There is more to life than money and by now it is well established that gross domestic product (GDP) is an inadequate measure of development. It allows for a crude assessment of economic activity within a country, but does not account for side effects known as externalities. These include environmental destruction and pollution, human lives lost in other countries from the development and sales of weapons technologies or negative effects on health of products and technologies that otherwise make money and therefore contribute to GDP. Furthermore, negative contributions of products developed by tobacco, weapons and other companies all count towards a positive GDP figure, further diminishing the emphasis we should place on it as an indicator of human progress. Read More »
Stuffing and Starving: Are Cycles of Advertising Contributing to the Rise and Rise of Eating Disorders?
As the Victoria Beckhams of this world have replaced the Marilyn Monroes on the centerfolds of magazines and advertisements selling everything from perfume to real estate, wide social effects have taken place in rich nations. Although size zeros are no heroes, adolescent girls and grown women the world over have succumb to chasing the promised good feel of the thinness ideal. At the extreme, this chase can lead to conditions diagnosed by mental health professionals as binge eating and disordered eating (which includes self-starvation, bingeing, purging and exercising obsessively), leading to more widely known conditions of anorexia (self starvation) and bulimia (regular self-induced cycles of binge-eating and vomiting), found to affect up to 5.7% and 7.3% of women in Western nations respectively (1). Both are addictive psychological attempts to take back control over inputs into the body and sometimes other aspects of life. And both are on the rise in less wealthy countries too as they transition into Western lifestyles brought to them through cultural and corporate marketing transmissions associated with the age of globalisation (2). Read More »
If the old parable is true and you are what you eat, does food affect who we are and what we think? I have previously written about the visible problems associated with poor diets in the world such as obesity, diabetes and food related cancers and the possible starting points for individual and public policy solutions. However, one notable health aspect generally missing from discourse on food policy is that of mental health problems associated with diet. These can include depression, with associated human cost of suicide, and health problems due to malnutrition associated with eating disorders. For example, according to the World Health Organisation “in low-income countries, depression represents almost as large a problem as does malaria (3.2% versus 4.0% of the total disease burden)” and every year 844,000 people commit suicide globally, a staggering 60% rise in the last 45 years. It is a pricey omission too since mental health issues are highly costly to: societies overall through their national health and medical systems; to the private sector through lost days of work; and to individuals through the suffering of depression or the silent, and often unreported and untreated, psychological and physical suffering associated with eating disorders. Mental health disorders cost the UK National Health Service, for instance, an estimated £77bn ($120bnUSD) annually and 77,000 people currently out of work due to mental health problems. Read More »
Until recently, probably like for many of you, my imagination when it came to corn, aka maize, was limited to a bright yellow sunshine goodness, steamy and fresh on the cob soaked in butter and lightly salted, bursting with warm juices with every bite, the remnants of which I discover in my teeth hours after I am done. Or, perhaps, some ready-to-eat tinned sweet-corn kernels added to my jacket potato, tuna, chilli (sin)carne or simply adding a crunch and a juicy burst to my salad plate. In reality corn comes in a rainbow of colours and subtle gradient of tastes and despite one or two varieties being only an occasional dinner or snack companion for many of us in the West, corn or, as it is known in Spanish, maiz, has been the mainstay of the peoples of Central America and many other countries for centuries. Read More »
It is no secret that the world is getting fatter. Lazy, greedy gluttons! If only you would just put down the burger, eat a banana and go for a jog. Right? Is it really that simple? I mean Weight Watchers tells us it’s all about point scoring and will power and the occasional leaflet from the NHS insists it’s a matter of your 5-a-day, so what is wrong with us? Why are there now 1.5 billion adults and 43 million children overweight or obese worldwide, rising by a staggering 214% since the 1950s? Yes, some of it lies in self-control. We are not stupid, we all know a stick of celery is healthier than a stick of Twix. But since this is such a widespread phenomenon, I don’t think it all lies in the choices we make. Is it perhaps also genetic? I find it hard to believe that the rate of evolution is so rapid that in a generation or two a third of Americans and Brits and 24% of all Mexicans have now developed the obesity gene, with around another third being at least overweight. So if it is not entirely us or our DNA, then what on earth is going on? Well, the fact that the rate of childhood obesity in Mexican kids is highly correlated with their proximity to the US border should serve a clue. Read More »
Climate change, water shortages, rising global pollution levels and food insecurity have made environmental sustainability the most pressing concern of our time. Improvements in production systems and agriculture, and advances in clean technology, will certainly help, but as the global population becomes more conscious of the issues facing us as a human race, we begin to ask ourselves what it is that we can do to help preserve our planet for centuries to come. More than in anything else, the answer to that lies in the diet choices we make.