5* Leading Authorities Talk Obesity and Solutions

The 5x15 speakers.

Taking questions from the audience

5*: Professor Phillip James, George Monbiot, Dr. Michael Mosley, A.A. Gill and Jamie Oliver.

The London-based seminar series 5 x 15 (five speakers speaking for 15 minutes) recently hosted The 5×15 Food Fight and I was lucky enough to get a ticket to this sold-out event at the Royal Geographical Society.

Just as the country is waiting to read the overdue UK Government Paper on tackling obesity, so we waited to hear these five ‘stars’ impart their views on everything to do with obesity,Type II diabetes, food production, sugar and the importance, nay, the necessity of having a TABLE to eat on. According to A.A. Gill, this is crucial to – if not world peace – than world svelteness.

I diligently scribbled away on my notepad on behalf of the many who were unable to get a ticket, or who live on another continent. Hopefully you will find my notes of interest!

(The bold print are statements I found quite striking – feel free to disagree.)

The 5×15 Food Fight was chaired by Rosie Boycott, feminist, foodie, ex-editor, Food Adviser to the Mayor of London and a co-founder of the 5 x 15 series.**

In her introduction Boycott queried and criticized the continuing delay of the Government Paper, which will outline its strategy to tackle obesity. Where, she asked, was the sense of urgency as children are ‘being subjected to a lifetime of ill-health’?

First up to tell us about the ‘size of the problem’ was Professor Phillip James, currently President of the International Association for the Study of Obesity.

He asked us, “Should we be worried?” Well, yes, because…

  • 1/3 of children are overweight, 1 in 5 are obese.
  • The National Health Service will soon be bankrupted.
  • Diabetes is costing the NHS £1billion every year.
  • 8% of GNP is currently spent on obesity related conditions.
  • The poorest people are now the fattest.
  • Healthier foods cost 3x more.
  • Educating people is seen as the lowest priority – because it is not seen as being effective.
  • The Government is locked into a ‘mistaken’ belief that it’s all up to the individual, it’s our responsibility. 
  • We need to ‘Start the revolution!’

The next speaker introduced by Boycott was George Monbiot – “a writer best known for his political and environmental activism.” A lively and shouty speaker, clearly committed to his own beliefs, Monbiot forcefully told us:

  • Lack of and lax environmental regulation of the farming and dairy industries are to blame for the mess we are in.
  • Sugar is more addictive than cocaine.
  • It is very, very difficult to lose weight because the body holds on to fat. If you do manage to lose it, the body wants it back – it seeks the equilibrium it once had.
  • Anti-fat stigma allows us to patronize the poor.
  • It’s not accidental that we have put the blame for obesity on the individual. This allows businesses to dodge their responsibility.
  • The only ‘effective’ (my quotes) treatment is bariatric surgery – and that is a BAD option.
  • We eat the equivalent of 20billion US$ a YEAR in excess calories. This won’t be given up easily by industry.
  • The only way to change is a campaign along the same lines as the anti-tobacco campaign. 

Following on, the food critic, journalist and author A.A.Gill rather surprised the audience when he asked:

“Is anybody sitting next to a fat person? If so, please stand up and point to them.“

I think he was making a not-so-subtle point (which I thought offensive, but hey, that’s ME) that the majority of the audience weren’t fat so…

  • Gill pointed out that he would rather not eat with the previous two speakers.
  • “Nothing about food is rational.” Food is emotional, our responses buried in the oldest part of the brain.
  • No Government should tell him what he can eat.
  • We all need a TABLE. A table is everything. You don’t want to live in a society without tables. Eating at table helps to keep us slim.
  • In a recent test blindfolded subjects ate only half the food on their plates. When not blindfolded – they ate all of it.
  • Diets “talk too much about what to eat instead of how to eat.”

Dr. Michael Mosley, TV science presenter and author of the mega-bestselling 5:2 Diet (heavily plugged) and a new book, Blood Sugar (also plugged) directed his 15 minutes to the effects of Type II diabetes.

  • He told us he learnt nothing about exercise and nutrition in medical school and worse still, his medical student son is still taught nothing.
  • Drug companies love diabetes; you don’t die straight away, you’re sick for years and they make huge money from the treatments you need.
  • More limbs are ‘taken off’ in Vietnam now from diabetes then were amputated during the Vietnam War.
  • You can reverse Type II diabetes with very low calorie diets.
  • Fat in the liver has overtaken alcohol as the major cause of liver transplants.

Finally, the cook, author and food activist Jamie Oliver was passionate as he argued:-

  • The NHS is going to fall apart from the cost of treating obesity.
  • 2 trillion US$ is the estimated global cost of obesity.
  • When he worked in a West Virginia primary school they were shocked when he ‘dared to bring in a knife and fork to the tables.’ In the UK and Europe this is normal practice, but they were using a ‘Spock’. (Spoon and fork, to you and me.)
  • Britain is well positioned for change – start by following his  #foodrevolution.
  • We are not in a time of ‘rational’ anything. Self-regulation is ‘bullshit’.
  • We need honesty in food and drink labelling.
  • 10 years ago there was more regulation for dog food than children’s food.

At the end the five came on stage to take questions from the audience. I had a few, but sadly, no opportunity to ask them. One question they all addressed was where, oh, where to start? Answers included:-

Clear labelling (Jamie), effective regulation (Monbiot), only eating round a table (Gill), a ban on sugar (Mosley & Jamie, not Gill), Very Low Calorie Diets (Mosley).

The famous five are clearly passionate in their own, highly individual ways. As a group (A.A.Gill being the exception) they are frustrated at the Government’s seeming inability to commit to any legislative change – without which nothing will change.

Watch this space.

PS: ** I asked Boycott “Where were the women?” All I got was a roll of the eyes. Bearing in mind that feeding still seems to be the role and responsibility of women I was struck by the total absence of any female voices. Obviously, judging by her reaction, I wasn’t the only person to state the obvious. Or, as Jamie would say, the ‘bleeding’ obvious.



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