THE RISKS FROM OBESITY
Being overweight can induce:
¨ Diabetes (type 2: non-insulin‑dependent)
¨ Coronary heart disease and strokes.
It increases the risks of:
¨ Cancer of the colon, prostate, uterus, cervix, breasts and ovaries
¨ Gall-bladder disease
¨ Musculoskeletal disorders and respiratory problems.
We live in a world where half the population seems to be obsessed by dieting, while the other half is suffering from starvation and malnutrition. We have no control over the natural disasters that leave millions fighting to find enough food to survive, but why is it that so many people — not just in the Western world, but also in developing countries — are becoming overweight, leading to soaring levels of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers?
We may have made huge advances in technology, but we seem to have lost our connection to nature, and nowhere is this better illustrated than in the food we eat. Our meat is sold in sterile packaging, and contains antibiotics, growth hormones and pesticide residue. We eat (well, some of us eat) fruit and vegetables that are sprayed, waxed, dyed and sometimes irradiated to make them look attractive. The grains that form the bulk of many people’s diets are stripped of their fibre and nutrient content. And the milk we drink is pasteurized.
Because there is so much choice, so little time and sometimes so little money, many people choose the convenient pre-packaged or fast-food option, rather than insisting on good-quality, naturally produced, locally available produce. They would rather sit and watch a cookery programme on television while eating a TV dinner or a take-out than get into the kitchen and cook a healthy meal for themselves.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 1995 there were an estimated 200 million obese adults worldwide, and by 2000 that figure had increased to 300 million. But obesity is not just a problem restricted to adults -25 per cent of children and adolescents in the US are overweight. The problem is beginning to replace malnutrition and infectious diseases as the most significant contributor to ill health worldwide. Obesity is now recognized as a disease in its own right, but one that is largely preventable through changes in lifestyle – especially diet.
A lesson from dietary history
For years we have been fed the information that a low-fat/high-carbohydrate diet is the healthiest one for us. The ideal ratio, based on our calorie intake, is 55 per cent carbs, 15 per cent protein and 30 per cent fats. This ratio may work for some individuals, but it certainly isn’t right for everyone, particularly those whose carbohydrate intake is based on the wrong sort of carbs.
One of the most thought-provoking arguments for reducing the amount and type of carbohydrates that we eat is the story of Palaeolithic people. Genetically, there is very little difference between ourselves and our hunter- gatherer ancestors, although our diet has certainly changed.
Palaeolithic people were treading the Earth thousands of years before we started to cultivate crops and rear animals for food, and according to scientists they existed on a diet that was primarily protein. Between 60 and 90 per cent of their diet consisted of game animals, eggs, birds, reptiles and insects. The rest comprised green leafy vegetables and berries. Obviously they were leading a far more active life than the average 21st-century human being, but their diet must have been in part responsible for their healthy bones, flawless teeth and good musculature.
It was only at around the time of the agricultural revolution, about 10,000 years ago, that we started to rely on starchy vegetables such as potatoes and cereal crops for the bulk of our diet, and lifestyles became more sedentary. By 4,000 years ago the effects of the change in diet were beginning to be seen in the human body:
¨ There was a reduction in people’s stature
¨ Dental decay and malformation of the jaw had become widespread
¨ Disease and epidemics were starting to shorten the human lifespan.