Children and Young People: Obesity - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:32 pm on 17th April 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord McColl of Dulwich Lord McColl of Dulwich Conservative 7:32 pm, 17th April 2018

I will not say “Speak for yourself”, but there are a lot of people who have managed stay the same weight.

The question is: how did they do it? They simply respected the various mechanisms that exist in the body for keeping the weight constant. What are they? They are very intriguing. One is to eat food that you have to chew. When you chew, the chewing muscles produce impulses that go to the brain telling it that you have had enough to eat. If that does not work and there is fat in the meal, when the fat goes through the stomach into the duodenum it releases a hormone that stops the stomach moving any further. We get a feeling of being full, so we stop eating. It is a very nice mechanism. Then, when the fat has been emulsified by the bile, the whole thing moves on and the stomach starts to move again.

At the end of food rationing the food industry was presented with a problem. It wanted to increase the amount of food that people ate, because we were all eating just the right amount—food rationing had sorted that one out. How was it to persuade people to eat more? The simple solution is to sabotage these beautiful mechanisms for keeping the weight constant. How did the industry do that? It demonised fat and got some unscrupulous members of the academic world to produce research that just happened to confirm its view that fat was the wrong thing. Then President Eisenhower had a heart attack and they found that what blocked his arteries was atheroma. As noble Lords will know from their Greek studies, atheroma is a Greek word meaning porridge. It might be Greek porridge, but it is not Scottish porridge, that is for sure. In fact it is not porridge at all: it is a cholesterol, fatty material. So they blamed that. Fat was demonised, so we had a low-fat diet.

The problem then was where to get the calories from, so they filled the diet up with carbohydrates. A low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet is tasteless because fat gives us a nice flavour. The food industry then faced the problem of how to get people to eat this terrible stuff. The answer is to pour in sugar. That makes it palatable. So was born the obesity epidemic: a low-fat, high-carbohydrate, high-sugar diet.

Then, just to make things worse, NICE said that all the calories we eat are expended on exercise. That was not true either: only a fraction of the calories we eat go on exercise. In fact, it is about a quarter. This idea that exercise is the answer to obesity led to hundreds of thousands of people pounding the pavements and roads wearing out their joints, so you had more and more joint replacements for the hip and knee. So the nonsense continued. Of course exercise is very important to general well-being and health, but not in terms of controlling weight. Then we insulted the children by calling them couch potatoes. Inactivity does not lead to obesity. Obesity leads to inactivity, but that is a different matter.

What is the answer? It is that we need an all-out campaign involving every man, woman and child, every institution, school, university and government department to try to reduce the obesity epidemic. When we were taking evidence from the experts in a recent Select Committee, we were told that all-out campaigns do not work. I pointed out that the AIDS campaign did. One of these experts said, “No it didn’t”, which surprised the Lord Speaker, Norman Fowler, because it was his campaign. It worked because he was absolutely honest and did not bother with anything politically correct. He said it as it was: “Don’t die of AIDS”; AIDS is lethal. So the campaign was successful. That is what we now need, because we owe it to our children. The obesity epidemic is killing millions and costing billions. The cure is free: eat less.