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The Men who Made us Thin Episode four review BBC 2

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The Men who made us thin Episode four review and statistics.

These days you do not need to rely on conventional ways to lose weight. A quick search on the internet will reveal many ways that you can “get slim quick” from toothpaste, to diet soaps and lollipops, magnetic fat reducing rings and many other dubious looking items.

One is called the KE diet. Its ad makes it clear that you lose weight fast. Invented in 2006 by an Italian doctor who has treated more than 90000 patients. You don’t eat proper food for ten days, just a liquid diet. It has now arrived in the UK. A visit to Harley Street can find you taking part. The doctor takes control of your body for ten days. The treatment costs £350. You can receive as few as 250 calories a day on this diet. The “food” comes in through a feeding tube inserted in the nose. You then carry a bag around with food being delivered through a nose tube. Of course, there is no guarantee that the weight will stay off in the long term. It is hardly surprising.

What drives someone to put a tube into their stomach and have food pumped down it?

For 60 years the weight loss industry has profited from and fuelled our obsession with being thinner. The problem is that many of the solutions do not work long term. Depsite everything we are fatter now than we were in the 1960s. This means people will now listen to anyone.


Kevin Trudea a marketing man has turned his book into a profitable concern despite no training in weight loss. It is based on a discredited diet from the 1950s. It has landed him in a lot of trouble, but he steams on. His clever sales pitch is that he is an outsider battling against the system and battling the authorities. He is fighting a $37 Million dollar fine related to his book. His message is that government don’t want us to be thin has meant that millions have bought his book.

Jaques Peretti met him to discuss the fact he is accused of being a shyster selling snake oil. He says that 90% of the people who bought his book have had life changing experiences. Despite this there are many reports that this is not the case. Many people have had bad experiences. He was asked about why the medical establishment didn’t embrace him with open arms. His response was that industry wants to make money and very powerful people do not like his books being published.

He has been so successful because the market it still wide open. Despite this failure the weight loss industry goes from strength to strength. There is a bigger market than ever before.

Once upon a time the core of the weight loss industry was housewives in the USA and UK. Now that has changed and it is in the developing world that real money can be made. Travelling to Latin America Jacques went to Brazil to find out how big the weight loss industry is getting.

Brazil is set to host a great deal of sport in the coming years but the country is ballooning. In Sao Paolo around 100000 more people are classified as obese each year. The newest book industry is weight loss surgery. Every year the number of people attending surgery increases by ten per cent. Since there is no NHS in Brazil patients pay about $20000 to have the operation. The doctor he spoke to does four procedures a day.

Attending a local slimming club he saw how similar they are to the UK. The one thing that stuck out was that the problems seem to stem from the increase in junk food in the country. The difference between Brazil and other places is that they blame the fast food, in other countries people often blame themselves. In Brazil a Bog Mac is seen as aspirational and a sign of success not as cheap fast food.

Western food is reaching the most remote parts of the country. Nestle have a boat that delivers packaged food to people living alongside the Amazon.

Prof Carlos Montero spoke about how people are no longer getting foods that provide the correct ingredients for people. The new taste and lack of goodness seem to be the key to seeing why the obesity epidemic is getting worse. We struggle to stay thin because of the food that surrounds us.

Back in North London it is easy to see the dilemmas we face when looking for food. Humans are responding to the environment and making some unhealthy choices. The promotion and availability of junk food are making things much harder for us. Getting thin means we need to think about what we eat and take on the food industry to make a change.

The food industry is aware of this critique and their challenge is how to respond. They know they are in the firing line and need to think about their image. Food companies have been looking for products they can sell us that will help us become thinner. In 2006 Nestle and Coca Cola came together to produce a green tea called Enviga that would help people lose weight. At the centre for science in public interest they explored the claims that the drink would help you burn more calories. The claim was that it would burn 106 extra calories per day just by drinking it! Eventually the companies stopped using these claims. They also had to add labels saying that the product does not promote weight loss. Now the product has practically disappeared. Coke say today it was designed to compliment exercise!

This product showed how hard it is to find that weight loss product. At this time Pepsico wanted to find a way to help them produce products that were good for you. With a new CEO it was time for change. How would they make their brands much healthier? They wanted to be Pepsi with a purpose. One of the decisions taken was not to advertise in the Superbowl. They launched a new campaign talking about sustainability. Share went down and investors were not happy. Pepsi were forced to change tack and go back to basics. Hiring Beyonce to help push their products back in the superbowl as the main sponsor. Investors were satisfied.

In 2009 Pepsi bought Quaker oats. They invested in Oatso simple a spin off product. The marketing is supposed to show how it is healthy.  There are a whole range of products as a spin off. Now only 70% of the product is oats. So 30% isn’t. Now a quarter of the calories in it come from sugar. How healthy is that?

In March Coke put out a 2 minute add all about what they were going to do to help tackle obesiety. They want to show us they are part of the solution. There are people who work within the food companies who think they can make a difference. But, ultimately the companies are bound to their profits and maximising income for shareholders. It comes down to money. There are observers of the food industry who think something else is going on.

Years ago tobacco companies were still refusing to take responsibility for their product. Even in 1994 this denial was still going on. Critics think the food industry is behaving in the same way.

A document created by tobacco giant Philip Morris talks about lessons to be learnt. Company CEO Jeffrey Bible was paying a lot of attention. They also owned food giant Kraft and wanted to know if they could be next. He was warning them that they should be prepared to fight hard, when fighting hard is what is best for the business. The documents reveal that executives were made aware of the similarities between tobacco and food.

The food industry is trying hard not to be seen like the tobacco industry. The tactics created by them have now been adopted by the food industry. Distort the science, create front groups to do your dirty work, set up fake groups with wholesome names, aggressive marketing of products to children. The script seems almost identical.

This parallel has been growing in popularity.

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Gavin Partington of the UK soft drinks association says that there is no analogy. He says one cigarette is bad for your health, one soft drink is not.

If we are going to slim down the population we need food companies to work on our behalf. But, will corporate culture allow that to happen.

The ex CEO of Nestle Jean Paul, says that there are similarities in the way the two industries see the problems. The food industry is running scared against legislation. If he is right then the food industry will fight legislation, and this is exactly what is happening across the globe.

The most bitter struggles are happening in America, where it is all about soft drinks. Soda is very popular indeed and there is clearly also a weight problem. One man took on the giants of the soft drinks industry. Dr Jeff Ritterman wanted to introduce a tax on soft drinks. He didn’t reckon on how hard the soft drinks industry would fight the idea. They bought up all the advertising spaces with negative advertising in Richmond where this was happening.  Within weeks glossy ads appeared on TV with trusted individuals speaking out against the tax. Funds from industry poured into the town. About four million dollars was spent by the drinks industry and the tax was defeated.

Soda taxes have now been defeated in more than 20 states in the USA. The money talked.

The biggest and most expensive battle of all was fought in New York. Mayor Bloomberg decided to ban drinks of a certain size rather than to add a tax. The limit was a drink with two portion sizes. The drinks industry challenged it in court saying it was unfair. In March the ban was thrown up by a judge, yet again the drinks companies had won.

America isn’t the only place where there is a battle against legislation. In the UK we have our own battles. The soft drinks industry does not like the idea of taxes on their products. They say it is a problem with society not the drinks industry. Tax is just the latest skirmish in the battle against obesity.

Many believe the real way to make an impact is to focus our efforts on the next generation. It is tough to get people who are already obese to lose weight. We could focus on the next generation. What does that mean in practice? How do we teach our children to live healthier lives?

One school is trailing a way to help their children to eat better. The class that eat the most fruit and veg get stickers and rewards in a fun way for eating the most healthy way. At each stage of lunchtime the children are nudged towards eating healthier options. So Veg comes first in the line, this way they choose the vegetables first and they do seem to enjoy it. After three months vegetable consumption in the school rose by 160%.  The children are making the choices that are more healthy for them without being pushed. The children do seem to love it. It is part of a scheme called food dudes and really is making a difference. They are using a lot of the ideas from the fast food industry and using them for good. The messages are reinforced outside the dining room. Whatever happens in the future the children are eating much better in school.

Even harder to manage is what the children are eating outside of school. A recent report has shown that a series of interventions are needed and they all need help from the government. Unfortunately nothing has happened in terms of a response from government, I wonder when this will come? Because of corporate influence on the government it seems hard for them to make these changes.

Britain is still the fattest country in Europe. We are left in the hands of the weight loss industry. For a while it looked as if drugs were the answer, today there are many options you can try, some more extreme that others, yet we still await a practical long term answer that can spread for everyone.

For decades the weight loss industry promised to make us thin and yet despite failure we keep coming back for more. When will this change.

If you have enjoyed the series and found that you have learnt interesting new ideas you may want to read more about my Slimmer You No More Diets Programme. It really is time to give them up for good !

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