Why the world is getting fatter and fatter

Jacques Peretti investigates obesity.
Jacques Peretti investigates obesity.
BBC World News

Around the world, obesity levels are rising. More people are overweight than undernourished, and in a gripping new documentary series produced for the BBC Jacques Peretti, a reporter, writer and broadcaster, investigates how decisions made forty years ago are still influencing the way we eat now.

In an article for BBC Jacques says "Contrary to popular belief, we as a race have not become greedier or less active in recent years. But one thing that has changed is the food we eat, and, more specifically, the sheer amount of sugar we ingest."

Test yourself: Am I eating too much sugar?

The series is broadcast on BBC World News (DSTV channel 400) from 5 April to 13 April 2014 with repeats from 19 - 20 April.

Health24.com wanted to know more and, in an exclusive interview for us, Peretti explains some of the salient points of the series.

Q: What is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and why is it so widely used?
HFCS is a highly versatile sweetener that is cheaper than sugar, so it was quickly adopted by the food industry in order to increase profits.

Read: Why HFCS makes us fat and stupid

Q: What are the dangers of HFCS and has it contributed to "sugar addiction"?
The high sugar content in HFCS has increased our tolerance for sugar. Our bodies also have a greater appetite for sweeter foods. This is a key contributor to the high obesity rate.

Read:Why too much sugar is bad for you.

Supersized meals

Q: How did we fall into the trap of value meals, king-size snacks and multi-buy promotions?

As consumers we enjoy getting more, and bundling food together through deals appears to be of great value to us. This has hugely contributed to obesity by training us to eat more.

Read:Tips on how to downsize your meals

Our idea of healthy foods

Q: Foods such as muesli, juices and low-fat yoghurts are all considered healthy foods. What are they really?

Many low fat or healthy brands are loaded with more sugar than the full fat version. Healthy food became a huge market when obesity arrived and the food industry has capitalised on what it helped create in the first place.

Advertising and obesity

Q: What is behind "traffic light labelling" and why did the food industry lobby so hard against it?
Traffic light labelling is colour-coded nutrition labels that indicate at a glance the proportions of fat and sugar content in a product.

Traffic lights offered a simple, clear system for understanding healthy and unhealthy foods. The food industry lobbied hard to stop it from happening because they would cease to have control over how their products were seen by the public, and products marketed as healthy couldn't suddenly be shown to be anything but.

The confusing business of labelling foods

Q: Why are children targeted in food marketing campaigns, and how big is the problem?

Children are a key market: you create a consumer for life, and children affect the family's eating decisions. Children are far more susceptible to advertising through association with celebrities but their real role was in being the market to pioneer snacking throughout the day. This is another huge contributor to obesity.

Read: A closer look at television food marketing to children

Q: How do food marketers and supermarkets market food to consumers and how are producers "involved"?
Supermarkets entirely control what producers supply, but to what degree they reflect demand, or lead it, is debatable.

The future of obesity

Q: How are developing nations worst hit by mass food marketing and produce?
Developing nations face a triple onslaught from the food industry: fast food seems aspirational and new, it then threatens the indigenous cuisine, and the sheer efficiency of the marketing machine used to promote it makes it almost impossible to fight.

Governments are happy to take the tax revenue from food, but they don't think about the medical cost from obesity, five or ten years down the line.

Read:Obesity is on the rise in SA. Where will it end?

Q: Who is going to win in the next 10 to 20 years – fast food outlets or organic markets?
In obese mature nations such as the US and in Europe, increased pressure to tax sugar will bring healthier eating, but profits lost will be offset by the fast food fortune made in the emerging and far bigger markets where obesity is also rocketing: South America, China, India and South Africa.

Image by BBC World News

Watch Episode 1 of 3

Read more:
Is your lifestyle affecting your lifespan?
Is sugar a baddie?
Eating out can hurt heart your health
Read Jacques Peretti's blog

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