The Men who Made us Thin: Episode two review. Last week in Episode one Jacques Peretti looked at the diet industry and how diets just don't work. The weight loss industry did not come out smelling of roses. You can read the Episode one review HERE. This week, in "The men who made us Thin: Episode 2" shown on BBC2, he has been turning his gaze upon exercise and fitness. This time he was speaking to the fitness fanatics who encourage us to "go for the burn", and the drugs companies who are peddling diet pills. He also spoke with legendary American fitness expert and guru Richard Simmons who is always good value for money when it comes to entertainment.
Peretti has made it his mission to travel and interview the people behind our lives and this week was no different.
Why does the food industry put so much money into promoting exercise?
60% of us are overweight. In the middle of this obesity epidemic, the weight loss, diet and exercise industry is booming. So many people are desperate to lose weight. Attending a fat burning training class in London, Jacques took part in a spinning class to find out how much effort is needed to lose weight through exercise. One hour of this extreme spinning burns off the calories in two mars bars, it takes a lot of effort to lose those calories.
Many people join gyms thinking that a couple of hours a week will do the trick. This helps the industry to be worth £4Billion a year. Professor Wilkin recorded the activity of hundreds of children and found that after vigorous activity the children compensated with resting so the overall response was the same. This has also been found in atheletes.
In fact 75% of the calories that we burn are during what's called our resting rate. So, no matter how much you exercise, the calorie burning effect depends on your metabolism. It has been seen time and time again that this is very hard to change.
There are 40000 fitness instructors in the UK. We find that we almost feel hard wired into thinking it is a good way to lose weight. Of course getting fit is really good for you. Doing any exercise is better than doing none ! But exercise alone will not help you to lose weight.
Back in the USA in the 1950's John Maier observed teenage girls to study and document their behavior. He looked at two sets of 28 girls. However, his studies didn't take into account the fact that those already overweight may struggle to lose it, and those already active perhaps had a higher metabolic rate.
He worked very hard to spread the idea that exercise was the way to lose weight. His word spread and he became a goverment advisor to three US presidents. His opinions carried so much weight they entered the blood stream of America and became public policy. Yet the study was carried out on just 56 female participants.
He gave a stamp of approval to something that people wanted to hear. People loved exercising and now they thought they could lose weight too. By the end of the 1970's this was the way that people were thinking.
Richard Simmons, who himself dropped over 100 pounds in weight became the first Guru, selling books and even running weight loss cruises. "Say farewell to fat" was his chant.
Forty years later he is still in business. Jacques went out to meet him and fell under his charm, and that of his clients, bowled over by their enthusiasm. He really was the first to start linking exercise to weight loss. He says that he is also helping people to get more self worth and to be fair he really does understand how overweight people feel when exercising and so is able to offer more than just a simple workout. He has so much energy that people are drawn to it and they really do lose weight. In many ways the work he does acts as therapy to people and they really do respond to it.
What happened is that he showed there was money to be made from exercise and slimming.
In 1982 the Jane Fonda workout on VHS became the biggest selling exercise video of all time. Stuart Karl was a businessman who persuaded her to get involved. Being able to exercise in your home changed things for many people. The idea came from his wife Debbie, who didn't want to go out in front of other people. Jane Fonda had written a book about exercise already and it had been a hit. This was the next logical step with the video recording becoming more and more popular. It cost $59.99 and you could do it in your own home. by 1984 it was the biggest selling video tape, and sold all around the world.
Gyms in the UK at this time were almost like a new factory floor and became more and more popular. When Princess Diana started going to a gym pictures were sold and went around the world. LA Fitness now has 80 gyms in the UK and Fred Turock bought the first club and built up the chain. The chain expanded very quickly. Gyms started to market themselves as places to lose weight. Of course to do this you need to go five days a week and work out for an hour and a half each time...however, most people of course don't do this. This misconception about weight loss is a problem for the gym industry but also of course is something that helps them to sell their product.
Of course, taking exercise is always a good thing. It will do you lots of good. It just may not be a way that you can lose weight.
Last year much was made of the Olympic sponsorship by companies such as Mcdonalds. Not really a great match I am sure you will agree. The largest macdonalds in the world was build right next to the Olympic stadium. Coke, Mcdonalds and Cadbury put a great deal of money into their offerings. Of course many of these companies associate themselves with other sports too.
The US market for sports sponsorship is the largest in the world. The connection between sport and the food industry has grown and grown. The food industry promotes the idea of exercise. If someone was to suggest that sport should not be sponsored by food companies they can point to the fact that they talk about people exercising. Let's not lose sight of the health benefits of exercise. Just don't forget it may not mean that you lose weight. That is the issue that means the two ideas should not be linked as much as they are.
The Pharmaceutical industry is one of the biggest in the world. They employ some of the smartest people on the planet...surely they can keep us thin. Meeting with experts Peretti met Gustav Ando from IHS who explained that defining the obesity problem as an epidemic has made a big difference in terms of helping to boost sales. For the drug companies this dream of a pill that makes us thin is the best thing since sliced bread. Years ago amphetamines were prescribed as a slimming pill. They gave their users more energy but the highly addictive nature led to them being banned as a slimming aid. After this there was a race to develop slimming drugs. In the 1980's slimming pills went on the market, but in the late 1980's physicians started to connect health issues to the drugs being taken. Despite these problems the US FDA gave its blessing to the same drugs Phen Fen and Redux. This went along with a huge marketing campain. Shortly after patients started to see problems with pulmonary hypertension. Patients began to die. Dr Rich, who saw this went in the media to explain that people should not be taking this. He was warned by a senior drug executive that he should not be speaking to the media and if he did he would face problems. Months later many more patients were showing signs of heart disease. Legal cases began and it was shown that there were many more patients with these problems. There are still patients who suffer now and took it for just 12 months back in the 1990s. Liability has never been admitted.
Despite this the race for an obesity drug was still on. At Glaxo SmithCline an antidepressant drug seemed to also help people to lose weight. Wellbutrin was the drug, and it was licensced for treating depression. To sell it for weight loss would create a new "Off Label" market for the drug. It was illegal, but getting doctors to prescribe it was a different way to get this out. GSK hired a PR firm to even say that it helped people with their sex lives. They bribed doctors to prescribe it, paying millions to Doctors to go on speaking tours to promote it. Some of these doctors didn't even need to practice any more. Most of this went on in the USA where it all came to light.
Sir Steven Bloom is looking at the issues of weight loss drugs. The pressure to find a way out of the obesity epidemic has contributed to a race to create a drug. Accomplia was approved a few years ago in the UK. The drug had many side effects. One patient that Peretti spoke to took the drug for eight weeks rather than go for surgery. The drug was linked to an increased risk of depression and suicide. Her tongue started to swell up as part of the side effects. She was unable to sleep. She had spasms. The drug was psycho active so was going to affect many other things than weight loss. There had been reports of suicides taking place during the trials. In 2008 the drug was withdrawn from sale.
There is now more trepidation on the part of the industry to enter the market. There is only one on the market today. Xenecal, or orlistat does not work on the brain. This doesn't mean it is free from side effects. One patient Peretti spoke to took the drug for six weeks. It takes all the fat away from any food you eat. You leak it out of yourself. It can shatter people's confidence, these side effects were seen as worse than the benefits.
We need to overcome millions of years of evolution. Winter had a lack of food, we ate more in the summer to compensate. But now it is summer all the year round for food. Food is constantly available. We now need to address the consequences. As people get bigger so do the profits available to those who look to find an answer to the problems.
Find out about the Slimmer You- No more Diets programme HERE
Lots of help and advice to lose weight HERE