Poor Diet: More Dangerous Than Climate Change?

In 2019, poor diet overtook tobacco as the leading cause of preventable, premature death and disease worldwide. It’s already costing governments (ours very much included) trillions every year and it’s only getting worse – at an alarming pace.

Type 2 Diabetes, for example, didn’t feature at all in the ten most common causes of death worldwide in 2000. Fast-forward to 2016 and it’s flying up the charts, already above TB and road injury on its way to the un-coveted Number 1 spot.

And while excellent to see HIV/AIDS and pre-term birth complications drop out of the list, it’s depressing to see them replaced by a traditional ally that’s switched sides. Especially something that, in theory at least, is so easily preventable.

And yet. The healthcare funding debate still focuses on treatment once things have gone wrong. Operation waiting times play better than a pledge to spend more on keeping people well. Seeing as prevention should present as the ultimate win-win, this is beyond bizarre. Nobody wants to get ill; the NHS doesn’t want more people to treat; governments claim to deal in sustainable thinking.

And yet. Diet-Related Chronic Disease (DRCD) now stands right alongside Climate Change as a red flag for humanity. These challenges are intimately intertwined, as healthier food choices almost always benefit the environment. Both crises represent a very present danger. Both, with the right political will and public support, can be averted. But even if we were, somehow, to get it together to arrest global warming, the self-inflicted harm we do through food looks set to out-last it.

So why do we find it so hard to make the changes that we know will work?

With climate change, it’s easier to understand. I’m not the real culprit: what difference will I make? Improving our eating choices should be a great deal more straightforward, the ‘what’s in it for me?’ answers immediately obvious. You’ll live longer, in less pain, at less cost to your dependents. You’ll come to agree (like sugar in tea) that good tastes better and, with far less waste, even ends up costing you less cash.

So why do we still find it so hard to make the changes that we know would work?

The culprits aren’t hard to find. Yes, it’s each of us, but it’s also our governments, mired in undemocratic political complicity with unfettered free-market capitalism. Or, to use its snappier nickname, Big Food.

We’ll save that for the next course.

   

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