A new report claims that the average person gained 1.5 kilos per decade over the last 40 years. Here we go again. Cue the usual response. The world’s population is getting heavier and “massive action” must be taken. The usual suspects bandied around words like “frightening” and “global crisis”. No doubt they hope for some funding for their latest program and hope nobody asks how successful was their last one.
In Australia the rate of obesity is now 28%. In the UK the rate is 24%. It is predicted that 20% of the world population will be obese by 2025 if current trends continue. Sounds terrible.
Over the same four decades average life expectancy has increased around eight to ten years.
What an interesting juxtaposition. But lets just ignore any figures, which contradict the public health narrative.
There are three massive problems with the doom and gloom prophecy. Firstly the body mass index (BMI) levels, which define overweight and obesity, are not appropriate in the 21st century. They apply to 19th century humans, which was when it was devised. It takes no account of body muscle or habitus. All sportspeople can be classified as overweight.
Secondly there is no effect on life expectancy up to a BMI of 30 so even if we are a bit heavier – it means nothing in terms of mortality. You may like to weigh less for a variety of reasons, but living longer is not one of them.
And what if “current trends” do not continue? According to Christopher Snowden writing on Spectator Health, the UK Government predicted in 2007 that by 2015 some 36 % of males would be obese. In 2007 the rate was 24% and today it is…24%.
Obesity rates have plateaued in the USA too and childhood obesity is starting to decline.
But never let actual figures get in the way of dire predictions. The Australian Newspaper noted; “Academics and dieticians say the report makes a case for interventionist measures such as sugar taxes, food advertising restrictions, healthier canteen requirements and economic disincentives against driving”.
These same people conveniently ignore the fact that the low fat diets they have advised us to eat or 30 years are the problem.
Healthier canteens may help but the other measures will achieve nothing. The UK has announced a “sugar tax” on soft drinks and other sweetened drinks.
This assumes that a significant portion of calories come from soft drinks. One study suggested that the tax would reduce average daily calorie intake by two calories.
It is estimated that the tax will add around 20p to the cost of a can of soft drink. This may not discourage people from buying them in which case the tax raises money rather than reduces consumption. Even if it did reduce sales, people would get their sugar in other forms. For example, fruit juices and smoothies often have as much sugar as soft drinks.
And this does not take into account all the foods with added sugars, which fill the supermarket aisles. Milk based products like choc-milk will not be taxed. Nor will low fat yoghurt.
So what is the answer?
“This is not all down to personal responsibility” nutritionist Joanna McMillan told the Australian. Really? Who else decides what goes into the mouth of the individual?
In Belgium, France and Switzerland there was no increase in BMI in women. Interesting. Don’t expect the academics and nutritionists to look too closely for answers, as they won’t like what they find. People in these countries enjoy wine, chocolate and cheese.
As usual, the real way to better health remains simple. Avoid low fat (high sugar) foods. Eat mainly foods, which do not have labels or “added” anything. Drink mainly water.
And yes you can enjoy a sweet treat from time to time.
Dr Joe Kosterich M.B.B.S is an author, speaker, media presenter and health industry consultant, who wants you to be healthy and get the most out of life. Dr Joe also gives practical, motivational health talks for the general public and organisations where he is known as “An independent doctor who talks about health”.
His latest book “60 minutes to Better Health” is available on Amazon.