A walk into a your local friendly Walmart Supercentre will show you all the terrifying eating habits of a culture that appears to be losing with every passing day, its understanding of healthy, good food. And no I am not a all-natural free-range corn living in a field kind of person, and I am definitely not going to say all we need to eat is good old ‘natural’ foods, like our ancestors or rubbish like that. We can eat more than Ryvita cardboard cakes and do not need to hold ourselves to the standards set by most green magazines and YouTube stars of eating nothing but kale and seeds. Don’t get me wrong, if you can, go for it. But looking at the figures we need to get the basics right and not be sucked in by short-lived ‘lifestyle choices’ and kooky diets like the rainbow diet. And last but not least, natural is not necessarily synonymous with good. In fact ‘natural’ isn’t even a simple concept. Humans have, whether consciously or not, been modifying the genetic code of plants for thousands of years. That’s right, everything is a GM crop! It’s just taken a lot longer. But anyway, its not rocket science, in most cases foods now state their fat and salt content in a colour coded box.
There have been constant efforts by celebrity chefs and government initiatives to get children to eat good, healthy food and in many cases it appears to have been something of a failure. Not all! Time will tell, but definitely in many cases. I honestly believe that most children in the UK are so sheltered from real food that by the time they reach their teenage years any exposure to real food will come as a shock to their systems, brains unable to associate the new flavours with actual food and forcing the poor helpless saps to think it must be some form of poison. Maybe this is why the most popular British TV show of the 21st century was about cakes. Tasty food is becoming so rare the sight of it has become almost pornographic.
Think I am wrong? The microwavable meal industry is worth roughly £2.6 billion in the UK. In fact we eat more microwavable meals in the UK then the rest of Europe combined. And yes they are not ALL bad. But nobody can honestly say that the majority, or at least the best-selling, are not atrociously bad for your body.
Furthermore, the sale of pizzas in the UK has increased from an average purchase of 2g a week in 1975 to 53g a week in 2014. That is a staggering increase of 2550%. Which could perhaps be accepted as a cultural shift? But these pizzas are also terrible! If the huge red printed numbers indicating the levels of salt and fat were not enough (which look carefully by the way because some companies define a portion as a quarter of a pizza) the levels of salt are abhorrently high (and I am not going to explain the fat content because if I have to explain why most pizzas are full of fat, then you are already a lost cause).
An investigation by the Consensus Action of Salt and Health (CASH) discovered over 50% of takeaway pizzas contain well over the recommended daily intake maximum of salt in just a single pizza. This recommended allowance is around 6g of salt, which I should repeat, is the maximum, it is still not a healthy amount. Supermarket pizzas seemed to fair a little better… usually containing around 5g of salt per pizza. Which again, is pretty terrible.
Prevalence of obesity in the UK. Source: Public Health England 2017
With issues like these we should all stop eating at McDonalds and Burger King as much then surely? Well yes. But the more ‘up-market’ restaurants are in many cases so much worse! A report by Health UK found that many of the high street restaurants are serving well over the recommended daily intake of saturated fats. The major culprits being:
- ASK Italian
- Pizza Express
- Gourmet Burger Kitchen
All these companies appeared to have at least double the level of saturated fats in their meals compared to McDonalds and Burger King. The Gourmet Burger Kitchen weighed in at a whopping 302.5% of the daily recommended intake of saturated fat, with the average meal being 60.5g of fat. Pizza Express and Harvester scored even higher than this but the two major culprits for our nation of fatties, scored over 400%.
So where does this leave us?
According to a 2014 study by the World Health Organisation, 59% of European adults are overweight or obese. It also found that the UK is the sixth most obese nation in Europe. I know, we can’t win anything at the Olympics. But! By 2025 we may take or position on the top of podium, however tired, according to a study by the Imperial College London. With a potential record like that it’s almost a shame we are leaving.
What do we do?
- Cook food – No matter how busy we are, we cannot afford to skimp on actual cooking, at least not as much as we currently do as a nation. Take-out is fine once in a while but something has to change.
- Raise the minimum wage – Every study I have seen has shown so often that poorer parents means fatter kids. This is not just bad parenting, this is the unfortunate truth that cheap food comes at a big cost. Whether businesses suffer or not (thought I believe they wouldn’t), we cannot afford to have a nation raised by Mr and Mrs Birdseye.
- Read the packaging – The government is making it easier and easier to see what foods are healthy for us.
- Teach your kids how to eat – An endorphin rush from sugar is like any high, it can become a problem and you must show some discipline.
- Eat frozen veg – Amazingly most frozen veg has more nutrients in than ‘fresh’ veg as it was frozen for its transportation and therefore locked in its freshness. You can then add these to the side of any meal.
- Eat fruit – The average amount of fruit eaten daily in most European countries is nearer ten and the idea we Brits struggle to reach five a day is embarrassing.
I am by no means perfect and my diet can definitely be improved, but it seems as a culture we could make some incredibly simple and easy changes that would dramatically change our future and help us avoid the ever-encroaching dystopian reality of…
Euro.who.int. (2017). WHO/Europe | The European health report 2015. [online] Available at: http://www.euro.who.int/en/data-and-evidence/european-health-report/european-health-report-2015/ehr2015 [Accessed 5 Apr. 2017].
Knapton S, (2017). British people will be fattest in Europe by 2025. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/03/31/british-people-will-be-fattest-in-europe-by-2025/ [Accessed 5 Apr. 2017].
Lawrence, F. (2013). Not on the label. 1st ed. London: Penguin Books.
Public Health UK (2017). UK and Ireland prevalence and trends :: Public Health England Obesity Knowledge and Intelligence team. [online] Available at: https://www.noo.org.uk/NOO_about_obesity/adult_obesity/UK_prevalence_and_trends [Accessed 6 Apr. 2017].