Book review and discussion: What experts say about solving the obesity epidemic

“The shape we are in: how junk food and diets are shortening our lives” by journalist Sarah Boseley is a £13 paperback in which many of the factors that have contributed to the obesity epidemic are discussed.

For much of her material Sarah has gone to obesity “experts” but not a single low carber.  So she has ended up with a  different opinion from what we may have on the causes of the massive surge in obesity over the last 30 years.  Although I don’t share the government “experts” view as to the benefits of a low fat diet,  I think that reading the opinion of “the other side” is a good way to broaden my view and possibly learn a few things that could actually improve the situation. With this in mind I was looking for what I recognise is familiar and  true and also had a chuckle at some of the material as well.

Very little was contentious. I have starred * my own contributions (which I would have given had she interviewed me!)

Behavioural changes at family/individual level: 

Eat meals at meal times at a table with your family. Make meals from proper food. Not processed junk.

Stop dieting and eat good food all the time.

Reduce the amount of processed food that we eat.

Do 45 minutes or more exercise a day to improve mood and use calories.

Don’t snack or eat only healthy snacks such as nuts, cheese and fruit.

Stair climb and walk at every opportunity.

Health service changes:

Offer cognitive behavioural therapy to the overweight.

Expand the provision of bariatric counselling and probably offer this at younger ages.

Advertise the futility and actual harm of crash diets and make such an idea an object of ridicule.

Advise on muscle building exercise for all*

Advise on the benefits on health and physique of the low carb diet*

Educational changes:

Teach cooking in primary school and beyond.

Expand the range of foods served in schools.

Stop serving puddings in schools.

Political changes: 

Tax sugary drinks.

Stop junk food sponsorship of sports events.

Have proper labelling of food.

Subsidise fresh, wholesome food.

Ban sugary food in schools hospitals and workplaces.

Put in cycle paths, street lighting, pavements and redesign towns to make walking attractive.

Have stairs, showers and secure bike parks in offices.

Limit fast food advertising especially to children.

Give proper meal breaks in the workplace.

Put calories/carbs on drinks as well as food.

Food production and service changes:

Reduce portion sizes.

Stop check out sweets and goodies marketed to children.

Stop buy one get one free promotions.

Cut salt, sugar and fat in manufactured foods.

Get food manufacturers to produce more genuinely healthy products.

Decrease plate sizes at buffets.

Actually, I don’t have any gripe with these.  I would simply say that my idea of good food is meat/fish/eggs/cheese/nuts/veg and some fruit with butter, cream, olive, coconut and avocado oil NOT starch, fruit juice, industrial fats. I would also prioritise weight /resistance training over cardio because it make you burn more calories, makes you stronger, doesn’t wear out your joints, and reduces osteoporosis better than cardio.

As you can see the obesity problem and therefore solution is multi-factorial. There are things we can do ourselves, but there  is a much wider framework regarding political will, town planning, working hours and facilities, food manufacturing and advertising, food costing, and education by health services, schools and the media.

We can’t go back to the so called “Good Old Days” like this attractive, affluent, family circa 1949. Will the government get so fed up with the devastating health bill that that they will take some of the steps outlined in Sarah’s book? Or will corporate interests, the low fat/high starch dogma and the high working hours culture win out?

8 thoughts on “Book review and discussion: What experts say about solving the obesity epidemic”

  1. I don’t know it the cultural approach will help the problem. People tend not to want to go along with the government tell them what they can or can’t do. It has to come from the individual wanting to do it.


    1. Good point, but we live in an environment when it’s very easy to be overweight and not to need to move at all (which all contributes to poor health) because governmental policies prioritise cars over bike lanes for example, large corporations lobby against sugar taxes and aggressively market their products at young children and teenagers, and we are mainly employed in jobs which do not allow us to move around. There’s no easy answer for sure, but it is very, very tough for the individual when you live in an environment where everything is set up to allow you to overeat and not move. Two hundred years ago, most people will have been slim because their environment allowed them to be that way.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, we have become a less active culture. Work used to be exercise, but now we wait to get off of work to find a way to exercise and usually too tired to even think about it most of the time. Here in Portland bicycling is a way of life for many who live in the City. The roads are created for both the motorist and the cyclist, but living outside the city makes it bit difficult to cycle for daily transportation. And the fact that it rains for more than 7-8 months out of the year doesn’t help much.


      2. I made the point about cycle lanes, but really it’s about cities too – because these days most people need to work in a city and so they have to undertake horrendous commutes every day… All part of the difficulties of our modern environment. Portland gets 7-8 months of rain? We get 11 in Scotland! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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