What Are We Feeding Our Kids? – 2 June 2021 – 2/6/2021 – Wednesday – BBC
Is ultra-processed food causing obesity in children, and could it even be addictive? Dr Chris van Tulleken investigates as he undergoes a gruelling self-experiment that even shocks the scientists.
Across the world, childhood obesity rates have risen tenfold in 50 years. In the UK, 21 per cent of children are living with obesity when they leave primary school – that is the highest it has ever been. Despite decades of trying, why do we seem unable to tackle this problem?
In the last 40 years, our shopping trolleys have been taken over by ultra-processed food, and it now accounts for the majority of our calories – for children it is 64 per cent, and teens eat 67 per cent. It is cheap, convenient and, alarmingly, scientists know very little about exactly how it affects children’s bodies. Increasing numbers of public health experts think we are eating far too much and are worried because when eaten in high proportion, it is linked with obesity. France and Canada have become so concerned, they recommend people limiting their ultra-processed food consumption.
Ultra-processed food is now so embedded in UK diets, it is hard to see the impact of it clearly. But can we learn from places where it has been introduced much more recently? Dr Chris travels to the Amazon Basin and discovers that in rural Brazil when consumption of ultra-processed food doubled, obesity rates tripled. The arrival of this food in these remote regions did not happen by accident. A floating supermarket that delivered packaged convenience food could have contributed to the dramatic change in diets.
Dr Chris asks why this food can be so irresistible. Could it even be addictive? There are no clinical studies showing the effect on children’s bodies, so he experiments on himself. For one month he eats the same diet eaten by one in five of us – 80 per cent ultra-processed food. The results are utterly shocking and surprise even the scientists he is working with.
Dr Chris is concerned the effects on children whose brains and bodies are more vulnerable could be even greater. He concludes by asking if ultra-processed food could be a major reason why more and more children are living with obesity.
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