The Inquiry into Obesity

By December 10, 2008Uncategorized

Avid readers will know that I was called to give evidence to the Federal Government’s Inquiry into Obesity on Monday.  Since a few people have asked what I said to them, I thought I’d post a copy of my notes (see below).

The members of the Inquiry present on the day were Steve Georganas MP (Chair), Steve Irons MP, Margaret May MP and Amanda Rishworth MP.  All of them appeared to have read at least part of Sweet Poison and each asked some very well informed questions (all of which will eventually be available in the transcript (I’ll post a link when it is).
I guess the key thing I asked that they consider is either a complete ban on added fructose or at the very least, clear cut labelling which makes it obvious how much fructose is in the foods we eat.  I pointed out that the elimination of fructose from our diet would cost manufacturers very little and governments nothing.  But the benefits to us would be enormous.  Fingers crossed that they listened!  
Anyway here’s (roughly) what I said:
In 1910 there weren’t many overweight people – in fact 4 out of every 5 people you’d meet were downright skinny by today’s standards. There was no such thing as heart disease. The medical speciality of cardiology wasn’t even going to be necessary for another 15 years.

Obviously no-one was getting rich selling diets or gym-memberships. There wasn’t even enough interest in diets to start a Woman’s magazine – The first copy of Woman’s weekly wouldn’t be rolling off the presses for another quarter of a century and it would be more than half a century before the first Weight Watcher’s meeting would happen.

By the 1960s the number of overweight people in the population had doubled!

Heart disease was endemic – with two out of every three premature deaths being caused by it. A previously unknown disease – Type II Diabetes had just been identified.

Cardiologists were trained at a rate never seen before for any profession. Medical schools were endowed with fortunes.

Drug companies launched massive research programs with government money helping to grease the wheels.

A new profession was invented. Human Nutrition. And along with it, the mass market diet was invented.

At the urging of the newly minted experts in Human Nutrition we all went on low-fat diets and took up the brand new sport of jogging (never before in human history had it been necessary to run for a purpose other than catching food or getting away from danger).

Huge new industries were created – Having shoes designed for running had never been necessary before. Going somewhere to ‘work-out’ had only previously been necessary if you spent your days at her majesties pleasure in a 3×3 cell.

Food manufacturers made low-fat everything because it sold well. The consumers were doing what the experts said to do. Eating low-fat and exercising lots. We ate even more breakfast cereals and drank more juice and coke because none of these things had the devil fat.

We did what the experts told us – we started having Skinny Latte’s. We stopped our children drinking milk at school because it was high fat. We stopped having bacon and eggs for breakfast – we drank orange juice and we made sure our kids had plenty of juice to drink at school – we switched our kids and us from high fat sausage rolls and pies to low fat dried fruit and muesli bars – we worked out at the gym – we got personal trainers and bought sport shoes – we made our kids exercise more at school (with the assistance of Nestle Milo) – we pilloried McDonald’s and made them introduce low-fat options and we created a whole new kind of fast food outlet – the low-fat sandwich bar (Subway) – which still sold Coke in 1 litre buckets.

And all of that had the effect of doubling the number of obese people again and accelerating the rate of associated health problems.

Obesity – once a disease of old age and high living – is now affecting younger and younger slices of the population. Now the skinny guy is the odd-man out in most rooms.

Type II diabetes is taking over as the new killer.  And our health systems are collapsing under the weight of treating the complications of weight-related diseases that simply did not exist just 40 years ago.

Is there an elephant in the room?

In the 90s the Drug Companies that had gotten rich from cholesterol lowering drugs started looking for a ‘cure’ to obesity and Type II diabetes – our continuing fatness had made those very worthwhile targets for investment dollars.

For decades there had been grumbling by researchers that couldn’t prove that feeding rats fat made them fat but could prove that feeding them sugar not only made them fat but gave them heart disease, type II diabetes, fatty liver disease and testicular atrophy. Recent human studies have backed up these findings in spades.

Important new appetite related hormones were discovered and what emerged from two decades of work was a scientific consensus as to how we digest food and how our appetite control system works.

They found:

We are designed for equilibrium. Like all other animals, we won’t get fat unless something is broken about our appetite control system.

When we eat fat and protein a hormone is released by our gut that tells us to stop eating when we’ve had enough.

When we eat carbohydrates a different hormone is released by our pancreas that does the same thing.

That is true MOST carbohydrates – but there is one that doesn’t trip either appetite control switch – FRUCTOSE.

Now that on its own wouldn’t be such a big deal if we didn’t eat much fructose. Worst case we eat a few more calories than our brains thought we did.

Unfortunately our bodies don’t just ignore the fructose – our livers are blindingly efficient at converting it to fat! Before you even finish the glass of apple juice, the fructose in the first mouthful will be circulating in your bloodstream as fat.

Ok – so that’s a little worrying but still not a big deal if we don’t eat much fructose.

In 1860, our primary source of fructose was from the occasional bit of ripe fruit (and if they were very lucky – some honey). At most that amounted to 1kg of fructose per person per year.

Today almost 15% of the average Australian’s daily calorie intake comes from fructose! – a substance that our body does not detect as food and which is converted immediately to fat.

But it gets worse – the drug company researchers found that if you put that much fat in your arteries you mess up the appetite control system for the foods that do trigger it.

The hormones which tell us when to stop eating no longer work. If we’re not told to stop, we keep eating and overproduction of hormones destroys our pancreas and gives us Type II Diabetes.

So not only is fructose undetected and turned to fat it actually increases the amount of other food we can eat. This is why our average daily calorie intake has increased by 30% in the last three decades.

Fructose is a perfect storm if the desired outcome is obesity, heart disease and Type II diabetes.
The miracle is not that we all became overweight and sick. The miracle is that we are not all dead in the face of the incessant fructose doping.

So what should be done? What can be done?

The quickest and easiest solution would be a regulation that requires the clear and unambiguous labelling of the fructose content of all foods or even better, a complete fructose ban.

Do this and the obesity epidemic would be cured with the stroke of a single legislator’s pen.
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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Hardik says:

    It sounds very interesting. I agree with you about banning the fructose.

    I am not a health expert but understand every bit you have said here. I wonder whether this facts are backed up by some evidence/study.

  • Jess says:

    I want to mass print this letter and post it everywhere!

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