Alex Phillips: When does curvy become a severe risk of type two diabetes?

Around three quarters of people in the UK are obese or overweight, so that may well include you

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Around three quarters of people in the UK are obese or overweight, so that may well include you. It’s not ideal being unable to squeeze into those jeans you bought before lockdown, or catching a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and wincing, yet in a world where most people are no longer wafer thin and where billboards displaying the season’s latest trends feature all sorts of body shapes, society’s perception of normal has expanded, along with our waistlines.

From the days of heroine-chic in the nineties where there was outcry over size zero models with androgynous hips and a ladder of ribs, today’s ideals clamour for booty and the hourglass is well and truly back. Hurrah, you may say.

But are we normalising what for many is actually unhealthy? When does curvy become at severe risk of type two diabetes? And are calls to add fat shaming to the ever growing list of offences and protected statuses perilously painting over a dangerous truth - that as we pile on the pounds, a plethora of health risks also amass to the extent that they risk overwhelming an already overburdened health service? And how did we get here?

My Grandma used to layer the dripping on the white bread while my Grandfather loved nothing more than tinned mandarins with evaporated milk, and yet they were both in fine fettle right up until their very elderly years. So what on earth has happened where the Greatest Generation has become the Weightiest Generation?

In a word: Consumerism. From ration books to Deliveroo, where we once were restricted as to what we ate and what we could afford to eat, now anything can be delivered within moments at the click of a button. But sadly what many of us think as convenience tends to have the nutritional value of a bucket of sugar and salt with some chemical acronyms sprinkled in for added flavour.

Combine that with all sorts of gadgets and devices to do our daily chores, and instead of tautening those sinewy arms by going at the mangle for a good hour, instead we throw our clothes in the dryer and head off to the gym via car to lift the odd dumbbell or two, washed down with a sugar laden isotonic drink, before coming home to watch Netflix and then despair when the needle on the scales is creeping in the wrong direction.

Yet some say there is something else afoot. Much like cigarettes were handed out during the war as a health supplement, which seems astonishing looking back today, perhaps in another generation we will wonder how the food industry got away with selling us so many ultra processed products that do as much damage to our health as the carcinogens in tobacco.

Not only that, but they get away with all sorts of labelling that tells the consumer their food is healthy, low fat, high protein, vegan, rich in omegas, high in fibre, wholewheat, laden with healthy bacteria and just like Mamma makes in her Italian kitchen - if indeed she had access to a laboratory of additives and stabilisers and an endless supply of sugar and salt.

Covid 19 brought sharply into focus just how poor the nation’s health is, as those with metabolic syndrome, often linked to poor diet and obesity and manifesting in conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, were especially susceptible to inflammatory immune responses that saw some wind up in hospital. Even the Prime Minister himself told the country how he only just managed to dodge a ventilator but was dangerously unwell due to being fat. Yet gourmand Boris seems to struggle as much as the rest of us when it comes to shedding the timber. With constant temptation and busy lives, and so much mixed messaging on what is the right approach to losing weight, it can be extremely difficult to know what to do, and how to stick to it.

Yet despite an enquiry into our ever increasing communal jelly, ironically penned by a Big Food tycoon, the focus has been put back on us to manage our diets, which unless you happen to be a nutritionist, can feel rather like wading through a minefield. Well, fear not, because this former fatty is here to help.