Tackling obesity is the biggest challenge facing this country. Obesity rates have soared in the last 40 years resulting in misery for millions and damage to our economy caused by a sicker workforce. Obesity is adding to the strain of an already overstretched NHS.
Many experts agree that the problem is multi-factorial and complex. I disagree. I have read the work of many scientists and researchers over the last 15 years. They all point to the same conclusion – we should just eat real food. If we went back to eating the food our ancestors ate we would not suffer universal weight gain. Eating real food provides us with the optimal nutritional load and means we do not overeat. Processed food has a low nutritional load which means that it is too easy to overeat.
Two thirds of our diets now consist of processed (fake) food. That is the problem. How do we tackle it though in the face of the food and pharmaceutical industries who profit from processed food and who employ million of people? The following is my solution which I have put together based on my reading:
1. Government needs to accept that the current nutritional guidelines are outdated and not evidence based. They are largely based on the now discredited work of Ancel Keys which changed the focus of diet away from fat to carbohydrates. This resulted in more sugar (carbohydrate) being added to food products. It is now known that glucose causes weight gain if not utilised by the body.
2. Stop the complicated, confusing nutritional advice and simply give the message ‘Just Eat Real Food’. Nothing else. No ‘eat well’ plates or food pyramids. No advice on carbohydrates or fats as not necessary and is just confusing anyway. Still recommend exercise but not in the context of weight management – it is vital to keep the body healthy. Advise the public that 98% of those who go on a diet put all their weight back on after 5 years. The only way to manage weight long term is by eating real food.
3. Before introducing this radical shift, work with the food and pharmaceutical industries to explain to them that their co-production of ultra processed (fake) food will be under threat from increasingly aggressive taxation. Give them time to move production into less damaging fake food products. Too many jobs are tied up in creation of processed food so this has to be sensitively phased out.
4. After introducing the new ‘nutritional’ guidance, reintroduce cookery classes in primary and secondary schools. Make this part of the national curriculum. These skills have been lost from most households, particularly in areas of high social deprivation.
5. Gradually start to tax processed food, starting with ultra processed food first. This could be seen as penalising those who are most socially deprived as this is the cheapest food. To offset this, combined with the introduction of cooking skills, use this fiscal revenue to reduce the cost of real food to make it affordable for even the poorest.
6. Once the industry is ready, ban all advertising of processed (fake) food.
7. Then start to ramp up the pressure on fake food by adding photos to packaging showing images of what is actually in the package e.g. for Coca Cola, add a photo of 8 sugar cubes, some black syrup and water. Not as shocking as on cigarette boxes but a step in the right direction.
This strategy will save the NHS billions and more importantly keep people healthy and help to sustain a growing economy through a healthier workforce. Most people will find a move to a whole food diet almost impossible to do but at least we are giving them a simple goal.
My strategy is my own thinking but I have been most inspired by the following authors: Zoe Harcombe, Gary Taubes, Felicity Twomey, Joanna Blythman, and Bee Wilson.