Sunday, 5 June 2011

Keep It Simple, Stupid

Many of you will be familiar with the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid), and often the best solutions in health and wellbeing have their roots in this principle.

It has been reported today that the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) is drafting guidelines for fast food outlets to reduce their portion size for chips – a national favourite in the UK. It’s easy for your first reaction to be ‘doh – of course smaller portions are better’. You may also wonder why the watchdog created to pass judgement on the efficacy and cost effectiveness of treatment regimes should bother itself with something so basic.

But when you consider that the annual cost of obesity related health issues in the UK is £4.2 billion suddenly any measure is worth considering.

Likewise in the US, a staggering estimated 33% of children born in the last decade will develop diabetes, the majority directly linked to over-eating.

I have just returned from a week of brunches, snacks and dinners in New York and it is probably more by luck than judgment that I haven’t put on any weight. Anyone who has crossed the Atlantic knows that American portions are enormous (except in the most expensive restaurants of course). The delicious blueberry pancakes came not in twos but fours, with a side garnish of maple syrup. Individual omelettes can be made with a choice of 2 to 6 eggs! It’s hardly surprising, but nonetheless shocking that an estimated 50 percent of food produced for home consumption is actually thrown away in the US.(University of Arizona)

Even more upsetting, the waste and Resources Action Programme found that salad, fruit and bread were most commonly wasted and 60% of all dumped food was untouched. But we have no reason to be smug in the UK as our obesity epidemic continues apace.

Anyone who has the propensity to overweight does not usually suffer from lack of knowledge. Most people in the so called civilised Western World know that a healthy balanced diet consists of limited quantities of a mix of the main food groups. Even if their education doesn’t stretch that far – they know that large amounts of fatty and sweet foods make you fat. The one thing most of these people have in common is a lack of a stop button. It’s so easy to just keep eating if a delicious, probably ‘sinful’ food is still on your plate. Even low fat foods in large quantities become high fat by sheer volume.

So back to KISS. Initiatives in the UK have so far had little effect on obesity among the population. The ‘food police’ go through children’s lunchboxes at school to remove offending items such a crisps. But the point is – a small packet of crisps at lunchtime, accompanied by a sandwich with a healthy filling and maybe some small quantity of something sweet for a child of healthy weight is absolutely fine. It’s the quantity of these foods that counts.

If providing smaller portions can reach a group of potentially obese people who like to eat fast, fatty food in large quantities, then this has got to be worth a try.

Education, incentives and brow-beating don’t appear to work so hitting the problem at source could have some effect.

And while we’re at it – wouldn't it be great if any re-writing of the Health and Social Care Bill keeps the KISS principle at it’s heart too.

I live in hope.


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