MICHAEL WOLSEY: Here’s a radical cure for obesity – eat less
IRELAND fared badly in a fat report produced by the OECD to mark World Obesity Day.
We have one of the highest rates of obesity in Europe, apparently, with one in four adults now classed as obese and one in four children overweight.
The problem is the low-level of treatment, according to the Irish Society of Nutrition and Metabolism, the organisation we fund to worry about such matters. Proven treatments for obesity should be made available to all, said its spokesperson.
He talked at some length about treatments, which are expensive and offer no certainty of success. But he never mentioned prevention, a relatively simple matter for which we can all take some personal responsibility.
The low-level of treatment may well be part of the problem but there is a more obvious culprit – the high-level of eating.
So OK, I win the Bleeding Obvious Statement of the Year Award. But it strikes me that the one indisputable solution to obesity – eat less – does get overlooked among the acres of space devoted to fad diets and exercise regimes. But then, fad diets and exercise regimes make money for somebody. And so does food. – not good food, which supermarkets sell for next to nothing, having paid the farmer even less. Junk food is where the real money is made.
Steak has become as cheap as chips but chips have become a profitable commodity when served alongside a burger and washed down with a fizzy drink.
Food in huge portions is being pressed upon us at every opportunity. I saw an example at close quarters recently when I took my grandchildren to the cinema.
I just wanted to buy tickets but the woman at the desk wanted to do a deal. Her first offer was for a giant box of popcorn, thrown in free for the price of the Supersize Coke that came with it.
As an alternative, I could have three assorted bags of sweets along with a plus-sized fizzy drink of choice. A third deal included a voucher for a hot dog or hamburger and the obligatory fizzy drink in the cinema’s restaurant.
And the restaurant had another trick up its sleeve to keep the selling circle going: free cinema tickets with every kiddies’ meal.
Encouragement to consume food we neither need nor want is all around us. Most coffee shops offer their products in three sizes. The small one, which they call regular, is pretty big. The medium one would supply most people’s liquid intake for a day and the big one – which they call grandé, or something equally pretentious – could serve as a swimming pool for little animals.
Large volumes of coffee will not add much to anyone’s calorie count, but a lot of the stuff sold in our cafés is not really coffee; it is some frothy, milky confection, high in fat. What’s more, the server will often try to persuade you to eat something with it …“Anything else? These new muffins are on offer this week.”
Upselling – the trick of trying to persuade the customer to make an additional purchase – shifts a lot of food that would otherwise go uneaten.
The man selling me a newspaper suggests I might like a large bar of chocolate at half price. The barman at the airport, serving me a glass of wine, tells me there is 25% off snacks with every drink purchased and the waiter, serving lunch, reverses that deal by offering a free glass of wine with every starter.
Nobody gets obese just from eating a burger at the cinema or some snacks at the airport but these unhealthy practices all add to the problem. Cutting them out would be a step towards prevention.
In particular, we should stop using food to promote the sales of other products. It might not solve the obesity problem but it would help lower my blood pressure.