Does the Government Keep Britain Fat?

Good old Michael Moseley. He’s made another documentary to highlight how our government is more interested in the money and power of big corporations than taking strong action to help reverse the steep decline in the nation’s health and save the NHS from imminent collapse.

Here are a few points from Channel 4’s Who Made Britain Fat?{with my comments like this}.

We’ve seen 30 years of failed strategies.

{I think it’s longer than that. The introduction of the nutritional guidelines in the 80s was a failed strategy and the Government has repeatedly failed to deal with the obesity epidemic it caused. Actually there are examples from much longer ago too. In England we had attempts to prevent the sophistication (adulteration) of beer somewhere around the 11th century. In 1816 we had an act outlawing brewers just for possessing sugar.}

Where are we?

Over 1 million people were in hospital last year with complications from obesity.

Nearly 2/3 of the population is now overweight or obese.

In children, 1 in 7 are obese before reaching reception year.

That’s up from 1 in 10 only 2 years ago {a whopping 40% relative increase}.

A quarter of 10-11 year olds are obese.

Over 40% of 11-12 year olds are overweight or obese. {That’s nearly half!!!!}

We have 1 year olds with type 2 diabetes and 3 year olds with sleep apnoea. Some have non alcoholic fatty liver disease and will need liver transplants later.

{It’s shocking – but much more so because it was always avoidable.}

Government Policies

In 1992, the Government stated its aim to reduce obesity in “The Health of the Nation”. Since then there have been 689 policies. Obesity increased and is now 28%. Government spending on all this is huge – but still less than the advertising spend of just one of the fast food giants. {And there are a lot of junk food companies. Big business is significantly richer and more powerful than the Government.}

The Government has focussed on providing information to encourage customers to change their behaviour rather than impose restrictions on the food companies. It hasn’t worked.

They’ve also focussed on exercise – which is great for health but a poor way to lose weight. {The energy balance myth is a favourite of companies like CocaCola and the diet clubs. You cannot outrun a bad diet. Weigh loss is about hormone responses to different types of foods.}

Junk food companies use sports sponsorship to promote their products. It’s called ‘sports washing’. Forest Green Rovers is the first team to reject all fast food sponsorship.

[Sugar

As an aside, around the same time on Channel 5, Dr Amir Khan presented his Sugar Crash (How to Give up Sugar and Lose Weight). Obesity related health problems cost the country £27 billion a year. The recommendation is to eat no more than 30g added sugar a day but many people exceed this. Sugar is addictive, releasing dopamine and stimulating the same parts of the brain as hard drugs. Dr Amir did an experiment on himself by eating 170g of added sugar a day for 4 weeks. It affected his mood, bowels, waistline (gained 2.5kg).

He came off it cold turkey. His food tasted of nothing and he had terrible cravings – typical drug withdrawal. He said group support can be helpful. He was glad when he felt back to normal.]

Back to Micahel Mosley –

Food Environment

In Tower Hamlets there is a road known as ‘The Chicken Mile’ with 42 takeaway chicken shops for every secondary school.

Deprived areas have 5 times more fast food outlets than more affluent areas and the people suffer more obesity.

In the first half of 2021, takeaways were the fastest growing businesses {helped by the Government who left them open during lockdown when they shut so many other businesses}.

Supermarkets

In supermarkets, ~40% of the food we buy is on offer. Promotions make us spend 20% more than we would otherwise. Most of them are for unhealthy stuff. {When the marketing focusses on food products or drinks being ‘cool’ or ‘fun’ to eat or drink, you know they’re not going to boost your health and can expect them to do you harm.}

There are new regulations about promotions so supermarkets are working on ways to get round the regulations. They tempt us in every way possible with eye-level product placement, smells, end of aisle, checkout products. They’re also fighting against the next set of regulations.

Food Deliveries

And of course lockdown saw an unbelievable increase in food deliveries, with spending up 62%. It rocketed during covid but, worryingly, is not slowing down. People generally consume twice as many calories as they would with home cooking. It’s also very expensive. A man on the programme spent £400 one month. Sometimes he would buy 3 times in one day. The companies send offers on their app and he said it’s addictive.

GPs

Patients go to their doctors wanting bariatric surgery. They’re desperate.

GPs don’t feel equipped to offer dietary advice {they don’t get training on nutrition} or to talk about weight. Extra money given to GPs by Government is mainly used to refer patients to the diet clubs {where almost all of them will lose weight then regain it in the classic yo-yo cycle.}

What Does Work?

Leeds focussed on early years intervention in their Henry programme – and it worked. They reduced childhood obesity by 6.4% between 2009 and 2016. Families learn to cook together more. It was suspended during covid and child obesity has gone up 4% since. {Over 50% of the food eaten in Britain is ultra processed, lacking in nutrients and containing many health-damaging ingredients like vegetable (seed) oils, sugar and chemicals. When more food is prepared at home from fresh ingredients, it has a dramatic effect.}

{A snippet of my own recent experience

To make money, big businesses have altered our opinions and beliefs around what is fit to eat.

I’ve been to four events recently, a business meeting, a charity event, a Christening and a funeral. In each case the tables were laden with beige. Cakes, sandwiches, pies, pizza, things wrapped in pasty and things I couldn’t identify at all (most made in factories).

The events were great. The intent was sincere. The people were wonderful and being with them was a joy. The shops are full of these things and relentless advertising and product placement has normalised eating this way. But as long as we think that eating this way is fine, we’ll continue to suffer the misery of health conditions it causes: obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, fatty liver etc etc.

It’s clear that the government lacks the will, the wit and the clout to stand up to the food giants and change things. It’s up to each individual to protect their own health. Ignore the junk-food shops you walk past in town. Delete the delivery apps. Take some real food when you go to a party. Staying slim and healthy has never been such hard work but you are well worth the effort.}

Top tip: Don’t let them make you fat!