Barry Breaux is an Internal Medicine physician, certified in Culinary Medicine. He has written about food as medicine, and the essential role food plays in our health. As the author of the popular 2020 inaugural blog: The Role of Food in Prevention, Precision, and Healthspan we decided to invite Dr. Breaux to continue the conversation regarding the synergy between earth and humanity’s health in our first blog of the new year.
HHE: Barry, thank you for participating in our first blog of 2021. Since your last blog, I understand you have been working on an obesity medicine certification. What made you decide to go for this certification, and why does a medical doctor need obesity medicine certification?
BB: I went into Medicine partly for lifelong learning and the ability to apply science to health improvement. The continual learning is not just an annoying bug to stay relevant and licensed, but it’s an integral feature to our role as stewards and practitioners of a science-based discipline.
My interest in Culinary Medicine and Obesity Medicine comes from that sense of curiosity. There’s an intellectual interest in understanding what’s new in the field, and there’s a unique opportunity to grow and improve how I care for patients.
About 70% of US adults are overweight or obese, and we know excess weight increases the risk of numerous other chronic diseases plus premature death. In 30 years (1980 – 2010), the prevalence of obesity more than doubled in children (7% – 18%) and more than tripled in adolescents (5% – 18%). And while we know that obesity is highly heritable, genes don’t account for this recent increase. (they haven’t changed). Rather, it has been changes in our environment, including our food system, which have interacted with our genes in detrimental ways to drive the increased prevalence of obesity-related disease.
Moving from statistical trends to human physiology in all stages of weight gain and weight loss can yield some especially important insights. For example, it’s common knowledge that weight-loss diets don’t work in the long term; most overweight dieters who are able to lose weight tend to gain it back within a couple of years. And I’ve learned that one of the best ways to successfully keep excess weight off could be through resistance training, but I don’t think people currently think about weight-lifting this way.
Ultimately, these fields of study are helping me add practical knowledge to my practice and impact in Primary Care. We must keep moving away from generic, one-size-fits-all medicine, to a more personalized approach to care.
HHE: How do dietary changes away from meat and towards a plant-based diet affect our overall health and that of planet earth?
BB: High levels of meat consumption are typically associated with higher chronic disease and early mortality risk in scientific studies. Admittedly, however, there’s a diet study out there to support whatever view you already have, including the health benefits of meat. I don’t advocate for any narrowly focused diet, but by various estimates, we are probably eating too much meat, and the wrong type, both for optimal health and the planet. And the more meat we consume, the more we fund and fuel the Food and AG industry which has decimated the environment. In his 2020 book, Food Fix, Dr. Mark Hyman talks at length about how our food system is the number one contributor to Climate Change through deforestation, soil erosion, fertilizers and feed, methane released from cattle, and food transportation, storage, and waste. Moving away from our daily consumption of factory-farmed animals and their products, and toward a plant-dominant plate complemented by occasional meat raised with renewable and organic methods would go a long way in combating this.
Next Week – Part Two