The obesity epidemic, it is simply a case of eating less and exercising more?
Posted on 19th November 2014 at 07:30
The poor state of our health is a favourite subject in the media, with obesity and soaring rates of diabetes in groups previously not thought of as high risk, being under the spotlight in recent months.
Fingers are pointed at a long list of possible culprits including fast food outlets, the supermarkets, less active lifestyles and poor nutritional education.
Solutions are demanded from the government, NHS, schools and supermarkets.
If we take a step back from all the hype, the problem seems very simple. Eating too much and exercising too little.
On this analysis the solution is equally simple. Eating less and exercising more.
And, yes without a doubt, making simple changes to what we eat and taking regular exercise does make a huge difference.
However, if the solution really was that simple, why have a myriad of health campaigns over recent years not had any noticeable effect?
Is it that there are other factors at work here which people are not aware of? From our experience we would say “yes.”
Let’s take an easy one first. And that is the impact advertising – and the media generally – have on our perceptions of food and what constitutes healthy eating.
Perhaps it’s the daily headlines about the latest miracle diet, encouraging people to focus on short term solutions, often with hidden long term consequences. All too often people seem to be swayed more by the accompanying celebrity endorsement, rather than stopping to consider whether it is the best option for them.
Then there are the stories about the latest wonder food or supplement, guaranteed to curb your appetite or melt fat away. With Christmas approaching, you don’t have to look far for examples of these.
Added to this is the aggressive – and often hidden – marketing of junk food, aimed at both adults and children.
Over the years, various high profile food companies have been accused of using “pester power” to push parents into giving in to their children’s demands. McDonalds is often named as the prime example of this, using marketing techniques specifically tailored to children and teenagers. What’s particularly worrying is that, despite repeated press coverage about the quality of their food, the march of McDonalds continues unabated. If you’re in any doubt about the real cost of fast food, Fast Food Nation is definitely worth a read, but not for the faint hearted.
While we like to think that we, as adults, are much more discerning; the sad truth is that the marketing of junk foods to us is just as insidious with equally disastrous consequences. The probiotic drinks and yoghurts found in supermarkets are a prime example of this, with repeated research showing that they do not live up to the hype and are often loaded with sugar to make them palatable.
Related to the issue of food quality is that of antibiotic overuse. While the over prescription of antibiotics by Doctors has received a lot of coverage in recent years; there is much less awareness of how they are routinely used in the raising of farm animals.
Antibiotics are used not only to ward off disease but also to promote weight gain. Once they have entered the food chain they will, of course, be passed on to anyone consuming the meat, eggs or milk.
To put this into perspective, it’s estimated that 80% of the antibiotics used in the USA are used to raise farm animals. And where the USA is, the UK quickly follows. Given this, it’s not surprising that the majority of the antibiotics we’re exposed to come via our diet, rather than being directly prescribed by Doctors.
In the case of a severe bacterial infection, there is no doubt that antibiotics can save lives. However, the dangers of prescribing them routinely – and proactively – are now becoming obvious, with increasing cases of antibiotic resistance.
Not only do antibiotics destroy the bacteria being targeted, they also wipe out the so called “good bacteria” in the gut. Only recently has the importance of these beneficial bacteria been fully appreciated, with them playing an important part in both the digestion of food and a healthy immune system.
Alongside antibiotics, other growth enhancing drugs are used in the raising of farm animals to shorten the time it takes for them to go from field to plate. While many of those routinely used in the USA have been banned in other countries for their health consequences, it’s little surprise that weight gain is one of them.
This leads us on to other chemicals we routinely come into contact with, many of which disrupt the endocrine system. So called “endocrine disruptors” are similar in structure to natural sex hormones, such as oestrogen, and can interfere with their normal function.
Often found in plastics, they have been linked with many fertility problems as well as diabetes and obesity at levels well below those considered toxic. In other words, damage may start at very low levels before it would be picked up as a problem by conventional blood tests.
As an aside, mention should also be made of GMO’s, with concerns being expressed at their impact on health over the longer term. Already a number of problems have been linked to them including the disruption of hormones which, again, could lead on to weight gain and obesity. Although they have not featured much in the press recently, their relentless march continues with few people aware of just how widespread they have become.
Finally and neatly bringing us back to where we started – food – is the impact of artificial sweeteners. While the logic behind them is deceptively simple – that low or no calorie sugar substitutes will help you lose weight – research has repeatedly shown that this isn’t the case.
Rather than tricking the body into thinking it has had a “sugar fix” – so turning off the hunger signals – sweeteners actually stimulate the appetite for sugar. When it doesn’t arrive, these hunger signals are replaced by cravings for sugars and carbs, with predictable consequences.
How often have we heard someone say that they don’t find low calorie foods satisfying and so end up eating something “naughty” to satisfy their appetite? You may not hear much about this in the mainstream press, but this connection has been recognised in medical literature for at least the last two decades. Over and over again, research has shown that artificial sweeteners tend to promote weight gain and obesity; with the evidence being clear to see as we go about our daily lives.
So does this mean that obesity is here to stay and there is nothing we can do about it? No, of course not. We know that some may find our message a little repetitive (!) but, once again, it’s up to you to make an informed decision about how you live your life and what you eat.
Always do your own research. Don’t accept without question what anyone tells you – even us – but find out for yourself. And take any advertising claims or sensational stories in the media with a very large pinch of salt!
Don’t assume that just because something is in the supermarket – or has a celebrity endorsement – that it’s good for you. Time and again, we hear people saying that if it’s in the supermarket it must be safe to eat and good for you. Sadly, the days when this was true are long gone. Food is big business these days and no different from any other business.
Be aware that there is always hidden price to be paid for cheap food. Is this a price you’re prepared to pay, even if it’s a long way in the future?
Small changes to your diet and lifestyle do make a big difference, when done regularly over the long term. You don’t need to change everything now. Just make one small change at a time and then add to them.
If you want to be sure about what you’re eating, simply take a leaf out of your grandparent’s book. Prepare and cook your own food at home, using local produce in season. Food doesn’t have to be complicated and can often be ready in less time than it takes to heat up a ready meal.
As always, the choice is yours.
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