Our food is making us fat, according to Jacques Peretti in The Men Who Made Us Fat on BBC 2 Thursdays. We're all 3st heavier than we were in the 1960s and Peretti explores the reasons in this three-part series. In his Guardian article this week, Peretti says:
On average, in the UK, we are all - every man, woman and child - three stone heavier than we were in the mid-60s. We haven't noticed it happening.
This almost made me snort my coffee out of my nose. As if anyone in a million years could seriously think we haven't noticed 'it' with the media firing into our brains a battery of 'you are too fat' bullets so relentlessly that we've all become paranoid about being overweight even if we aren't.
Peretti goes on to ask: Why are we so fat?
We have not become greedier as a race. We are not, contrary to popular wisdom, less active - a 12-year study, which began in 2000 at Plymouth hospital, measured children's physical activity and found it the same as 50 years ago. But something has changed.
He goes on to assert that the reason is 'very simple'. It's the food we eat. More specifically, the amount of sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFC) in our food. Sugar, he says, we're often unaware of.
Again, the idea of any of us being unaware of the amount of sugar we eat made me laugh, as not only has HFC and hidden sugar in our diets been the subject of thousands upon thousands of health news reports, being alive today with our media's obsession with healthy eating is akin to being strapped to a chair 24 hours a day with our eyelids pinned open Clockwork Orange-style and forced to watch WeightWatchers adverts on a loop while Gillian McKeith rubs herself all over with fat-free yogurt.
I'm not saying the BBC series would be illogical or wrong to point the finger at the food industry and HFC for the rise in obesity because this is a logical assumption if you consider the chain reaction that does cause weight gain. I'm just hoping the programme won't miss out the biggest, most damaging parts of that chain. As well as the question why are we so fat, Peretti should be asking why are we eating more of the things we're constantly told will make us fat while being made to feel ashamed of our bodies? For the series to miss this out would be to leave a gaping hole so big, it would render the programme pointless.
For anyone seriously researching into this subject it would be very difficult to miss the link between the universal pressure to lose weight and to restrict food and the overconsumption of junk foods that might contain HFC. Has this documentary missed this huge part of the story or will the BBC have the courage to delve into the role that dieting plays in obesity?
Promisingly, Paretti mentions Ancel Keys in the Guardian piece, linking to his obituary which says:
An important study Keys completed was in 1944, the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, involving 36 conscientious objector volunteers. They lived for six months on semi-starvation diets during which they dropped a quarter of body weight.
Neither the article nor the obituary, however, mentions that after Keys' study the volunteers, all previously mentally healthy, turned into constantly hungry, food and weight obsessed men and with a drive to binge so strong it drove them all to overeat, one of them consuming as much as 11,500 calories in one day. They all regained their weight plus 10% more than before the experiment. Hopefully, this will be covered in the documentary.
Paretti also writes:
One of the by-products of obesity is that a hormone called leptin ceases to work properly. Normally, leptin is produced by the body to tell you that you are full. However, in obese people, it becomes severely depleted, and it is thought that a high intake of sugar is a key reason. When the leptin doesn't work, your body simply doesn't realise you should stop eating.
And here, we have another glaring omission in the article that I'm hoping will be in the programme: while sugar is involved in this leptin process, studies show that dieting, and particularly yo-yo dieting, are the triggers in leptin depletion. And leptin, which inhibits appetite, has a 'fellow hormone' called grehlin, not mentioned, which increases appetite. Researchers report in the New England Journal of Medicine that after dieting ghrelin was found to be 20 per cent higher than at the start of the diet. Leptin and Grehlin alterations are the body's backlash not against sugar consumption but against dieting.
Are Paretti's claims that we're unaware of what we're eating and haven't noticed that we're overweight a sign that The Men Who Made Us Fat is set to take us down an old, worn path that will lead us to the usual dead end with futher pressure to lose weight and further dieting? It seems a strange thing to say in a world where the global weight loss industry will be worth more than £370 billion by 2014 and newspapers report that the average Brit will be on a diet for 14 years and women spend £150,000 on diet products and services in their lifetime. And where all the new independent research points towards dieting causing weight gain and a government report states clearly that dieting causes binge eating.
While it's obvious that too much sugar and high fructose corn syrup is bad for us, it looks very much like sugar and HFC would be having little effect if we weren't being driven by dieting to eat more of them.
Promisingly, Peretti does mention the food industry's connection to the diet industry...
The industry is tied into a complex matrix of other interests: drugs, chemicals, even dieting products. The panoply of satellite industries that make money from obesity means the food industry's relationship to obesity is an incredibly complex one.
...but it ends there. I'm not sure how a rise in obesity would benefit the food industry (surely from their point of view being fat would appear to encourage people to eat less?), but I can see how global obesity would benefit the diet industry because everyone would be clamoring to them, cash in hand. I know, though, that the food and diet industries are often the same giant corporations. A complex matrix indeed.
The most interesting comment in Peretti's article is this one:
Did they [the food industry] understand the neuroscience? No. But they learned experientially what worked. This is highly controversial. If it could be proved that at that some point the food industry became aware of the long-term, detrimental effects their products were having on the public, and continued to develop and sell them, the scandal would rival that of what happened to the tobacco industry.
A very brave thing to say. And there certainly are parallels between what's happening here and the scandal of the tobacco industry but it's the diet industry that should be subject to lawsuits. Unlike the food industry the diet industry does understand the neuroscience. Maybe if we all watch this programme and replace the words 'food industry' with 'weight loss industry' and 'sugar/HFC' with 'dieting' we'll come a whole lot nearer to the truth.
I'm hoping against all hopes that The Men Who Made Us Fat, which has the chance to be the first TV contribution to break the virtual media blackout on what will soon be a univerally accepted truth, will have the courage to report the whole story. From this Guardian article, though, I'm not sure it will.