Thursday 14 June 2012
What caused the obesity crisis in the West?
British people are on average nearly three stone (24kg) heavier than 50 years ago, but who or what is to blame? Jacques Peretti (pictured above) investigates.
Contrary to popular belief, we as a race have not become greedier or less active in recent years. But one thing that has changed is the food we eat, and, more specifically, the sheer amount of sugar we ingest.
"Genetically, human beings haven't changed, but our environment, our access to cheap food has," says Professor Jimmy Bell, obesity specialist at Imperial College, London.
"We're being bombarded every day by the food industry to consume more and more food.
"It's a war between our bodies and the demands our body makes, and the accessibility that modern society gives us with food. And as a scientist I feel really depressed, because we are losing the war against obesity."
One of the biggest changes in our modern diet stems back to the 1970s when US agriculture embarked on the mass-production of corn and of high-fructose corn syrup, commonly used as a sweetener in processed foods.
This led to a massive surge in the quantities of cheaper food being supplied to American supermarkets, everything from cheap cereal to cheap biscuits. As a result, burgers got bigger and fries (fried in corn oil) got fattier.
According to nutritionist Marion Nestle, this paved the way for obesity.
"The number of calories produced in America, and available to American consumers, went from 3,200 in the 1970s and early 80s to 3,900 per person, almost twice as much as anybody needed. And that enormous increase, I think it's the cause of a great deal of difficulty," she says.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), a highly sweet by-product of waste corn, was also incredibly cheap. It began being used in every conceivable food - pizzas, coleslaw, meat. It provided a "just baked" sheen on bread and cakes.
By the mid 1980s, corn syrup had replaced sugar in fizzy soft drinks. The move made financial sense from the soft drink companies' point of view, as corn syrup was a third cheaper than sugar.
But it was also sweeter and, argue some scientists, more addictive. In the next two decades, the average American's consumption of fizzy drinks almost doubled - from 350 cans a year to 600.
But Susan Neely from the American Beverage Association says the increased consumption of fizzy drinks is not to blame for increased obesity in the West.
"The evidence says that obesity is caused when people consume too many calories without the exercise to balance it out," she says.
"Certainly our regular soft drinks are a source of calories, so if you're consuming too many calories and watching too much television or not getting enough exercise, you're going to have a problem."
Full article here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-18393391