FAT and why "Big Food" likes it that way

obesity free market How the Free Market makes you FAT and why "Big Food" likes it that way

Why are more and more of us getting fatter and fatter?

Is it…


Is it because “Big Food” wants us to be fat?

Now, before someone labels me as a conspiracy theorist, hear me out…

  • Food producers earn more profit from processed foods – i.e potato chips v.s. potatoes
  • Processed foods (high calorie, high glycemic index and low nutrient value) increase your appetite
  • Your increased appetite causes you to eat more food
  • And when you eat all of the food in your house, you have to rush out and buy more food
  • And the food producers make more money

And, there’s nothing wrong with that…It’s a free market

Or, is it?

According to Dr. Peter Ubel, in his new book – Free Market Madness – food producers spend a lot of money learning why you buy the things that you buy.

In some supermarket today, an anthropologist is wandering the aisles watching how you shop, observing whether your eyes roam the shelves from top to bottom or bottom to top, and measuring how long you linger in front of display cases if you have toddlers in tow.

The simple fact is, you know less about your own shopping behavior than the people running the stores that you shop at.

Because of this, is it any wonder, that people have purchased themselves into debt, with the American citizenry demonstrating a negative savings rate in recent years?

And is it really surprising that our hospitals are teeming with people whose diseases are a result of smoking, drinking, and overeating?

Western-style democracies pride themselves on freedom: freedom to assemble, freedom to elect legislators, and freedom to interact in the marketplace. Indeed, capitalism and democracy seem to go hand in hand.

But freedom to choose is accompanied by the freedom to make bad choices.

And in the current marketplace, filled with companies that make a practice of studying human behavior, freedom too often leads to harm and misery.

(and obesity and type 2 diabetes and fatty liver and hip replacement surgeries and gastric bypass operantions and…)

Proctor & Gamble owns multimillion-dollar functional (fMRI) MRI machines, which enable the company to visualize which part of your brain “lights up” when you view its products.

Psychology and sociology PhDs leave academia to work for industry or Madison Avenue, where they can employ their knowledge of human behavior in the service of selling consumer goods.

We might think that we’re impervious to television ads or supermarket sales schemes.

But marketers and sales experts know more about our behavior than we do, and they know how to influence us without our awareness.

So, how do you defeat all of the psychological tricks that the food producers and marketing gurus are throwing at you?

  1. Before you go to the supermarket, decide what food you NEED. (if you’re confused about which foods you NEED, here’s a cheat sheet – vegetables, non-processed protein, fruit, non-inflammatory fats, spices, herbs)
  2. Write out your food list.
  3. And then stick to that list

That’s it.

Note – If you are interested in learning more about how the free market isn’t as free as you think it is, check out Free Market Madness by Dr. Peter Ubel. Amazon Indigo Barnes & Noble

Doug Robb is a personal trainer, a fitness blogger and author, a competitive athlete, a social media nerd and a student of nutrition and exercise science. Since 2008, Doug has brought his real-world experience online via his health & fitness blog, Health Habits.


  1. jgarma

    August 6, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    We’re like mice in the maze.

    • healthhabits

      August 7, 2012 at 9:34 pm


  2. ReimburseHealth

    December 6, 2011 at 2:49 am

    Good info on how food companies are using fMRI to study what makes consumer tick. Nothing wrong with this in a free economy.

    And I don’t need a multi million dollar device to protect myself from unwanted influence. Just be conscious of what is going on in my head when I walk down the grocery store isle. That is all. @ReimburseHealth

  3. Teresa likes Robotic Lawn Mowers

    April 26, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    Its interesting how 30 years ago, guidelines were put in place to eat more plant protein, more grains, more carbs, lower fat, especially animal fats. The public responded and the typical western diet has moved in that direction, and yet the incidence of obesity, chronic disease and diabetes has risen significantly. And despite the evidence of increasing disease/obesity, the most recent recommendations are to continue this diet and even push to move further along in that direction.

    I truly believe these things are related and like Richard above, eat and live a paleo/primal diet and lifestyle.

    Im not sure its a conspiracy, but it easily could be. Refined carbs/sugars are cheap ingredients to produce addictive foodstuffs (studies have shown eating sugar causes the same neural pathways in the brain to activate as when we take what we classically define as addictive substances) which keeps the general public hooked.

  4. Richard Nikoley

    March 21, 2011 at 8:34 am

    Just how does the government partner of the agriculture industry, the FDA, and its food subsidies, tax incentives and all manner of other “ingenuity” via regulation and barriers to entry for small farmers constitute a “Free Market?”

    • healthhabits

      March 21, 2011 at 9:13 am

      Great point Richard.

      I am not sure where I first heard it, but the description of the American financial market as a “Corporate Welfare System” rather than a “Free Market” still makes me smile/grimace.

      It’s odd how the very people who will stand up and proclaim the efficiency of a Free Market are amongst the first to take handouts to ensure their supremacy in that “Free Market”

  5. shaun bevins

    March 21, 2011 at 7:13 am

    Great, great, great post!!! I wish I had the link, I can certianly find it is you really want it, but I recently read a study that demonstrated that people actually bought more junk when they used either their credit card or debit card to pay for groceries. (how often does that happen?) Using cash actually equated to better food choices. Also, avoiding the aisles. Most fresh foods are located on the stores perimeter. Things like fresh fruits and veggies, eggs, dairy, meat and fish. If you are buying the bulk of your foods from the aisles, you may need to re-evaluate your shopping list.

    Another great book…Predictably Irrationale…talks about how irrationale our choice are and how markering gurus know this. Conspiracy…damn right!

    • healthhabits

      March 21, 2011 at 9:08 am

      That sounds like an interesting study. It probably applies to all sorts of impulse purchases

  6. Beer Kits

    January 6, 2011 at 1:09 am

    I don’t think it’s some big conspiracy. They’re in the market to sell fast food. We are a society of instant gratification and everyone is busy updating their Facebook, talking on their iPhones and texting to everyone that they don’t have time to sit down to a family dinner without the electronics. It’s pretty sad really.

  7. Jean

    December 22, 2010 at 3:19 am

    An interesting article indeed. It’s amazing how we as the consumers are being “misled” into buying foodstuff that ended up causing more harm than good to our health. I suppose going back to the basic would help i.e. eating simple natural food and buying what we need instead of what we wanted

  8. Lisa Wilcox

    September 11, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    I agree that foods that are closest to the way nature intended are the best to nourish our bodies. When fat is added to refined carbs and refined sugars we DO get fat. I say, “don’t eat foods that you have to “read a label.” Eggs for example are just eggs. Butter is just butter with salt or no salt added. Be weary of labels if it has too many ingredients. Beef liver is very nutrient dense and does NOT have a label. The more processed the more you should avoid.

    I believe we are living longer because of better diagnostic tools, not our “great” health.

  9. Juan

    August 22, 2010 at 6:15 am

    Why are we living longer then ? Nothing wrong with striving with a free society where educated people make right choices, this is the way it should be.

  10. vitamin b

    June 10, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    I remember hearing that the fat content for a lot of fast food restaurants has increased exponentially from before, and lately, it seems that since we are bombared by both television and internet, we are also being bombared with what looks good and what looks bad, IE, high volumes of cheap food as opposed to fairly priced food in a restaurant. So not only is the fat content gone up, but we’ve been mroe or less lulled into believing that more is good for us, hence why we have gone up in weight.

  11. Craig

    September 3, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    People need to read the lables carefully. After being laid off last year, I ate cheaply. Soups are cheap and good in the winter. I usually make my own but not this year. So I got the raman type soups, good, filling and cheap for lunches. I started to gain weight even when I was very active. I read the label and the fat content was shocking.

    Not to mention the labels are misleading. Do the math. Doesnt look too bad at first glance until you look at the serving size of that little can, then multiple and it is not good at all. Especially with fat content and sodium.

  12. julie

    April 9, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Another option is to shop in a natural foods store, hopefully one without too much in the way of frozen pizzas and other processed food. I notice wrt processed food, the more expensive Farmer’s Markets seem to have a lot more “value added” products, like instead of just selling apples, they sell apple bread/cookies/cider, etc. Fortunately, mine is still old style and most of the people who shop there don’t eat much in the way of cheese, bread, cake, or cookies.

    I think it’s true to some extent that we are all responsible for ourselves, but there should be some restraint by corporations that profit from harming our health. I don’t know the answers.