In the past 30 years the press has jumped upon numerous new findings as the cause of obesity. Some blame food 'It's saturated fat!', 'No! It's sugar', 'Fizzy drinks are the real culprit' whilst others focus on the activity side of the equation: 'I blame TV', 'It's those computer games that are really the cause!' Some have turned to medical research 'I blame gut hormones', 'I've found the obesity gene' or 'At last - its leptin deficiency that's to blame' whilst some just blame 'the government'. Headlines are made in large bold font and scientific evidence is rolled out as backup. Then quietly the research is questioned, conclusions modified and grand claims retracted and all is calm until the next great breakthrough hits the news again.
Now, NICE has released new guidelines which essentially state that all of the above is true and that we should all basically 'eat less and do more'. A test for the press to make much of that one! But are they right and is weight gain, loss and maintenance really as simple as that?
The simple energy in, versus energy out equation, is core to any understanding of changes in weight. So yes, NICE is right. But at the same time, that can't be all there is to the obesity problem otherwise it would have been solved decades ago before it even had time to start. So why is a solution as simple as eat less and do more so strangely difficult?
The world we live in makes it easier to eat more and do less. Our environment offers us triggers to eat at every corner, which requires effort to resist and a conscious ongoing commitment to being healthier. Indeed, the latest research found that so-called mindless eating can cause significant weight gain.
Food is also no longer just a matter of hunger, but more to do with regulating our emotions, managing our social lives and making statements about who we are. So we eat when we are fed up, bored or to celebrate a family gathering, and what we eat or cook for others is chosen to tell the world that we are 'fun', 'caring', 'safe' or 'exciting'.
By now most of the population has lived under the shadow of the obesity epidemic long enough to have learned all the ingrained bad habits of overeating and under activity from their parents.
Let's also not forget TV sitcoms, films and the food advertising that crops up when we are already eating our dinner on the sofa or tucking into popcorn at the cinema. Such habits are very hard to change with the environment and the meaning of food happily operating at the same time. I therefore advise parents to control their child's environment, set up healthy habits and manage the meaning of food and offer ways to do this without making food into a problem.http://youtu.be/09dzuvRWpZU
And finally, as a rule, human beings are hopeless at future thinking, preferring immediate gratification in the here and now. So when it comes to cake now versus possible heart attack in 30 years' time, cake will win pretty much every time.
So NICE is right. But if NICE could also tell us how to change our environment and re-learn why we eat, those would be guidelines we could really get our teeth into.