There has been a lot in the news recently about sugar. Food is essential for us to live. Its main purpose is to supply the body with energy. Sugar is a great fuel. However, pure sugar is empty calories – there is no nutritional value in it. Any energy, (calories), that is not used in powering the functions of living is stored as fat. I have always felt that food and diet are fundamentally about thermodynamics – energy in and energy out, i.e. physical work or exercise. There are complications to this e.g. rates of metabolism, age, but essentially this law of physics applies to all things.
In January 2013 Anna Soubry, a junior health minister, caused some dismay by commenting that obesity and its statistical association in modern Britain was connected with poverty. It is now generally accepted that obesity, bringing with it a host of serious medical and social problems is of epidemic proportions through the western world, but particularly in Anglo-Saxon countries. Grossly obese people used to be well off rather than poor. Now it is the poorer parts of the country where the levels of unemployment are down that there are more overweight people.
But I feel that this is more a question of awareness – that many associate with socio-economic groups. It may take you a little longer to prepare a meal; but is healthier, tastier, and often considerably cheaper than buying processed food. The key to this is education. It is where we are failing miserably. Trying to change the dietary habits of the population is an uphill struggle. So many of the population are used to processed food; high in sugar, fats and salt.
The annual cost of obesity to the NHS is estimated to be £4.2 billion. More than £32 million a year is spent on weight loss surgery.
There is no doubt that our population would seem to be becoming more obese over the years, putting an enormous financial drain on the NHS. There are many diseases that are more commonly found in an overweight population, including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol levels, cancer, back pain and gallstones.
It would be wrong to cut out all sugar completely – everything in moderation. Try to lower the level. If you have some in your tea or coffee gradually reduce it over a period of time. Have herb teas with a small amount of honey stirred in. Your taste will become used to the lesser, and eventually absent, amount of sweet flavour. Reduce sugary drinks. Try to drink more pure water.
It is often said that the healthiest diet that was eaten by the general population was during the war years. There was little sugar and fat in the diet, and not much meat. Plenty of fresh vegetables were eaten. This was exemplified by the “Dig for Victory” campaign. Many people grew their own vegetables and every possible piece of ground that could be used was cultivated. It was the first and only time in our country’s history that the government had control over what the population ate, and generally people were fitter and healthier for it.
After the war there was still rationing. When this stopped food consumption was directed by the misconception of affluence, especially seen in processed food. This and meat was seen as something that was readily and cheaply available. High fat and high sugar foods were in more abundance. The purchasing of produce changed dramatically. Shops were much better stocked, and food was much more readily obtainable.
However, despite all this, and particularly in recent decades the majority of the population do not eat well. In the midst of this abundance of food there is much malnourishment. Conditions like rickets, due to a deficit of vitamin D, were thought to be confined to medical history are re-appearing. The science of nutrition is much better than it was 30 years ago, but many people eat poorly.
Experts predict that if current trends in eating continue, the size of the clinically obese population in the UK will increase by 11 million over the next two decades. The resulting extra cost burden on health services coping with obesity-linked problems such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer would be substantial. Hospitals are already struggling with super-sized people. Operating tables have to be made more robust. Often surgeons tell patients that no surgery can take place unless they lose several stone. There is even talk of using the X-ray and scanning facilities of zoos to accommodate these large humans.