Paul McNamee: We can’t have our cake and eat it

There's a national obsession with a TV baking show, and we encourage kids to hunt chocolate eggs. Yet we scratch our heads about an obesity epidemic...

Type 2 diabetes is not a disease.

It is a ‘walking deficiency’ syndrome – so claims Sir Muir Gray, a leading medical researcher.

Gray decided to rattle cages last week by insisting it was a result of modern environments. Essentially, we’re gorging on bad food and lying on the sofa moaning about the plot of Broadchurch. Gray’s a big fan of switching off the TV.

On the face of it, this looks like an academic trotting out a neat soundbite to help sell his book. But there is much to what he says.

It costs an estimated £10bn a year to treat type 2 diabetes in Britain. And it’s not going to decrease. Globally the numbers of people with diabetes have nearly quadrupled since 1980. Figures suggest this is made up of around 85 per cent with type 2.

In Britain, we have a bizarre relationship with food

None of this can come as any surprise, really. In Britain, we have a bizarre relationship with food. The confected, baloney furore over the National Trust losing the word Easter from their egg hunt glossed over a key point. There is a national drive to get kids out hunting chocolate and eating as much processed sugar as they can cram in. The case for the dangers of far too much processed sugar is already
well established.

And we continue to have a national obsession with a TV show that encourages people to bake loads and loads of cakes, laced full of butter and sugar.

All this is around us and still there is headscratching about an obesity epidemic.

Every now and then come noises from Government trying to encourage people to cook food from scratch. It’s healthier and cheaper and a proper alternative to processed meals.

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But there are problems with that. Some time ago we ran an investigation going into some of Britain’s poorest areas, heading to the local shops and trying to find fresh vegetables and fruit. There was very little. And what was there was expensive. So people living in those areas couldn’t just nip out, grab something to cook and throw together a simple, nutritious meal.

Ready meals become a clear alternative.

There are two things that could help get on top of the type 2 diabetes epidemic. The first lies with us. We need to take more personal responsibility. Take small steps to get healthier. We can’t moan that the NHS is overloaded when a significant part of that is easily preventable. Less bad food, more movement.

The second is at a higher level. Give fresh food away. How much would it cost to subsidise farmers and food growers to provide some percentage of their crops for free in areas that have high levels of poverty or obesity? How much would a programme of free basic cookery lessons cost? Significantly less than £10bn a year. I realise this is teetering close to a communist collective, and that didn’t end well.

But we need radical alternatives. Otherwise we’re going to munch ourselves to bursting point. We can’t say we haven’t been warned.