Want to lose weight? Visit McDonald's

What the government is planning to put on your dinner plate

Looks good, but is it good for you?
David Atherton
On 12 November 2012 10:08

There is an intriguing notion that for the first time in the history of man the rich are slim and the poor are fat. I have written before on the unnecessary stigma the overweight have and how counter productive government programmes are in reducing prevalence, but if you would like a peek at what is in store for the next decade, go and pour yourself a mineral water and grab a handful of cashews. This is the current thinking and what passes for science.

A paper has just been published in Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in the USA. Apparently, if we are good parents and take our impeccably well behaved offspring to a Michelin-starred restaurant, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver serve up just as many calories as McDonalds and KFC. It concludes: “Fast-food and full-service restaurant consumption is associated with higher net total energy intake and poorer diet quality.” Nice to know my quarter pounder is just as healthy as helping of chou farci with crushed potatoes and spring onions.

Chris Snowdon, IEA fellow and Velvet Glove Iron Fist blogger came across another remarkable paper published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) from June 20th 2012, entitled “Consumption of takeaway and fast food in a deprived inner London Borough: are they associated with childhood obesity?” It tries its best to be on message by stating that: “Clearly, actions need to be taken to either limit the ability of these children to access fast food outlets or to change the foods they purchased at these outlets (e.g. less calorie dense, with more fruit and vegetables, with less fat and salt).”

And yet the results did not match the eye-catching press release. Here are the results of the how often 11-14 year olds visit fast food restaurants versus their Body Mass Index (BMI).

Weekly visits        BMI 

Every day:            17.8 

4-6 times:              18.3 

2-3 times:              19.6 

Once:                    20.3 

Less than once:     21.4

The report says in plain English: “Interestingly, it was observed that there was a significant trend that those who with greater BMIs reported purchasing fast food less often..” Yes, the people who dipped into Happy Meals and chocolate shakes were pencil thin while presumably those at home with mum’s two meat and veg weighed more. There appears to be a strong correlation between fast food consumption and being underweight. 

You may not be aware that a study conducted by the World Health Organization of  500,000 men and women from 1992 to 2010 found no reduced levels of cancer and mortality for those who ate five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

On salt, a team of scientists led by Jan Staessen MD, PhD, of the University of Leuven (Belgium), found that in healthy people, a low sodium diet did not protect against high blood pressure. Not only that, those with the lowest salt intake were more likely to die from heart disease.

Let’s now try sugar as the latest theory for all those wobbly bits. “High-fructose corn syrup and sucrose are exactly the same,”  University of California, San Francisco’s (UCSF) Robert Lustig, MD (a pediatric neuroendocrinologist) says. “They’re equally bad. They’re both poison.”

Meanwhile, Daily Telegraph journalist Damian Thompson has a new book out called “The Fix: How Addiction Is Invading Our Lives and Taking Over Your World” 9n which he argues: “Along with prescription drugs, internet porn, computer games and dozens of other consumer items, we are forming an intimate relationship with sugary snacks that supplements and complements the 'traditional' addictions to alcohol, gambling and illegal drugs.” He concludes “Why cupcakes are the new cocaine.” I suppose they are both white and grainy so I think we get the picture.

In sum, it seems science can’t put a coherent case together but that will not stop politicians and non-governmental agencies asking for legislation and restrictions on consumer choice and rights.

Andy Burnham, the Labour Shadow Health Spokesman, complained in the Guardian last week of the “shocking" amount of sugar in many foods and put forward the case that "Voluntary efforts [by producers to reformulate] have not worked and it's time for a different approach. There are some products on the market that are so full of salt, sugar or fat they are unacceptable and they have to be brought in line.”

It's also worth noting that plain packaging for food, as with cigarettes, is being proposed. Except not only will there be no effective branding, but, presumably, grotesque pictures of rolls of fat, Type 2 Diabetes, and furred arteries will be plastered all over bags of oven chips and frozen pizzas.

In and amongst all this, the United Nations (UN) may well lead from the front. According to human rights lawyer Olivier De Schutter, now a UN Special Rapporteur, it’s not your human right to stuff a KFC Bargain Bucket in your face. “The right to food means not only access to an adequate quantity of food, but also the ability to have a balanced and nutritious diet” He goes onto advocate:

Taxing unhealthy products;

Regulating foods high in saturated fats, salt and sugar.

Banning down on junk food advertising.

This is clearly rather insulting to the peoples of the world who do not have basic rights such as freedom of speech, property rights, and freedom of conscience. To compare it to having a few grams of salt in your ready-meal for one, is brain numbingly facile and insensitive.

Believe it or not Denmark has tried some aspects of the UN policies. In October 2011 tax was applied at the rate of sixteen Krone (£1.70) per kilo to saturated fat to those basic food stuffs such as precooked meals, butter, meat, biscuits, oils, pizzas, and even milk. In 2013 they were planning to tax sugar too in sweets, yoghurt, and jam.

One year later it is discarded in the dustbin like a chip wrapper. Like the best prohibition laws the Danes crossed over into Germany and Sweden for their illicit snacks. It also led to unemployment and to make up for the losses, income taxes are being raised. Seen as a world guinea pig, the laboratory is closing. Lessons in real economics are expensive.

The Office for National Statistics estimates that one in five of us alive today will reach the age of 100. A tribute to economic growth, science, and medicine, we are the healthiest people who have ever existed. Stone Age man was lucky to see 30. We have no need for governmental interference in our lives, and making the science up as they go along to fit an agenda is unacceptable.

I am off down to my local greasy spoon for a full English fry up with doorstep slices of bread, white of course, and a bucket of white sugared coffee. After all, even I have a couple of pounds to lose.

David Atherton is Chairman of Freedom2Choose, which seeks to protect the informed choices of consenting adults on the issues of smoking. Follow him on Twitter: @DaveAtherton20

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