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June 28, 2018

Private Eye Medicine Balls 1467 March 2, 2018
Filed under: Private Eye — Dr. Phil @ 3:06 pm

Fat Kids, Fat Profits

In 1946, poor children in the UK were on average 2kg lighter than rich children at the age of 11. Today, they are 2 kg heavier, according to an analysis in The Lancet Public Health. Then and now, poorer people struggle to eat sufficient nutritious food. But now they eat an excess of cheap, sugary, salty highly-processed crap, triggering an obesity epidemic that has become the commonest cause of preventable disease and premature death, and is bringing every health service to its knees. Nearly a third of UK children aged two to 15 are overweight or obese and younger generations are becoming obese at earlier ages and staying obese for longer. So who’s to blame?

The strategy for the last 40 years has been ‘to encourage individuals to make healthy choices’ whilst giving them the wrong information and allowing the food industry to run riot. But simply blaming the food industry is too simplistic. Egged on by the pharmaceutical industry, doctors have for decades focused on the aggressive lowering of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol to reduce heart disease risk by cutting out saturated fats in the diet and prescribing statins. This in turn encouraged the food industry to aggressively market zero or low fat foods that claimed to be ‘heart healthy’ but were anything but, being crammed with sugar. This slavish mantra of low fat, low cholesterol and ‘statins for all’ has made billions for food and pharma firms but has helped trigger the massive rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes, where the main culprit is the sugar spikes from processed foods causing insulin resistance. And the solution is not new and better drugs, but better food.

The trouble is, it’s hard living the Mediterranean dream in, say, Gateshead. A wide variety of seasonal fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, extra-virgin olive oil, sustainable fish and organic meat may not always be easy to source. Preparing the meals from these raw ingredients takes time and skill. Wastage is higher because fresh food spoils more quickly. And the ingredients cost far more than, say, multi-buy frozen nuggets, burgers, chips and pizza. Even if you could persuade your children to fill in a rainbow chart on the fridge to ensure they’ve eaten their daily seven different coloured fruits and vegetables, rich in antioxidant polyphenols, the chances are they’d be social outcasts at school.

According to an excellent report on the social determinants of health by the Health Foundation, it is three times more expensive to get the energy we need from healthy food than unhealthy food. It is not only harder to buy healthy foods in deprived areas, but there is also a higher density of fast food outlets. Just 1.2% of advertising spend each year goes on vegetables, compared with the 22% spent on confectionary, cakes, biscuits and ice cream. While ministers ‘consider’ curbs on advertising, pack sizes, ingredients and two-for-one deals on unhealthy food, poorer children are eating themselves to ill health and premature death. A baby girl born in Richmond upon Thames is expected to live 17.8 more years in good health than a baby girl born in Manchester, and to live almost a decade longer. And much of that is down to diet.

Gateshead Council is at least doing its bit. It has used local planning policy to ensure that any application for a hot food takeaway will be declined if it is in an area where more than 10% of children in year 6 are obese; if it is within 400m of secondary schools and other community amenities, or if the number of hot food takeaways in the area is equal to?or greater than the UK national average. Schools and hospitals should also ban highly processed food and sugar drinks from their sites. Too many hospitals are tarts to the processed food industry, and some have even had fast food outlets on site. It is still not uncommon in the NHS for someone to have a lifesaving stent inserted into a blocked coronary artery only to be served a burger and chips afterwards.

But the overriding message of the global obesity epidemic is that ‘encouraging healthier choices’ hasn’t worked. Politicians have to get their shit together and legislate for healthier food, particularly in areas where it may not be top priority. If you have no job, no house, no self-esteem and no future, you’re unlikely to pop down to Waitrose for some oily fish and a punnet of seasonal berries. The government’s childhood obesity plan has at least committed to the reformulation of nine categories of popular, mass market foods, to reduce their sugar content. If you can’t change the people, you have to change the food. Time for the Nanny state to act, and the food industry to pay. Enjoy those Easter eggs, while you still can. (PS 100% dark chocolate is best, being rich in anti-oxidant polyphenols).