Britain’s children are in the grip of a lethal habit, one that can literally rewire their brains to resemble those of people addicted to alcohol, cigarettes or drugs.
The cause is the food they’re eating – specifically ultra-processed foods such as chicken nuggets, pizzas, frozen chips, and many popular cereals. Only the Government can tackle this.
Our children’s world is saturated with these UPFs, but we are barely aware of it. Often they are disguised by bright packaging and ‘virtuous’ labels, such as ‘low fat’ or ‘low sugar’.
To find out whether something falls into the UPF category, consider this: If it’s wrapped in plastic and has an ingredient you wouldn’t find in a normal kitchen, it’s likely to be ultra-processed – and that will include many ‘healthy’ sandwiches and low-calorie snacks.
Britain’s children are in the grip of a lethal habit, one that can literally rewire their brains to resemble those of people addicted to alcohol, cigarettes or drugs. The cause is the food they’re eating – specifically ultra-processed foods such as chicken nuggets, pizzas, frozen chips, and many popular cereals
These products are cheap, convenient and popular. But they are also condemning millions of our young to miserably shortened lives blighted by obesity, cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
If we could put warning labels on UPFs in the same way as cigarettes, we could stop these life-threatening products being considered a normal part of eating.
I am not being alarmist. As a medical doctor and researcher who tried living on UPFs as a human guinea pig for my recent BBC documentary What Are We Feeding Our Kids?, I know the physical and mental harm they wreak.
After a month I piled on more than a stone (my BMI tipping into ‘overweight’) and worse, my brain actually changed. That’s because these foods are formulated so that they foster an addictive response.
As a medical doctor and researcher who tried living on UPFs as a human guinea pig for my recent BBC documentary What Are We Feeding Our Kids?, I know the physical and mental harm they wreak. Pictured: Professor Rachel Batterham and Dr Chris van Tulleken on the documentary
More than one in five children is now living with obesity when they leave primary school, the highest rate ever. And now a landmark piece of research has revealed incontrovertibly how this youth-obesity plague is tied to eating UPFs.
The study by Imperial College London – published in the highly authoritative journal JAMA Pediatrics – found that British children now get on average 60 per cent of their calories from these foods. Crucially the 17-year study of 9,000 children, led by Christopher Millett, professor of Public Health at Imperial, showed that the higher the proportion of UPFs children consume, the greater their risk of becoming overweight or obese.
Scientists call this a dose-response relationship. Eating UPFs has alarming parallels with smoking. The more you smoke, the greater your risk of lung cancer. The more UPF in your diet, the greater your risk of obesity.
UPFs bypass the body’s natural feelings of hunger and fullness so we eat more, as a study from America’s National Institute of Health has found.
They contain very few ‘real’ ingredients. Instead they are constructed with industrially processed ingredients that have multiple additives to make them more tantalising, including flavourings and colours.
And this can rewire your brain’s reward systems to make you effectively addicted to eating the stuff.
More than one in five children is now living with obesity when they leave primary school, the highest rate ever
Anyone who has tried to stop a child from eating a bowl of chocolate-flavoured cereal will know what happens. You get the same level of fury as you would if you tried to snatch a cigarette packet away from a 40-a-day smoker.
The food manufacturers consistently try to deny the problem by saying that eating UPFs is not causing the rise in obesity. They argue that UPF eaters who pile on weight happen to have other bad lifestyle habits, such as a lack of exercise. This research clearly nails that as untrue.
We must now acknowledge evidence and act on it. The answer is not to add even more nutritional detail onto packaging in the form of traffic lights. We already have a surfeit of this, and all it has achieved is to leave people confused and unable to tell real food from UPF.
If food companies can get customers consuming high levels of UPFs when young, they may have them snared for life. The industrial manufacturers are effectively creating whole generations of UPF addicts.
We now know we can’t blame this on a lack of willpower. And given the fact that we are constantly surrounded by child-magnetising UPF advertising, packaging and products, we can’t blame poor parenting.
We must have proper regulation.
The Imperial College researchers are asking for UPF products to be labelled as UPF. I agree wholeheartedly, as I do with their call for all UPF packaging to carry a warning that the contents are scientifically associated with weight gain, cancer and metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
UPF manufacturers are currently still allowed to present their products as fun, as treats and even as ‘healthy’. It has to stop – for the sake of our children.
This post first appeared on Daily mail
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