With the summer of 2012 coming to a close, British athletes have put the 'great' back in Great Britain. So, there is no time like the present for the Department of Health and the Royal Medical Colleges to renew their campaign to try and make real progress in addressing the issues to tackle the obesity epidemic. With a quarter of all adults currently classified as obese and a dramatic increase in obesity related diseases from diabetes to hypertension, Professor Stephenson, a spokesman for the Royal Medical Colleges believes, "Obesity is a much bigger problem than HIV was, much bigger than swine flu".
The 'big' question to the solving the obesity epidemic is: Is it diet? Exercise? Taxation? Food labeling? Changing how we market food to children? Changing the way food is advertised? Increased education?
For the past 30 years, the mantra to lose weight has been to cut out all starchy carbohydrates from our diet. However, the latest weight loss craze sweeping America is the great compromise for carb lovers: eat carbohydrates as long as they are gluten free. The premise is you can eat gluten free bread, pancakes, pasta, cereal, cookies, and cakes - and still lose weight, while reversing plaque, high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes, and many other health problems.
The author of the Wheat Belly Diet, cardiologist Dr William Davis, has based his diet on the belief that "wheat is the single largest contributor to the nationwide obesity epidemic - and its elimination is key to dramatic weight loss and optimal health." Davis maintains that the modern wheat sold today has been genetically modified and has little resemblance to the four foot "amber waves of grain" referred to in the song "America the Beautiful" written in 1910. You don't need to be a sufferer of coeliac disease or IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) to shop in the gluten free aisles; gluten free has now gone mainstream!
When I think back to when I was growing up in the late 1950s and 60s, there were maybe one or two fat kids out of the hundreds of children in the school playground. If in the 'good old days' we could eat whatever and whenever we wanted and not gain weight, is genetically modified wheat the cause of obesity that has become a generational phenomenon that started around the mid-1970s as Davis maintains? Is wheat the only culprit or could it also be the way that much of our food is produced and reared? Or are we getting fatter because food is too readily available and cheap?
Houses and cars cost 14 times what they did 50 years ago, but the price of chicken hasn't even doubled. Food has become much cheaper in real terms. This means that our weekly food shop today is a smaller percentage of the average family's budget than it was in 1960. Does it make you pause and wonder why you can buy a whole chicken at the supermarket for less than it costs to get a latte at Starbucks?
We will never see an advertisement on television promoting the nutritional wonders of a fresh apple or a bunch of celery. But manufacturers can make sugar-frosted cornflakes, chocolate pops or cereal bars sound like the most nutritious option of the day. In fact, the average 'healthy' cereal bar has more than eight teaspoons of sugar per 100 grams.
Due to the rise of factory farming and the use of additives and chemicals, most of the food we eat has been grown and reared in a different way than it was when we were growing up. This has had an impact on our overall health - and our waistlines. Fifty years ago, food did not have anything like the amount of preservatives it does today. Our mothers shopped daily at their local butcher and greengrocer and kept little food in the house. Children were told they needed to eat more to grow big and strong. Now 'big' is a national epidemic.
What is now considered to be safe farming practices are very different from what they were even 50 years ago. We have genetically modified foods, animals routinely fed antibiotics, and even beef full of growth-enhancers if it's reared in America. A bewildering number of chemicals in the form of colourings, preservatives, appearance enhancers and more are added to our food to keep it looking better for longer.
When it comes to bigger bellies, I think back to the breakfast I had this summer while on vacation in America. The three very overweight people at the next table all ordered corn pancakes because they were gluten free. They also ordered extra butter, bacon on the side and whipped cream on top but were furious when the waitress told them there was no sugar free maple syrup. It is clear as we try to find the answers to the obesity epidemic; gluten is just one of many culprits.
Part of the text for this blog has been excerpted from Jill Shaw Ruddock's book, The Second Half of Your Life