Our obesity crisis and its many different causes

Readers discuss ways to combat the UK’s excessive sugar consumption and the large amounts contained in processed food and drinks

George Monbiot should not be surprised about the UK’s obesity crisis (We’ve entered a new age of obesity, 15 August). In 1975, the Medical Research Council warned that obesity was likely to be the next major health crisis. My 1976 book, Changing Food Habits in the UK, showed how many food companies were selling food products and drinks with high levels of sugar – and promoting them heavily.

I recommended the government introduce a tax on these unhealthy foods and drinks. Nothing happened. The food and drinks industry has always been opposed to such a tax. Now, 40 years on, the consequences of inaction are there for all to see. For the health of the nation, our politicians need to have the guts to put a tax on these unhealthy foods and drinks.

Chris Wardle
Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

George Monbiot does not discuss young child obesity, which often prefigures obesity in adult life. It is no coincidence this is so common in a country with one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world. The World Health Assembly in 2002 adopted a resolution which recognised that inappropriate infant feeding practices “contribute to later-life consequences of childhood obesity”. In spite of evidence provided to the government, its 2016 childhood obesity plan makes no mention of breastfeeding.

Peter Greaves

If George Monbiot truly has “found no reason to disbelieve the government figures” about how many calories we eat, then he has not kept up with the science. The problem of “under-reporting” (people not telling researchers completely what they eat) has been well known for decades, and documented in hundreds of articles, even in the government reports Monbiot cites.

Certainly, we have a problem with excessive sugar consumption. But even the most important recent document on sugar, the 2015 SACN report, acknowledged average under-reporting of 34%. People admit to only two-thirds of what they actually eat. Which means most UK adults consume over 3,000 kilocalories per day – well in excess of what is needed to maintain a healthy weight. So they put on pounds. This is basic biology.

Jack Winkler
Emeritus professor of nutrition policy, London Metropolitan University

I was surprised that George Monbiot did not mention the part that corn syrup plays in modern obesity. This stems from the engagement by President Nixon of Earl Butz as agriculture secretary to save US farmers from disaster in 1974. Butz saved the farmers with a new production process for corn syrup. Corn was then grown in abundance, and corn syrup, a super-fatty, almost addictive, substance was added to many foods and drinks. Problem solved? Maybe not.

Robert Harvey

I think George Monbiot is correct to conclude that a massive increase in our consumption of sugar is likely to be mainly responsible for the rise in obesity since 1976. However, he didn’t mention the vehicle that we choose to get this additional sugar into our bodies. The mid- to late- 1970s saw the introduction of affordable microwave ovens into UK homes. They are now ubiquitous. Has any single item contributed more to the phenomenal increase in our consumption of ready meals and highly processed food since 1976? And guess what is an essential ingredient of such foodstuffs: sugar.

Mike Pender

The hormonal environment we live in has changed. Growth hormones from intensive livestock rearing, female hormones from the pill and HRT, hormone mimickers from plastics – all end up in the environment. Bust size in women and men has gone up dramatically, sperm count has fallen. Willpower does not let you escape these factors.

Shaun Davies

Today I purchased a pack of “sponge bears with a hidden chocolate centre”, the packaging clearly targeted at small children. The box bore conspicuous (and legal) nutritional information indicating that each 30g serving (a small sponge) contained 8.8g sugars (29% sugar by weight) and that this was 10% of the recommended daily intake (RDA) of sugars. In small letters, it was noted that this RDA referred to an average adult. The RDA (sugar) for a 4- to 6-year-old child is 19g.

Thus, rather than 10%, this figure might more honestly have been 46% per sponge or 230% per pack. Maybe a look at the UK labelling laws might help our children and grandchildren avoid growing into sick adults (Surge in type 2 diabetes among young blamed on child obesity” 18 August)?

Dr Peter Baker
Prestwood, Buckinghamshire

My 16-year-old daughter was enticed by free samples for fruit tea being given away by a well known tea shop while out with her friends, and bought one of the products on offer. Finding when she got home she didn’t like it after all as it was so sweet, she discovered the ingredients listed were 97% sugar. We threw it away and she was distraught at wasting £7. How many others would say, “I’ve bought it so I will have to drink it”, regardless that it was pure sugar, or actually enjoyed it having become used to such sweet things?

As George Monbiot says, control needs to be exerted over those who have discovered our weaknesses and exploit them – and urgently. We all need to remember, as I hope my daughter is beginning to learn, that there is no such thing as a free lunch, or even a free fruit tea shot.

Rachel Walker

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/aug/19/our-obesity-crisis-and-its-many-different-causes