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CNN: Special Investigations Unit

Encore: Fed Up: America's Killer Diet

Aired November 29, 2008 - 14:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are eating too much of everything.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything around us says eat, eat, eat, eat, eat.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The default is to eat all day long and eat a lot of junk food.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What were you buying before?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The American diet is causing tremendous harm to our health, everything from obesity to cancer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've got to do something about this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't go on like this. We're killing ourselves.

ANNOUNCER: Now, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, "Fed Up, America's Killer Diet."

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): How many times have you walked through a grocery store just like this one? Hundreds of thousands of choices. You could pick anything so why is it so hard to eat what's right?

Too much advertising? Is it where the products are placed? Is it just too confusing? Let's look again with a fresh set of eyes, like the eyes of Adrian McCarge (ph).

Have you ever looked at the ingredients in this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I saw it. There's no fiber on there.

GUPTA: So what else is on the list?

After a routine check-up this spring, a doctor gave Adrian, who is 12 years old, an alarming diagnosis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and he was borderline for type II diabetes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was at very high risk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... the first 10 minutes. Yes. GUPTA: In some ways, Adrian is the perfect case study. You see, he didn't grow up in suburban Atlanta. Until he was 11, his family lived in Kingston, Jamaica, where, yes, he was skinny. Now he's a victim of America's killer diet.

(on camera): Did you eat a lot of sweets?


GUPTA: Did you drink a lot of soda?


GUPTA: Did you ever have a Twinkie?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know what that is.

VISHA SIEW NARINE, ADRIAN'S MOTHER: When he came here, I think just the fascination of having all this food that we couldn't necessarily afford in Jamaica or it wasn't necessarily available. That was kind of new to him. You know, waffles that were already cooked, pancake dogs, all those wonderful cereals with sugar in it that that they see on TV and we couldn't get.

GUPTA: When you went into a supermarket, for example, or a grocery store, what did you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was so big. The biggest store in Jamaica is MegaMart or PriceMart and there is only four in the whole country.

GUPTA (voice-over): You know, Adrian makes a good point -- we really are the land of plenty. In the United States, food choices are everywhere. The recipe is simple -- take more food, add more choices, in fact, more everything. What you get is staggering obesity.

KELLY BROWNELL, AUTHOR, "FOOD FIGHT": I don't think there's much traction in getting all worked up about carbohydrates versus fats. Because the fact is people are eating too much of everything.

MARION NESTLE, AUTHOR, "WHAT TO EAT": I mean, obesity is a very simple matter of too many calories for the calories that are expended. People eat a lot. They gain weight.

GUPTA: Over the past quarter century, obesity has spread like butter in a hot pan. It wasn't always this way. But by the mid '90s in some states, dark blue here, about one in six adults was clinically obese, more than 30 pounds overweight for someone 5'4. And see, it spread. In the tan states, one in five is obese, dark orange as it goes to one in four. The red part of the map shows where one in three adults is obese.

In all, more than two-thirds, two-thirds of Americans are either obese or overweight. People in their 20s and 30s having heart attacks. And get this -- among the teenagers who are supposed to be the picture of vitality, since 1980, the number who are overweight has more than tripled. Diabetes, heart disease, aching joints, they are all showing up earlier and earlier.

DR. SEEMA CSUKAS, CHILDREN'S HEALTHCARE OF ATLANTA: We're seeing even kids as early as age five and six-year-olds who are develop willing problems and becoming high risk for developing type II diabetes. So it's happening earlier and earlier. It isn't only to adolescents. It's the very young kids. We've seen three and four-year-olds in the overweight category. So it's very sad to think that's even possible, but it's a reality today.

GUPTA: Now, we all know it isn't just about food. We don't exercise enough. We watch too much TV. Fewer kids' gym classes. But today we're talking about food. Because if you look closely, the way we eat is truly shocking.

PATRICIA CRAWFORD, CENTER FOR WEIGHT AND HEALTH, UC BERKELEY: We've really have seen some changes in the way that children have eaten.

GUPTA: Patricia Crawford has made this her life's work, relentlessly dissecting children's diets. She's done it for more than 30 years.

CRAWFORD: Forty percent of children's calories are now coming from completely empty sources. They're coming from added fats and added sugars.

GUPTA: Now, here's something interesting. If you take a quick look at the numbers, you'll see that fruit and vegetable consumption is holding steady, but Crawford says that's a mirage.

CRAWFORD: It's kind of a false sense of security because what's happened is the fruit juice has gone up while the solid fruits have gone down and the potatoes have gone up as the non-potato items have gone down.

GUPTA: Translation -- kids are eating fewer vegetables except potatoes. Yes, these French fries get reported as one serving of veggies.

And let's not forget an even bigger change. That is what America drinks. The white line shows milk consumption since World War II. The red line is soda. Mostly regular soda, not diet. And here's the bottom line -- barely one percent of children meet government guidelines for a healthy diet.

CRAWFORD: The more you work with children and children's diets, you are even amazed that one to two percent can make it. It's astounding when you begin to look at the records of what children report they're eating. Candy for the snack and then a soda and a, you know, piece of pizza for lunch, you know, a bag of chips and then stop by and get a little ice cream.

GUPTA: We wanted to hear for ourselves so we invited Adrian and seven other kids to get together and talk about food.

(on camera): What's your favorite vegetable? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like cabbage.



GUPTA (voice-over): Some of it surprised us.

(on camera): Ethan, how about you?


GUPTA: Really? Are you just saying that? Or do you really ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I really enjoy it.

GUPTA (voice-over): Some of it was just what we expected. They know what's good for them. But like most kids, they don't always take the advice.

(on camera): Lindsay, how about you?


GUPTA: You're a junk food eater?


GUPTA: Is it because there's pressure to eat junk food? You just like the taste of it? You hungry? Why the junk food?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whenever I'm hungry, I just go get something from the pantry.

GUPTA: What sort of junk foods?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chips or doughnuts. I love doughnuts.

GUPTA (voice-over): It didn't take long for Adrian to fall into the trap. Within months of coming to the United States, he gained 30 pounds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I couldn't control myself.

GUPTA (on camera): Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because the new foods that I see, I -- it was stuck into me. It was like to me I couldn't live without them.

GUPTA (voice-over): Could Adrian break free and change his life? We'll tell you a bit later.

But next -- the hidden ingredients of the 21st century diet.

And still ahead -- how to trick yourself into eating less. It's CNN's own true-life experiment. Don't go away. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GUPTA (voice-over): What you're looking at is America's typical diet served up by Joseph Hibbelin (ph), a doctor at the National Institutes of Health.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Throw it in the blender. The digestive burger stuff.

GUPTA: Here it is after going through Hibbelin's blender. In his lab, he does what your stomach does, breaks down food into its basic ingredients like starches and oils.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what you would see in your stomach.

GUPTA: This oil from salmon is rich in omega 3 fatty acids, and here is another kind of oil, soybean oil, largely omega 6.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This amount of oil comes from just one single serving of French fries.

GUPTA: Our brains and bodies need both omega 3 and 6 in order to function, but you need a balance. Over the last century, says Hibbelin, the balance has gotten completely out of whack. Here's a chart tracking our consumption of soybean oil, the main source of omega 6 fatty acids.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The brain is made of fats and the brain is made of oils. When people flood their diet with seed oils and omega 6 fatty acids, it forces out the omega 3s and the neurons instead of looking like full, healthy frees with wonderful branches and wonderful leaves and synapses become rather shriveled and die back.

GUPTA: The result he says can be depression, suicidal thoughts, even criminal behavior. Some of that is controversial. But a committee established by the American Psychiatric Association did recommend that doctors consider omega 3 supplements as part of the treatment for depression.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it is quite likely that most of the diseases of modern civilization, major depression, heart disease and obesity, are linked to this radical and dramatic shift.

GUPTA: Now, you remember all that variety we saw in the grocery store? Well, many of those foods are made with pretty much the same ingredients. In fact, the average American gets 10 percent of their calories just from soybean oil. Ten percent.

(on camera): Just picking up products randomly here, hydrogenated soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil. A lot of it, every single product you look at. Soybean oil. Hydrogenated soybean oil. It's in the low-fat fruit snack.

(voice-over): Along with soybean oil, you see a lot of sugar. And its close cousin, high-fructose corn syrup.

(on camera): How much sugar do you think you eat in a week, typical person in a week?

(voice-over): Here's our kid's panel again.

(on camera): Big sugar eater down there. That much?


GUPTA: How many of you say it's that much sugar in a week? OK. Now that -- not everybody's convinced yet. We'll keep going. How about this much? That much sugar in a week?



GUPTA: How many people think it's this much sugar in a week? It is. That much sugar in one week. How much is this? Who knows? About three pounds.

(voice-over): You'll find about 40 grams of sugar in a 12-ounce soda. That's ten teaspoons, and it adds up from a dozen grams or more in a serving of sweetened cereal to 28 grams in some juice drinks.

Adrian McCarge was eating a typical diet. But after getting a warning that he was already borderline for type II diabetes, he enrolled in an ambitious three-month program at Children's Health Care of Atlanta.

CSUKAS: The kids are dealing with grown-up problems. Physicians who are used to treating kids are now having to deal with grown-up problems. It never came up to think about, OK, we have a seven-year- old. She has diabetes. What do you do? Well, gosh, I didn't learn that in medical school on how to address that kind of issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my goal sheet.

GUPTA: Adrian got weekly visits with a nutritionist.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, overhead press.

GUPTA: And a personal trainer who called for more physical activity who called for more physical activity. In fact, all kinds of activity. And big changes in eating habits.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has eight grams of sugar per tablespoon.

SIEW NARINE: I'm not buying any more junk food. I make an effort also to cook a lot of home-cooked meals.

GUPTA: He's taken off almost 15 pounds. And to his mother's delight, he's no longer in the risk category for diabetes.

SIEW NARINE: And you hear all of these horror stories, too, about people who are diabetic who have had wounds that didn't heal, have to have a leg or hand amputated. I don't want that for him. If he eventually becomes a diabetic, I think it would just cut off so much of his childhood. GUPTA: Some people, like Adrian's mother, say kids are fighting an uphill battle. She says it simply shouldn't be so hard, that the companies who make that delicious food should do more to make it healthier.

SIEW NARINE: It seems the ultimate goal, to me -- and this may be very controversial -- it's just about making money and not necessarily providing healthy food for a healthy society.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, I knew you be able to see this little kernel of wheat on television so I brought another one along. There. Isn't that a beauty?

GUPTA: Now, companies have been selling healthy food and advertising it for a long time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Breakfast of champions. Got plenty for tomorrow morning?

GUPTA: Today it's a bigger business than ever, the Institute of Food Technologists drew more than 25,000 people to its annual meeting in Chicago. IFT spokesman Roger Clemens points out, while the public is demanding healthier products, it doesn't always buy them.

ROGER CLEMENS, INSTITUTE OF FOOD TECHNOLOGISTS: Food companies want to provide those foods that are lower in saturated fat, lower in cholesterol, lower in soy. All those attributes we've come to accept by the various scientific bodies. At the same time, the behaviors of our public has not changed.

DAVID MACKAY, PRESIDENT AND CEO, KELLOGG COMPANY: You want to have nutritional foods, you want to have choice for cosnumers, but you have to have great taste.

GUPTA: David MacKay is president and CEO of Kellogg's. The company got its start more than 100 years ago as a health food business.

ANNOUNCER: It's in every box!

GUPTA: But today Kellogg's also makes plenty of sugared cereals like this and it's come under fire from health advocates like the Center for Science in the Public Interest and its founder Michael Jacobson. He's the guy who invented the term "junk food".

MICHAEL JACOBSON, CENTER FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: We should get rid of junk food advertising aimed at children. Get rid of that influence.

GUPTA: CFPI threatened to sue Kellogg company for unfair marketing, sort of like the lawsuits against tobacco. Until they struck a deal. Kellogg's announced it would reformulate products to make them healthier and only advertise healthy products to children younger than 12.

MACKAY: We believe we're a very responsible marketer to kids and we wanted to continue to enhance and develop that. GUPTA: To qualify as healthy under Kellogg's plan, a food needs to have less than 200 calories, limited salt and fat, and no more than 12 grams of sugar per serving. Frosted Flakes, by the way, has 11 grams of sugar.

JACOBSON: It sneaks in right under that line. I don't think it's any coincidence that that was as far as Kellogg was willing to go.

MACKAY: You have to remember this is a major undertaking the company is making. Roughly 50 percent of our products marketed to kids today will either need to be reformulated or have to change the media mix. It's a very big undertaking for Kellogg as a company but we absolutely believe it's the right thing for us to do.

GUPTA: At a Federal Trade Commission meeting this summer, 11 more big companies, including McDonald's, PepsiCo and General Mills lined up with similar promises.

MACKAY: We'll be giving nutrients of interest.

GUPTA: He says the threatened lawsuit had nothing to do with Kellogg's move, but there is public pressure.

In an exclusive CNN and Opinion Research Corporation poll, nearly half the people said they would support government restrictions on junk food ads aimed at kids.

But what if the government took it a step further and actually told you what you could and could not eat?


GUPTA: New York is one of my favorite places to eat, but at restaurants in Chinatown, Little Italy and everywhere else in New York for that matter, the city government has done something unprecedented. For the first time, they're deciding what we can and cannot eat. The use of oils or spreads with more than a miniscule amount of trans fats is now considered a health code violation. Just like undercooked food, dirty kitchens, even vermin.

MARY BASSETT, NYC DEPUTY HEALTH COMMISSIONER: We're extending our thinking about what constitutes food safety.

GUPTA: Deputy health commissioner Mary Bassett, a doctor, says the city's near total ban on trans fats, just half a gram per serving, will save at least 500 lives a year. You see, trans fats raise LDL or bad cholesterol and lower HDL, or good cholesterol. One study found just five grams of trans fats a day, which is what you might find in a medium order of French fries, increases your risk of heart disease by 25 percent.

BASSETT: We can't go on with business as usual. We really have to take vigorous interventions like we did in old-fashioned epidemics like cholera or smallpox.

CHUCK HUNT, NEW YORK STATE RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION: In some cases, almost Orwellian, Big Brother, big nannies.

GUPTA: Chuck is with the New York State Restaurant Association, which opposes what it calls the micromanaging of restaurants.

HUNT: Government has no business regulating legal substances just to get what they think is a result that will work. It doesn't always work. We think this should be left up to choice on behalf of the customer.

GUPTA: In fact, the association went to federal court to stop another city regulation requiring fast food restaurants to post calorie information on the menu boards in the same size and typeface as the item itself. And here's what it might look like. The restaurants affected by this regulation say they already are providing complete nutritional information on the Web and elsewhere.

HUNT These are the good guys. It's the old story of no good deed goes unpunished.

GUPTA: A federal judge ruled for the Restaurant Association. New York is now considering whether to appeal the decision or rewrite the regulation.

BASSETT: People need more help. They need the opportunity to make healthier choices. When they don't have information that they would need to make healthy choices that we assure that they get it or in settings where they couldn't reasonably be provided with that information, that we protect them. In my mind, that's the role of government. And so if it's called a nanny state, well, so be it.

HUNT: We've got a situation here where there are a lot of zealots that want to do things that involve personal behavior. You know, New York City is no longer the Big Apple. We're now the big domino. When something happens in New York City, everybody else falls over and tries to do it.

GUPTA: For example, now the City of Philadelphia has adopted a New York-style transfat ban. So has Montgomery County, Maryland, Albany County, New York, and King County, Washington. And statewide bans are under consideration in California, New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Massachusetts, South Carolina and Vermont.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love to grow my own fruits and vegetables.

GUPTA: Susan Roberts is a law professor whose specialty is food policy. She says government should intervene on trans fats.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it safe to have a lot of trans fats which are not necessary in our food supply? No, it's not safe. It's against the public health. That is, I think, one of the responsibilities of the government, to do that.

GUPTA: Most people disagree. In an exclusive CNN poll, only 16 percent of those surveyed said they favored government restrictions on unhealthy foods. Eighty-four percent said adults should be able to eat whatever they want. And some food industry insiders say a trans fat ban will simply result in one unhealthy fat replacing another.

If government doesn't step in to ban trans fats, there's always Michael Jacobson and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

(on camera): Do you mind it when people call you the food police?

JACOBSON: If they have a smile on their face, I think it's perfectly fine. But we aren't cops. We can't arrest anybody. We're more detectives. We can get out the information, and that can be extremely powerful.

GUPTA: Now Jacobson and CSPI want to direct some of that power toward trans fats.

JACOBSON: This is the most harmful of fat. The FDA should ban it. But the FDA isn't.

GUPTA: CSPI has pressured the major fast food chains to get rid of trans fats and Kentucky Fried Chicken, Wendy's and Taco Bell say they've done just that. McDonald's has started removing trans fats but has no timetable for getting rid of them completely. And then there's Burger King.

JACOBSON: We look for the biggest problem companies. Burger King was the biggest company that wasn't making very much progress.

GUPTA: So the Center for Science in the Public Interest sued. Two months later, Burger King announced it was getting rid of trans fats at its more than 7,000 restaurants. Not good enough for Jacobson and CSPI.

Because Burger King will continue to receive food partially fried in trans fat from its suppliers. So CSPI is going forward with its lawsuit. Burger King says it's disappointed by CSPI's decision and says the company is working toward becoming completely trans fat-free. And Jacobson isn't stopping at trans fats.

JACOBSON: We're trying to get laws passed that would require restaurants, chain restaurants at least, to disclose the calorie content right on the menu boards.

GUPTA: Sound familiar? It all comes back to the question -- should the government be able to regulate what we eat? At the New York Restaurant Association, Hunt says government should educate, not mandate.

HUNT: Some of the things that they have mandated haven't worked. A good example is the nutrition labeling that's required on products, packaged goods that are sold in supermarkets. For the last 15 or so years, they've been required to have nutritional statements, and that hasn't caused obesity to decline.

GUPTA: He's right. Since the FDA has required nutrition labels on food, obesity has skyrocketed.

JACOBSON: Our society makes it very difficult not to gain weight, and it's so seductive. There are 3 million soft drink vending machines in this country tempting people to eat junk. Thousands of schools have junk food vending machines. Supermarkets have aisle after aisle of cheap, attractively packaged, tasty, junky foods that are bad for our health. Defeating obesity is going to be extraordinarily difficult because everything in our society is pushing in the other direction.

GUPTA: And then there's the matter of willpower.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We believe we have free will but much of what we eat and especially how much we eat ends up being determined by what's around us.

GUPTA: Mindless eating. How to stop it, when we come back. And later -- one of my favorites. Deconstructing the Twinkie.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Twinkie is one of the great feats of modern engineering.



GUPTA: On a recent weekday afternoon, CNN offered free chicken wings to anyone who wanted them if they filled out a brief survey about food.

What these folks didn't know is they were actually part of an informal experiment. Would people eat more if they couldn't see how much they had already eaten?

Helping us, Cornell Professor Brian Wansink, author of "Mindless Eating" and a leading researcher on how people really behave around food.

(on camera): How much free will do we have when it comes to our eating?

BRIAN WANSINK, CORNELL UNIVERSITY: We believe we have all the free will in the world. We believe that if we overeat, if the food is really good or because we're really hungry. In reality, those are two of the last things that influence how we eat.

GUIPTA (voice-over): So we divided our chicken wings eaters into two groups. They didn't know it, but servers were clearing the plates for half the group and leaving the dirty plates for the other half. Meaning one group can see exactly how much they had eaten. Folks in the other group have to rely on their memories and their stomachs.

(on camera): So what are we doing here? What's going on?

WANSINK: One of the things we're looking at here is whether you eat with your eyes or you eat with your stomach.

GUPTA (voice-over): So which is it, eyes or stomach? To find out, we visited one him at his Food and Brand Lab at Cornell. WANSINK: Here what we do is we study why people eat the things they eat. We want to capture what goes on in a normal, typical home. If your typical houses had one-way mirrors, had cameras up on the walls, and if it had hidden scales underneath cloths and underneath tables. What we can do is get a very good idea on why we are so easily tricked into overeating without realizing it.

GUPTA: What he finds is jaw dropping.

WANSINK: We are a nation of mindless eaters. Much of what we eat and especially how much we eat ends up being determined by what's around us. Two of the biggest influences on us end up being visibility and convenience. If there's nothing to stop us from reaching out, grabbing something and eating something, we'll continue to do so until something tells us to stop.

GUPTA: Here's something to keep in mind -- you eat more if you're eating family style with more helpings an arm's length away. Or if you're eating from a large plate or bowl or eating directly from the bag. You'll eat more if you're distracted, watching television or talking to friends or eating in the car.

WANSINK: We live with an embarrassment of food. Almost at any given time we are just yards away from either a candy machine or supermarket or someplace like that or refrigerator and this is something that 75 years ago was unheard of.

GUPTA: In one experiment, Wansink placed candy jars of chocolate in office workers' cubicles for a month. Then moved the candy six feet away. Suddenly those same workers were eating fewer candies. That's right. Simply moving the candy six feet meant five fewer candies a day. That's 125 calories, 12 pounds a year.

WANSINK: If something is very visible, every time we see it, we have to make a decision -- do I want to eat that or do I not want to eat that? Do I want that piece of candy on my desk or not? We can say no to it 27 times, but if it's visible, the 28th or 29th time, we might start saying maybe. By the time 30 or 31, we're saying, what the heck, I'm hungry.

GUPTA: In another study, people at the movies received free bags of popcorn. The moviegoers who received bigger bags ate more. And here's the kicker -- all the popcorn was stale. Back at the restaurant ...

WANSINK: We've marked a bowl for every person here. Every person has their own bowl of wing refuse assigned to them. This is table 71. This is person number one, that's how much they've eaten.


WANSINK: We think these external cues, like the signals in your environment, have a tremendous impact on causing you to eat 200, 300, 400 more calories a day. And over the course of a year, this could be 20, 30, or 40 pounds extra that you would otherwise not eat. GUPTA (on camera): So for someone at home, if they wanted to take away a lesson here, what is something they could do to sort of remind themselves to eat less?

WANSINK: One thing is you have to see it before you eat it. If you're eating out of a big bag of chips or this big carton of ice cream, you can eat a lot before it looks like you've even made a dent. You'll be eating with your eyes, not your stomach. One thing you need to do is at least dish out what you want to eat before you start.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You asked how many I had? I lost track. You guys were probably counting.

GUPTA (voice-over): We were. And after an hour chowing down on wings, we weighed the results.

In our experiment, those who had their plates cleared and couldn't see how much they had eaten consumed 14 percent more chicken. After controlling for age, gender and body mass index.

In similar studies, Wansink found people ate twice as much. And after eating all the wings they wanted in the middle of the afternoon, we tempted our guests one more time with cookies.


GUPTA: Three-quarters, three out of four, took the cookies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One for the road.

GUPTA: Up next -- why this woman says it's easier to find a handgun than a tomato in this Chicago neighborhood.


GUPTA: This is one of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago. The last thing I expected to see here is rows upon rows of fresh vegetables, but in fact that is exactly what Ladonna Redmond (ph) showed me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This was a vacant lot.

GUPTA: Redmond led an effort to what she calls urban farm sites in the neighborhood. Why? Because no matter how hard she tried, she could not find any fresh produce here.

(on camera): What are we growing in here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any number of things. Those are collard greens on the far aisle there and those are turnip greens right next to them. The second row here, this looks like peppers.

GUPTA: Green, leafy vegetables.


GUPTA: Something hard to get around here otherwise.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You will not be able to find this around here.

GUPTA (voice-over): For Redmond, her concern became personal when she learned her son, wade, had food allergies.

(on camera): I read and tell me if this is exaggerated that in some places, maybe this place, it's easier to get drugs or even a handgun than it is to get fresh vegetables.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's my philosophy, yeah. Yeah. You could probably buy right now if you wanted to illegal drugs. You can get access to a variety of illegal drugs if you wanted to buy a gun, you could buy a gun in this community. But if you wanted to find an organic tomato in this community, if you didn't want to come to our urban farm site, you wouldn't be able to buy one.

GUPTA (voice-over): A long way from grocery stores, most people do their shopping at convenience stores, like this one.

(on camera): This is where people typically come to get their food.


GUPTA: What are they going to find?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're going to find a lot of liquor, cigarettes, candy, pop, potato chips and if they're looking for cereal, there's cereal there. They ran out of whole milk. They'll be able to find some of that in there as well.

GUPTA: What about the tomatoes, collard greens?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Probably not going to find tomatoes and collard greens.

GUPTA: Produce.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. There isn't any produce in this particular store.

GUPTA (voice-over): With no supermarket chains willing to do business in the neighborhood on their own, Redmond thinks government should step in to give grants or other incentives to bring them in. She says it's about a lot more than just food. High blood pressure, diabetes and obesity are all significantly higher among African Americans than other minorities. While life expectancy is lower.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it definitely is related to the access to healthy foods issue. Most of those diseases are diet related. Unfortunately, I don't think people see it until they actually have those chronic diseases. And then the doctor says, change your eating. Well, okay. Easier said than done. How do I change my eating? I'm surrounded by all kinds of foods. I don't have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

GUPTA (on camera): What are you buying in there? Chips?


GUPTA: Let me see. What did you get?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got some chips. She got sunflower seeds.

GUPTA: Hey, Rockstar (ph) how come you're not buying tomatoes and fresh vegetables?

Tomatoes are nasty?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Most everything in the center aisle in that store at its core is corn or soybean produced or based. We don't have a similar kind of support system for fruits and vegetable producers.

GUPTA (voice-over): She's right. Farm row after farm row, acre after acre, corn and soybeans dominate the American agricultural landscape. These two crops alone accounting for almost half the acres planted in the United States. And corn and soybeans wind up in almost everything we eat.

Remember, soybeans usually in the form of oil account for 10 percent of our total calories in the United States. Corn is even more ubiquitous with high fructose corn syrup in sodas, ketchups, salad dressings, desserts and many other processed foods.

In Iowa, corn is more than food. It's a culture, a way of life celebrated every summer at festivals.

SEN. TOM HARKIN, (D) IA: On his farm with his corn ...

GUPTA: Iowa Senator Tom Harkin is chairman of the Senate Agricultural Committee and chief architecture of the farm bill being crafted in Congress this year.

(on camera): Is there a correlation between the existing farm bill and the obesity problem?

HARKIN: I believe there is a correlation between farm bills that we've been passing for the last 20 years and the incidence of obesity in this country. That's why I keep saying we've got to start promoting alternative crops and fruits and vegetables and safflower, things like that.

GUPTA (voice-over): That's a remarkable admission to the senator from Iowa, the state's top corn producing state. If you want to get a sense of the role agriculture plays in the United States, just look at the walls of the Capitol.

But as we look closely, all crops have not been treated equally. Apples and most other fruits and vegetables have been considered specialty crops. As a result, they've been ineligible for major funding under the farm bill until this year. Congress this month is expected to pass a farm bill with $365 million or more for fruit and vegetable growers. That's still far less than a $2.7 billion corn and soybean growers can expect in the next year. And keep in mind it may take years to ramp up production of fruits and vegetables.

GUPTA: If we actually followed the food pyramid in this country and had five servings of fruits and vegetables, every American every day, we actually don't have enough fruits and vegetables to provide for us.

HARKIN: That's absolutely true.

GUPTA: That's shocking.

HARKIN: It's very shocking. And, again, well, we're going to try to change that.

GUPTA: On the West Side of Chicago, some residents aren't waiting for Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've got a pepper over here. I want a picture of my pepper over here. See them in there?

GUPTA: Next -- more than 500 million were sold last year, but do you really know what's in a Twinkie?


GUPTA: Christopher Kimball writes cookbooks, publishes "Cook's Illustrated" magazine and he's host of "America's Test Kitchen".

CHRIS KIMBALL, "AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN": One of the most satisfying thing to do is take inexpensive, simple ingredients and make them great.

GUPTA: It's a show that celebrates home cooking and extols the virtues of natural ingredients.

He says most of us have forgotten the subtle tastes of food cooked from scratch. Instead, he says, we've been seduced by powerful flavors offered up by processed foods and fast food. Lots of salt, sugar, fat.

KIMBALL: It's turbo charged. It's trying to hit you over the head and get you almost addicted to that food. If you go back and look at the way we cooked a hundred years ago, it was much more subtle, it was much more complex. And I think much more satisfying.

GUPTA: And Kimball says we've been conditioned to buy packaged foods even when making the real thing is easy.

KIMBALL: We don't think of food as something you have to cook anymore. We think of food as a finished food product. You think about it. You started with TV dinners and now it goes all the way up to Uncrustable sandwiches.

GUPTA: Then there is what may be the most famous processed food of all.

KIMBALL: The Twinkie is one of the finest examples of modern engineering. It started out in 1930 as a basic sponge cake with the basic ingredients, milk, butter, eggs, et cetera. And they filled it with cream and it lasted maybe a couple of days, three days in the market. Hence, the problem. How do you create something that's going to be shelf stable, it's not going to change overtime and it can stay on the shelf for almost a month? That was the problem they had to solve.

That's the essence of the processed food industry, is finding substitutes for things that are going to go bad or change the texture or flavor of this product like this over time. So instead of a lot of eggs and butter and milk other things, they turned to some of these ingredients.

Lecithin is a great substitute for egg yolk. Because it's an emulsifier like egg yolk, which means it takes lots of disparate ingredients and lets them blend together. Instead of using lot of fat, natural fat, cellulose gum performs that function. It brings in moisture, holds moisture, and gives you that mouth feel you get from fat. You have artificial colors because you want the nice color of the Twinkie. And those colors actually come from the petrochemical industry, from benzene, aniline and other chemicals which in quantity is actually poisonous but in small quantities used here the FDA has approved.

And lots of other things, they stabilize it, keep it hydrated, it keeps moist, it doesn't go stale. Thirty-nine ingredients to make a Twinkie, and it all started with just a simple sponge cake.

GUPTA: In response, Interstate Bakeries, maker of Hostess, says the core ingredients have been the same for decades -- flour, sugar, water. Adding, deconstructing the Twinkie is like trying to deconstruct the universe. Some people look at the sky and think it's beautiful. Others try to count the stars.

Urban legend would have you believe a Twinkie can last for years. Hostess says just 25 days.

KIMBALL: Do people need to relearn what real food is? Sure they do. One generation of this country, maybe two, did not grow up with parents who cooked. A lot of people are saying, what is cooking? What does that mean?

GUPTA: America's Killer Diet is available everywhere so the choice is yours, whether cooking at home, dining out, or eating on the run. So remember, choose your diet wisely. You really are what you eat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's good, mom. Mom, it's good.