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Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Men Who Made Us Fat: The food industry impact on the obesity epidemic. Essential public health viewing

The BBC has produced a 3 part series called “The Men Who Made Us Fat”.  The nearly three hour series can be found on Youtube and probably the best way to access if you don’t borrow the DVDs from your library (eg  12 part play list ).  It is essential public health reading from several perspectives, not the least is a need to reframe our current thinking in respect to healthy eating.   Are we propagating incorrect advice?

The second perspective is how public health professionals may have been complacent in allowing this misdirection and an excessive focusing of attention on fat reduction. 

Third, and less surprising is the impact big business has on political decisions, to the extent of being able to modify national level advice and recommendations from scientific panels.

The investigative documentary explores several issues about why globally we are seeing an increase in obesity.  At the sake of being accused of missing something important, here are some of the key messages:

1.       A fundamental shift in the 80’s to the use of fructose from plant products, namely corn, to replace other sugar and even some fat products
2.       The insistent exclusion of reducing sugar from national recommendations in favour of the “reduce fat” message
3.       The use of sweeters in foods to increase consumption
4.       The expansion of serving sizes
5.       The bundling of meals by rapid service establishments.
6.       The promotion of “snacking” as a healthy lifestyle, particularly for children.
7.       The use of product labelling as healthier, such as “organic” or “low-fat”  to appeal to health conscious consumers.
8.       The power of the food industry
a.       In resisting any form of regulation or labelling that modifies consumer choices
b.      In places blame on parents and consumers
c.       In lobbying decision makers to prevent and modify science based recommendations.

To put the situation in perspective a nice piece in the  Globe and Mail on current global obesity rates by nation.

The expose will be essential viewing for public health professionals during a time of transition when the food industry looks at how to both improve food consumption habits while maintaining or increasing profits, and continuing to adamantly resist restrictions such as eliminating food advertising to children, product labelling that impacts decisions, limitations on product size and other interventions already known to be effective in the fight against obesity. 

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