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Are we raising a nation of Billy and Bessie Bunters?

What do Billy Bunter, Bessie Bunter, Roland from Grange Hill, Chunk from The Goonies and Dudley Dursley from the Harry Potter books all have in common? Well firstly they’re fictional characters and secondly they’re what we might class ‘super-sized’: the fat kids who are either bullies, bullied or the brunt of practical jokes.

As it’s National Childhood Obesity Week, Dr Verner Wheelock offers an alternative view on weight loss and obesity.

Over 30% of UK children are overweight or obese

Fictional characters they may be, but look around at today’s children and there is a very worrying trend towards obesity. According to the latest available figures from the National Childhood Measurement Programme which measures the height and weight of around 1 million children every year, 19.2% of 10-11 year-olds were obese and 14.7% were classed as overweight. Figures from the Health Survey for England reveal that over 30% of UK children aged 2-15 are obese or overweight.

So what?

The first question we have to ask is “Does this actually matter?”. Recent research from the Center for Disease Control in the USA shows that those who are classed as “Overweight” or “Mildly Obese” have a greater life expectancy than those who have an “Ideal” weight according to Body Mass Index.

The second question is “Does weight loss by calorie reduction work?”. The answer is a definite “No” for 90% 0f people who actually try and then most of them regain the weight within the next 18 months.

The Real Issue

By focussing on obesity per se we are losing sight of the real issue which is excessive consumption of sugar. Everybody including kids are just eating far too much sugar and it is this which is causing the diabetes. One reason for this is the choice of “low fat” products which are made by taking out fat and replacing it with sugar. The other main reason is the huge increase in the consumption of soft drinks which are very high in sugar.

Fat is definitely not the problem. Between 1969 and 2000 the National Food Survey (NFS) shows that total fat consumption had fallen from 120 to 74 g/day. Over the same period the consumption of saturated fat (SFA) decreased from 56.7 to 29.2 g/day while obesity and diabetes have been shooting up. The advice to reduce saturated fat does not stand up to examination and those who follow it may actually be damaging their own health. Many of the individual saturated fats considered “bad” are actually present in human milk and are essential nutrients! In fact butter is one of the best foods you could eat.

We all have to recognise that SUGAR IS TOXIC. There is absolutely no doubt about this. Diabetes is having blood sugar levels which are too high. You don’t have to be a highly qualified expert to understand that this is caused by too much sugar in the diet. If you have diabetes then have a greatly increased risk of developing heart disease , many cancers and Alzheimer’s Disease even if you have the Ideal weight according to Body Mass Index.

What Should We Do?

It really is a “no-brainer”. Cut down on the sugar. The case for reducing sugar has been building up for years and is now pretty well conclusive. By contrast, reducing total and saturated fat has been tried and failed, while the justification for this approach has been discredited.

However it is also important to appreciate that many of the current public health problems are partially  caused by lack of physical fitness. Unfortunately far too many children (and adults) have a sedentary life style and do not take anything like enough exercise. So a reasonable amount of activity such as walking about one mile per day(or children playing outside) will help to avoid many of our common health problems.