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This week Jacques Peretti continues his exploration of weight, fitness and diet industry practices. If you missed the previous blog posts on episode one of The Men who made us Thin and the Episode Two - The Men who made us Thin you can still read them by clicking on the links. The statistics make for some interesting and concerning thinking.
In this week's episode Jacques Peretti continues his examination of the weight-loss industry and discovers how the World Health Organisation's recognition of obesity as an epidemic provided millions of new customers for the industry. He also explores some of the latest developments in bariatric surgery (gastric bands and surgical stomach reductions) and asks how far these trends will go. He also looks at the origins of the weight-loss surgery industry and meets Dr Mathias `Mal' Fobi, who reveals how some Hollywood celebrities he operated on pretended they shed the pounds because of nutritional programmes or diets. It aired on BBC Two at 9pm on Thursday 22nd August, and is available on the BBC Iplayer for seven days. This week he looks at some of the extreme measures that people are prepared to go to in order to lose weight.
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How do we know if we are to fat or to thin asks Jacques this week? BMI or body mass index.
The index has its critics but because it is a simple calculation doctors around the world rely on it. His own index of 27 is the British average. Over a third of people are in the overweight category. These are the people who present the biggest market to the companies that want to help us lose that weight.
Surgery was always for the obese, now it available for overweight people in increasing numbers. Dr. Thomas Lavin in the United States explained how his surgery can shrink a stomach by stitching it up in 30 minutes under general anaesthetic. As Jacques pointed out, he can pinch more than an inch so would qualify for this endoscopic procedure despite not be anything more than slightly overweight. The Doctor seems to be on to a very good thing. As he says "This is America, you can have me take care of you" It costs $12000.
So, how come people want to take such drastic action?
There was a major shift in the USA and reclassification of weight guidelines which meant that millions of people were suddenly overweight. Effectively Twenty Nine million Americans were made fat overnight, after the report by Professor Philip James. Part of the problem is a fear that comes from this new way of looking at the statistics. Most of these statistics came from insurance companies.
The new BMI cut off point is now 25 from 1998. This is now the global policy adopted by the World Health Organisation. If you have a BMI of 25-30 you were now classified as overweight. You needed to get thin. or did you? It has been speculated that this was a political decision and it targets the wrong group who then waste money and effort when they are in the range of 25-27 where many people say there would be no issues.
The IOTF study was funded by...drug companies. To the tune of over one million pounds. Is it right that the world understanding of obesity should have been funded by drugs companies, bearing in mind that the boon for the drugs industry can be billions of pounds? Asking Philip James why he took money from the drug industry he defended this by saying the drugs companies are not trying to make us fat, they are trying to make us better.
The customer base for the weight loss industry had now exploded. The BMI decision was a key moment in our understaning of what means fat and what means thin. Suddenly there were many more consumers for the diet industry. The industry went into overdrive promising people a better, slimmer life.
In 1997 the business was worth about thirty million dollars. In ten years that doubled. The food industry increased the number of products that were there to help weight loss. This was a huge opportunity for the food loss industry to find the right brand for people.
Kellogs were right at the front of this revolution. Special K is something that we all remember seeing adverts for. It had previously hinted at weight loss properties, but by the end of the 90's it was a brand targetted at women and dieting. The women portrayed as aspirational and attainable. Special K was seen as a goldmine. Special K was then marketed as a diet with a two week challenge. Two bowls a day over a two week period meant that you could lose weight. Consumers were now eating lots more. The brand is now worth 1.7 Billion dollars globally.
Many products used a new magic ingredient. Artifical sweeteners. More than two thousand new products appeared with the sweetener in the first two years after the BMI index was lowered. Sweeteners had been around for a long time, but hadn't always been added to mainstream foods.
Tilly Lewis was a pioneer in canning products and diet foods. She saw a gap in the market and filled it by adding a chemical sweetener. She created a 21 day plan with all her products. Her message was that you could have what you wanted but the food had been fixed with sweeteners. This was a pivotal choice moment...diet or non diet foods.
In the 90's Splenda came out and along with this and other products there was suddenly a great deal more of these products. It's easy to find products with sweeteners in them. These foods can help us to lose weight, or do they just make the industry millions?
In fact, research has shown that rats who had artifical sweeteners actually put on weight! At Yale University Prof. Dana Small started to research this further. Her team wanted to find out if using sweeteners changed our response to real sugar. She found that in fact people were eating more sugar after using them. You are better off with the real sugar! They are treated as if they are safe but there is much we do not know about what they are doing to us. She herself says she wouldn't let her own children use them at all.
The brains of people who use sweeteners show a weaker response to sugar according to her research. Something to mull over!
How much was celebrity culture fueling the search for slimming? Our culture now celebrates thinness and magazines are full of famous people who are getting thin. Our desire became to get thin like they were. If not, then it was open season on you. Fat is seen as a lack of control and that you have let yourself go.
Danny Hayward stages stories about celebrities losing weight. He sets up the story and makes the photo happen. Those photos can be worth tens of thousands of pounds. He works with celebrities planning campaigns, so they shoot a picture of them fat when they put weight on and then they shoot them taking the weight off. This yoyo soap opera is planned and executed. He worked with the late Jade Goody and explained that she made hundreds of thousands of pounds doing this.
What if there was a way you could eat all you want and not put on weight?
In Malmo in Sweden we met Mike who has come up with a way for you to do this. Last year he was 125 KG, over 17 stone now he weighs about 11 stone. This he did by trialing a new procedure called the spiral assist. A tube inside you which connects to the stomach. Then it removes the food after the stomach. So, he still eats huge meals, three a day. He chose this because he could eat what he wanted. Make no mistake, he is overeating. He just flushes out the food afterwards. It is an extreme solution. About a third of the food gets flushed out, twenty minutes after eating. He connects the pipe to his belly and it flushes out into a toilet. It looks awful and yet he would rather do this than just put aside a third of the food on his plate in the first place. He does this three times a day. Is this what we will all be using in twenty years time? This treatment is being trialed so who knows where it will lead?
Los Angeles became one of the main centres for weight loss over the years. Bariatric surgery seems to be the only effective weight loss method for the very clinically obese. Looking at the future of weight loss surgery Jacques spoke to Mal Fobi who performed the gastric surgery on Roseanne Barr in the USA which really led to its widespread use. In the US you can get surgery at such low BMI's as ones well under 30 which used to be seen as a safe figure. He can earn $7500 doing an operation so of course he wants to see the BMI come down and is happy to carry out surgery for people who perhaps do not need it. Would it be better to change the way that you eat and exercise instead?
I have to say that this series has shown so much that I wish I could just show it to all my hypnotherapy clients. You do not need to have sessions with me. Watch these shows and then spend some time thinking. Then decide what you really want to do!
Never forget that you can improve your health by exercising. There are thin people who are not fit, and people who are more overweight but much fitter. Don't focus on the weight alone, you need to think about general levels of fitness and health which are often more important.
If you would like to speak to me about weight loss and exercise motivation just call 07980 233160 or email email@example.com