Keynote Speaker

Tamar HaspelJames Beard award-winning Washington Post columnist, USA

Tamar Haspel

Tamar Haspel is a James Beard award-winning Washington Post columnist. She writes about food, agriculture, and science, and has contributed to Discover, National Geographic, Fortune, Vox, and others. When she’s tired of the heavylifting of journalism, she gets dirty. She and her husband raise their own chickens, grow their own tomatoes, hunt their own venison, and generally try to stay connected to the idea that food has to come from somewhere. They also have an oyster farm, Barnstable Oyster, where they grow about 300,000 oysters a year in the beautiful waters off Cape Cod. Twitter: @tamarhaspel

Talk title: What if we've gotten obesity all wrong


Obesity has become the single biggest public health problem facing the developed world, and nobody seems to know how to fix it. There's a reason for that.

Remarkably, there's a virtual consensus on what caused the problem: a changing food environment that made cheap, convenient, calorie-dense, nutrient-poor food available everywhere. It's food specifically designed to be irresistible, so it's not surprising we humans can't resist. And so we ate.

Despite the widespread agreement on its cause, the efforts to combat obesity have focused on biology. Carbohydrate metabolism, satiety hormones, gut bacteria. And despite all the blood and treasure spent on understanding how our bodies process food, we've not made a dent in rising obesity rates.

Turning a straightforward problem of environment into a complex problem of biology has been a triumph of misdirection. It has caused us, collectively, to take our eye off the ball of that perfectly obvious thing that makes us fat in the first place, and it has failed spectacularly.

If we expect to make headway, we need a U-turn in our obesity priorities. We have to worry a lot less about what happens after we eat something and focus instead on what happens before. The focus on biology -- on hunger and satiety and metabolism -- misses a fundamental truth: most of us, most of the time, don't overeat because we're hungry; we overeat because we're tempted. We need answers that are behavioral, not biological.

Fortunately, some scientists and researchers are tackling behavior, and it's their work that offers hope -- and the beginnings of a blueprint for a better way.

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