Ever since the documentary “Supersized Me”, about the perils of unhealthy McDonald’s food, made its debut in 2004, the world was forced to reconcile itself with just how unhealthy processed fast food can be, especially when consumed on a regular basis.
Fast forward 17 years, Christopher van Tulleken, who is a practising doctor is reengaging with the issue of fast food. In a BBC documentary, What Are We Feeding Our Kids? , Chris van Tulleken examines the health effects – particularly for children – of our increasing consumption of ultra-processed food.
Among other things, the documentary has highlighted some rather disturbing statistics. Childhood obesity has increased tenfold globally over the past 50 years, while 21% of UK children are obese by the time they leave primary school. Disturbingly, it costs twice as much to get 100 calories from fresh fruit, vegetables and fish in the UK as it does to get them from readymade food. In 1980, our food spending on scratch ingredients versus convenience food was split 58% to 26%. It is now virtually reversed.
What this means, in a nutshell, is that it is much cheaper to eat unhealthy processed food and we are spending way more on unhealthy fast food as opposed to fresh ingredients.
Van Tulleken spoke to experts such as Rachel Batterham, a professor of obesity, diabetes and endocrinology at University College London who demystified the hormonal signals that tell us when we feel full, the brain mechanisms involved in eating and, crucially, how little research has been done into the effects of the very new, profoundly different kinds of food we have started putting into our bodies over the past few decades.
What the documentary uncovered is that while it is hard to overeat natural foods for long, it is much easier to overeat with processed fast food, For example, you may eat one fillet of fresh chicken breast and feel full but gorge on six chicken nuggets and still feel you need more. In short, processed fast food seems to have the ability to bypass the gut/brain messaging service in a way that is still fundamentally unexplained.
While the documentary gives no answers, it does offer information that we can all be mindful of when making food choices at the supermarket. A stark truth revealed though is that ultimately, everything is geared towards profit and as aptly queried by Van Tulleken – how much choice there is in an environment where everything – availability, price, marketing and so on – is designed to push the consumer one way?