These figures are rising year on year, so as a nation, we need to ask the question – WHY?
Read on to discover a possible answer, and also some simple tips on how you can help to combat this developing situation.
As time has gone on over the last two centuries, the foods available to us have evolved and changed:
Once we would all have eaten organic food as no chemicals were used to ward off bugs and maximise crop abundance – vegetables and fruit were cheap, and lots of people grew their own.
Without availability of fridges, dried legumes, nuts and seeds played a larger role in daily eating.
Red meat may not have been as available due to cost, but ALL of the animals were consumed to maximise the return, and fill out the dishes with lots of beneficial nutrients.
Industrialised animal husbandry wasn’t what we see today, so all the animals were free range, leading to leaner meats, and less interference through antibiotics etc.
Grains weren’t as processed, therefore, the bread that was eaten was much more of what we call wholegrain, with lots of the husk intact giving us increased fibre.
The amount of calories that the mid-Victorians ate was substantially more than the average intake today, however, they were much more nutrient dense, and the level of physical exercise carried out, through manual labour, was far greater.
As industry developed, so did techniques in the food manufacturing domain. This resulted in processes that could make food cheaper and more available to all:
- more refined wheat used in bread and baking,
- tinned meat products became more prolific (laden with salt that would help them to remain on the shelves for longer without perishing),
- sugary foods became mainstream (tinned fruit, condensed milk).
As quantity increased, the quality decreased.
Lifespans were actually roughly similar, between modern day and mid Victorian, but the difference lies in what leads to the end. Degenerative diseases, very commonplace nowadays, were only noted in about 10% of the rates currently seen. People of that era would die from infection or trauma as medial provision was yet to develop to the high standards that it currently is.
What about now?
Move forward 150 years – levels of obesity are rising, along with non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and degenerative disorders (eg. Alzheimer’s disease). What has changed? Our bodies haven’t mutated in a way that leaves us more open to these terrible diseases. No evolutionary change can take place that quickly.
Highly calorific diets, coupled with lower rates of activity.
Increased processed, cheap food availability.
We have the ability to make small changes to what we eat that will have BIG impacts on our overall health. This will impact at any age, but the biggest impact will be on our children. Making changes to what they eat now, educating them to help them understand the benefits of whole foods and the negative effects of eating sugary, fat-laden fast foods – this is one of the greatest and longest lasting gifts we can give them as parents.
The obesogenic environment (a situation that lends itself to enhancing levels of obesity), that surrounds us everyday, is a very difficult one to ignore. Sweets and chocolate close to the tills, fridges full of refined sandwiches, crisps, pastries, easy to 'grab and go’. These are all 'conveniently' available, very palatable, and usually very cheap, making them a choice for many in our busy lives when we often eat 'on the hoof'.
As a global nation we are not eating enough of the ‘healthy’ foods, and we ARE eating too much of the ‘unhealthy’ foods. This is leading to dietary factors being responsible for a great deal of global deaths (11 million in 2017), such as through cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, with around 45% of those being in individuals under 70 years.
But it’s not just our physical health that is suffering, it’s mental health as well.
The incidence, prevalence, and mortality rates, of many diseases and injuries worldwide, are regularly researched and evidenced. One of the indices investigated looks at ‘disability-adjusted life years (DALY)’, essentially the number of years that someone has lived with a disability for. When broken down into age groups it can be seen that depression and anxiety are two of the top 6 leading causes of DALY, globally, in 10-24 year olds, and this situation is worsening over time for all age groups. The NHS has also reported that one in twelve 5-19 year olds (8.1%), in 2017, suffered with an emotional disorder (anxiety or depression). These levels were higher in girls, especially in 17-19 year olds (22.4%).
Certain risk factors, potentially contributing to the development of mental health problems, are not easily changed – genetics, socioeconomic status, early life trauma – however, diet quality is also a risk factor. This is something that we can definitely act on to help PREVENT development of these disabling conditions.
Different dietary patterns have been shown to correlate with the presence of mental health conditions across a variety of ages. A study of 8 and 9 year olds showed an association between poorer diet quality and mental health problems. Those children that had sugary drinks and foods more frequently, and that consumed lower amounts of fruits and vegetables, were shown to have a poorer mental health score. Similar results have also been demonstrated in a larger study of adolescents, wherein improvements in diet quality over time were seen to tally with improvements in mental health.
Okay, what can we do?
Its very hard to identify single foods that impact on wellness. We consume a diet that is full of synergistic, interacting nutrients, therefore pinpointing the effect of one in particular is nigh on impossible. What we need to do, therefore, is to think about this in terms of improving overall diet quality.
Think about adding foods into your daily eating, rather than taking ones away – by ensuring more of the nutrient dense foods are eaten, naturally, there will be reduced room and desire for the less beneficial ones
Make sure to include some vegetables or fruit at every meal – this will help to ensure that the amount of essential minerals and vitamins is being boosted
Use olive oil regularly as a dressing or for lower temperature stir frying – this particular fat has been shown to be associated with improved mental health.
Swap out those refined carbohydrate foods (white bread, white pasta, white/basmati rice) and replace with wholegrains (wholegrain bread, wholegrain pasta, brown/wild rice)
Make nuts and seeds a part of your diet (if possible)
Dependent on your dietary preferences, consume some oily fish each week (salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines) – this type of fish provides some vital anti-inflammatory molecules
Think about eating WHOLE foods, rather than ones with a big list of ingredients – if there is something you can’t identify on the ingredient list, it's probably best to avoid!
Through making small changes to how and what we eat on a daily basis, BIG improvements can be seen in our health, and the health of our children. We need to view this from a PREVENTATIVE viewpoint. It’s a lot easier than having to deal with the disabling consequences.
Don’t let the obesogenic environment win.
REFRESH YOUR DIET!
RESTORE YOUR HEALTH!