Like a terrorist threat, apparently we need to raise the alert in Britain from chubby to dangerously obese. It’s official folks – an EU study shows that within the British population, there are 23% obese women and 22.3% obese men. In world terms, we are now a shocking second on the obesity scale, after America. So what is going on? Could it have anything to do with the way we live now, compared to our slimmer past?
HENRY VIII WAS FAT – SO IT’S NOTHING NEW, SURELY?
Even in medieval times, there were infamous large men and women. Henry VIII had a salty meat-rich diet that included peacock, swan, rabbit, game, lamb and pork – washed down with huge amounts of alcohol and bread. It possibly amounted to more than 5,000 daily calories, twice what is now known as a man’s daily quota. Vegetables, in his opinion, were for peasants. When he died, at fifty six, he had a 52" waist, and weighed 28 stone or about 180 kilos. But he was an exception, not a common sight. Now we see Henry VIIIs (and Henriettas) on every high street.
OUR LAZY NEW GENERATION
A Victorian child differed hugely from a child or teenager in the 21st century. They played outside and had toys, like hoops, that would encourage them to be active. Poorer children played out in the streets and most were forced to work. There was no television to sag in front of, or computer to obsess them. It was also a time of huge food shortages, particularly during
the 1840s. A century later, during wartime, people learnt to cope with less. Not an ideal situation but a huge contrast with a time of plenty, where there is simply too much temptation.
NOW WE’RE CLEVER, ADVANCED AND FAT
Sophisticated advances in technology have undoubtedly made us fatter. Before the ease of private and public transport, people often walked huge distances, or used bicycles. More importantly, the rise of the supermarket at the beginning of the twentieth century suddenly gave us vast choice. Later, advertising then tantalised us, even made some food aspirational. The term ‘couch potato’ accurately describes our new sedentary lifestyle.
WE’VE JUST GOT TO HAVE IT
Since 2003, there have been a number of studies showing that fast food is addictive. This year, in the ‘Archives of General Psychiatry’ it stated that for some people, eating it causes the same brain reaction that is seen in substance dependence. Endocrinologist Michael Schwartz, from the University of Washington, noted that fast food numbs the body’s response to leptin – a hormone that tells your brain you're full and should quit. We now have processed food high in that addictive fat – moving too far away from raw and healthy elements in our diet.
COMMON SENSE COULD TRIUMPH
Some would stand by the simple adage ‘Eat less, move more.’ to cure obesity. Lazy Britain is not a label that we want to stick. So it may be a case of out with the Henry VIII diet and less of the excess. A natural diet as far as possible, rich in fruit and vegetables, is healthier and won’t pile on the weight. Also, those things on the bottom half of your body? Legs. So use ‘em.