The BMJ Today: Food everywhere

sally_carterI visited an old friend recently and we realised that we’d spent two hours of the evening watching a television channel devoted to cookery programmes, while eating. Food is everywhere as two news stories in The BMJ show us. MPs on the parliamentary health committee were told, “People are exposed to an ‘astonishing’ amount of easily accessible and available food in the United Kingdom,” during an evidence session on its inquiry into the health effects of physical activity and diet. 

One of the experts giving evidence, Susan Jebb, professor of diet and population health at the University of Oxford, said “We need to look at the availability, accessibility, and affordability of food because, in spite of recent price rises, the reality is that food today is very, very cheap.”

Jebb spoke again at a Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum held at the Royal Aeronautical Society. She chairs the food network of a “responsibility deal,” under which food manufacturers and retailers agree to sell healthier products if the government refrains from legislation. As the story explains, “the deal has been criticised as being soft on the food industry and easily manipulated, but Susan Jebb . . . put up a stout defence of its record.”

However, “Graham MacGregor, a professor who has campaigned on salt and sugar in food, disagreed. He said that the ‘responsibility deal’ formulated by Andrew Lansley, the former health secretary, had been a disaster—delaying progress on salt reduction begun by the Food Standards Agency and costing, by his reckoning, 6000 lives. The food industry was slowly poisoning people and the responsibility deal was rubbish, he said.”

Is the food industry really poisoning us? Jamy Ard’s review “assesses the evidence on the efficacy of treatment for obesity delivered in primary care in the United States,” and it doesn’t paint a rosy picture.

It’s not all bad news though. There’s good food out there too. A prospective cohort study by Raphaëlle Varraso and colleagues investigates the association between the Alternate Healthy Eating Index 2010 (AHEI-2010)—a measure of diet quality—and the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) among US women and men. The findings “support the importance of a healthy diet in multi-interventional programs to prevent COPD.”

Perhaps lifestyle choices can save us, but until then I’ve got cookery programmes to watch, recipes and food magazines to browse, and cakes to bake. I don’t even have to leave the house to get the ingredients. I can order them online.

Sally Carter is the lead technical editor, Education, The BMJ.