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Is Our Lifestyle Killing Us?

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The biggest health crisis facing the modern world is obesity. According to the World Health Organisation, obesity rates have tripled since 1975. As of 2016, 650 million adults, 340 million children aged between five and nineteen, and 41 million children under five were obese.

And it’s affecting Australia, too. Between 1995 and 2014/15, the number of obese Australians rose from 18.7% to 27.9%. The Sydney Morning Herald even reported that nearly a third of all adult Australians can now be considered obese. According to the Heart Foundation, approximately 42.7% of adult men and 28.8% of adult women are overweight. More alarmingly, 28.4% of men and 27.4% of women are considered obese.

We are poisoning ourselves and we don’t even know it. Among the health problems caused by obesity are diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, gall bladder disease, a multitude of cancers, fatty liver, and arthritis.

We are poisoning ourselves in two distinct ways. Firstly, we are eating far too many carbohydrates. Carbohydrate-rich foods like bread and pasta cause blood sugar levels to rise. This creates an excess of sugar that causes the body to crave more carbohydrates. The result is that the body stores fat.

Whether or not bread is good or bad for us is up for debate. Lynid Polivnick, the so-called “nude nutritionist”, has defended bread stating that “it’s much healthier than people make it out to be. It’s often demonised as being a cause of weight gain but in truth, bread does not actually make us gain weight.” And she’s probably right. There is nothing wrong with bread provided that it is eaten in moderation. The problem is that many of us don’t eat bread in moderation.

Many health experts do not share Lynid Polivnick’s view. The website Healthy Simple Life claims that bread is mostly devoid of any real nutrients. Bread tends to be ‘fortified’ with vitamins and minerals because its original nutrients have been stripped from it and added back later. These nutritional elements are unlikely to be absorbed by our bodies.

Secondly, we are consuming far too much sugar. This is a relatively new problem. Our ancestors had little access to refined sugars. If they were lucky, they were able to enjoy a tiny amount of fruit during vanishingly small periods of the year. Otherwise, they were relegated to a diet rich in vegetables with a small smattering of meat.

By contrast, people in modern, wealthy society have access to seemingly endless amounts of sugar. Added sugar accounts for seventeen-percent of the average American adult’s diet. Sugar is now present in everything from cereal to chocolate bars.

Over-consumption of sugar is a leading cause of obesity and its related illnesses. It has been found to increase the risk of certain types of cancer – namely, oesophageal, pleural, small intestine, and endometrial. And it has been linked to the doubled prevalence of diabetes over the past three decades.

Over-consumption of sugar has also been found to correlate positively with an increased risk of heart disease. A study involving thirty thousand people found that those whose diets were comprised of seventeen to twenty-one percent added sugar had a thirty-eight percent greater risk of dying from heart disease than those whose diets were comprised of only eight percent sugar.

The modern western man is living in the most prosperous times in history. There is less abject poverty and less starvation today than at any other period in history. The downside of this has been an increased proclivity for greed, sloth, and, as a consequence, ever-expanding waistbands. The answer to the obesity crisis is to improve our lifestyles.

OUR OBSESSION OVER FOOD IS RIDICULOUS

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Sometimes a civilisation can become so sophisticated that it believes it can overcome truth. We have become one of those civilisations. As a consequence of our arrogance, we have come to believe that we can circumvent some of the most fundamental truths about reality. We blame inequality on the social structure even though most social animals live in hierarchies. We believe that primitive people are noble even though mankind in its primitive state is more violent than at any other stage. And we believe that we can change the way human beings eat despite the fact that it is making us unhappy.

It is our modern obsession over diet and exercise that I would like to focus on. This obsession has arisen from a society that is too safe, too free, and too prosperous for its own good. This is not to say that safety, freedom, and prosperity are bad things. Indeed, we should get down on our knees and thank God every day that we live in a country that has these things. However, it is also true that too much safety, freedom, and prosperity breeds passivity and complacency. The hardships our ancestors faced – war, poverty, disease – are no longer problems for us. Therefore, we lack the meaning that these hardships bring to our life. As a result, we have come to invent problems. Among these has been a tendency to render the consumption of certain food as something unhealthy, unethical, or both.

Our modern obsession with food is causing significant personal problems. On the one hand, the ease in which food, especially that which is laden with sugar, is causing a rise in cases of obesity. (Note: I am using the word ‘obesity’ as a blanket term for people who are overweight). It is a uniquely modern problem. Our ancestors never battled weight gain because they were only able to find or afford enough food to keep them and their families from starving. Now the quantity, cheapness, and, in many cases, poor quality of food means that the fattest amongst are also often the poorest. But obesity is less a problem that arises out of food and more of a problem arising from laziness and gluttony. (Naturally, I am excluding health problems and genetic disorders from this conclusion).

On the other hand, however, our obsession over being skinny or muscle-bound is also causing problems. I have seen plenty of people who are clearly overweight. In rare cases, I have even seen people who are so morbidly obese that it can only be described as breathtaking. However, I have also seen women (and it primarily women, by the way) who can only be described as unnaturally thin. It is as though our society, having realised that being overweight is healthy, has decided that its opposite must be good. It isn’t. Just right is just right.

And it’s not just individuals who are subjecting themselves to this kind of self-imposed torture. And it’s not limited to people in the here and now, either. In 1998, The Independent reported that many doctors in the United Kingdom were concerned that well-meaning parents were unintentionally starving their children to death by feeding them low fat, low sugar diets. These children were said to be suffering from the effects of “muesli-belt nutrition.” They had become malnourished because either they or their parents had maintained had become obsessed with maintaining a low-fat, low-sugar, low-salt diet. The article reported: “Malnutrition, once associated with slums, is said to have become an increasing problem for middle-class families in the past fifteen years. The victim of so-called ‘muesli-belt nutrition’ are at risk of stunted growth, anaemia, learning difficulties, heart disease and diabetes.”

Our obsession over diet is really a sign of how well-off our society is. Our ancestors had neither the time nor the resources to adhere to the kind of crazy-strict diets that modern people, in their infinite stupidity, decide to subject themselves to. It is high time we stopped obsessing over food and got a grip.