Although I am not a man of faith I have been shouldering some of my wife’s catholic guilt for a while and I have chosen the church of the Fuse blog to repent my sins. My shame for which I deeply wish to apologise for is that I was a fattist. I don’t mean this as a glib remark, I feel genuinely remorseful and embarrassed.
As with many –isms their spread is the result of mistruths and manipulation. On a search for the aetiology of my own previous held prejudicial views I realised that they were born out of a combined biblical belief in “the energy balance” and “a calorie is a calorie is a calorie”. The zeal to which many of us hold these two principals up as beyond reproach has blinded us to the wealth of research into the role of leptin, insulin and satiety in response to each of the macronutrients, the thermic effect of food and the overwhelming influence of our genetics in our predisposition to gaining weight. As a result the failure of this regulatory process is not blamed rightly on the foods we eat but the twin sins of greed and sloth.
I have always been thin, but instead of viewing this fortune as the luck of the genetic hand that I was dealt I smugly believed that it was down to my excellent constitution. But arrogance is the preserve of the misinformed and I was content in my protective shield of ignorance and happy to vilify those overweight as lacking in that intangible latent variable of ‘will power’.
This shift of focus from a physiological to a behavioural discipline has not only resulted in a generally accepted persecution, and in many cases resultant self-loathing in overweight individuals, but it also plays into the hands of the food companies that got us there in the first place. A blatant disregard for some quality science has led us down the path of poor food regulation and as a result we have become addicted to the most toxic dietary substance, that of sugar and we are left fighting an almost unwinnable battle.
The saccharine fortified tentacles of these confectionary and soft drinks companies have become entwined in all aspects of our lives to the point in which we cannot untangle. They are promoted by the world’s biggest stars, i.e. the most powerful role-models, to the young and easily influenced. We‘ve allowed them to sponsor school programmes and our national game although “there’s no nutritional need or benefit that comes from eating added sugar”. And how do they get away with this crime? Because we have all colluded behind the excuse that they can be enjoyed “as part of a calorie controlled/balanced diet”. This shows a total disregard to both their addictive properties and the resultant metabolic response.
These companies are smart. They haven’t just been one small step ahead of us but one giant leap. They were acutely aware of physiologist John Yudkin’s work linking sugar consumption to heart disease and started a campaign not only to discredit him but also crucially buy them time. The intervening years have bought these companies great wealth and substantial lobbying power. But finally, it seems that the sweet tide is starting to turn and there is greater acceptance that sugar is the silent assassin in our diets. Unfortunately our love of their products runs deep, this combined with their formidable defence force has meant that any meaningful change will be incredibly difficult, as demonstrated by the New York soda ban. Therefore to win this war over the health of our hearts we must present a strong, clear message to win over people’s minds.
As much as the prejudices are born out of an oversimplification the excuse for a fix are blamed on an over-complication. Many a toothless smile would have beamed across the boardroom of Sugary Drinks Ltd. on the release of the Foresight obesity systems map. As this incomprehensible, impenetrable and unvalidated model was held up as highlighting the innumerable potential pathways to obesity. So instead of being the Ace of Spades in the most wanted list they quietly disappear into the ether as one minion amongst millions. As a result there are now too many competing interests in the quest to tackle the obesity epidemic and we have to filter the wheat from the chaff, or more appropriately the raw sugar from the harvested cane. There should be an increased focus on the metabolic effects of the macronutrients so that we have the full backing of the scientific community when we next have these companies backed into a corner so that we are able to disarm them of their twin-barrelled attack of ‘calories’ and ‘complexity’.
A further symptom of our collective inability to target the sugar-daddies is the perpetuation of the futile debate of whether obesity should be classified as a disease. All this does is to further stigmatise those that are suffering. Now whatever your personal opinion the clear fact remains that those of us that are clinically defined as obese are significantly at greater risk to a huge number of illnesses many of which are fatal. But instead of showing compassion a quick glance to the magazine rack would imply that we are happier in the role of Mr Nasty on a real-world talent show judged exclusively on weight status.
The sensation of hunger is paramount to our survival, but there is a catastrophic failure of our current diet to satiate and provide the appropriate nutrition for a sustainable lifestyle. But instead of pointing the finger at the food, the individual and their supposed ‘weak will’ has become the object of our ire. The shocking fact is not that one third of all adults are obese but how some still remain thin in an environment so predisposed to making us fat.
Feelings of distain towards the obese might provide you with some fleeting sense of misplaced superiority but crucially they contribute nothing to the solution. Chastising the victim of any given disease is never the basis to formulate effective public health policy. Ridiculing those of us that are overweight will not reverse the trend but just serve to elevate the level of infighting while those pumping the noxious substances into our bodies continue laughing all the way to the bank.