09 May 2007

Malnutrition epidemic in UK

British eating habits are not merely sad and revolting, they are lethal as well, according to the Independent on Sunday.
The two most shocking facts in the articles were that malnutrition costs the National Health Service a whopping £7.3 billion, more than twice as much as obesity, and that two-thirds of women (and nearly a quarter of preschoolers) are deficient in riboflavin.
Let’s look at that again: TWO-THIRDS of women are lacking in riboflavin, holy shit!
So I did a bit of research into this to put it into context. Riboflavin, or vitamin B-2, is a water soluble nutrient that is only stored in minute amounts, so we need to be pretty much constantly eating things such as yeast, liver, oily fish, milk, eggs, beans, asparagus, broccoli and spinach to maintain proper levels.
So what, some might say. Well according to http://www.emedicine.com/med/topic2031.htm, “Riboflavin is important for energy production, enzyme function, and normal fatty acid and amino acid synthesis and is necessary for the reproduction of glutathione, a free radical scavenger.” According to numerous sites, the symptoms include:
•cracked lips,
•cracked corners of the mouth,
•sore tongue,
•numbness in the hands
•oily and scaly skin lesions on the scrotum, vulva or between lips and nose,
•premature wrinkles,
•bloodshot and light sensitive eyes, and
•stunted growth in children
In other words, if you don’t get enough riboflavin, you’re going to be a sickly munter.
But the news gets worse. Riboflavin deficiency is a marker for other deficiencies. So if you are deficient in riboflavin you are also deficient in a host of other nutrients. And in 75% of cases, malnutrition is not identified.
One thing to note in this is that malnutrition is not the same as being underfed. I would guess that a lot of people suffering from riboflavin deficiency and associated nutrients are fat.
This is not a blind guess. When I moved to the UK I was struck by how many people in my office had pale, crinkly skin, looked older than their years, had bloodshot eyes and chapped, cracked lips. Just about everyone who exhibited those symptoms was overweight. In the US there would often be one or two sickly people in an office, far from a majority, and in Eastern Europe there would be none. I also watched their eating habits with amazement. Many of them ate nothing but starches, sugar and low grade fats. Typical lunches would include a basket of chips (French fries for North Americans) or a jacket potato (baked for North Americans) with a can of baked beans or corn tipped over it or bread and margarine or canned cheap pasta. There were also a lot of biscuits and sweets (cookies and candy for the North Americans) throughout the day. Since I spent five years with these people, watched them eat lunch every day and went on numerous business trips with them, I got to see a pretty good representation of what they would and wouldn’t eat. I noted a strong correlation between how fat and sickly they were and what they ate. Even in nice restaurants, many would eat all the starches on the plate, but leave all the salad and vegetables.
Outside of the world of defence I’ve seen similar eating habits. I was at a comedy gig a couple of nights ago. One comic ordered a jacket potato with cheese. The person was visibly distressed that there was salad (mixed young leaves with a vinaigrette, it looked quite nice) on the plate. Not only did the comic not eat the salad, the person didn’t eat any part of the potato that had touched the salad. While this comic is thin, the person looks sickly and moves strangely. Going to the gig I was walking behind this person and didn’t recognise the person and thought that they were mentally or physically handicapped from their walk, which may have nothing to diet, I admit.
I have many more observations of a similar nature.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the British have a deeply f**ked up relationship with food and it is actually harming them and their children. Given that the British are constantly mewling about protecting the children, it seems odd that they don’t see that weaning their children on a diet that no proper hog farmer would feed to his pigs, is a form of child abuse. There is a curious blindness in Britain when it comes to food. There seems to be a sort of angry working-class ethic of not complaining or even noticing that the food they’re eating is, well, crap, combined with deep fears and neuroses about anything unfamiliar.

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Blogger Thomas Cochrane said...

A fasinating subject.
Could I ask some follow up questions?

What would you say are the route causes of this virtual epidemic of malnutrition?

Has the cenralisation of food distribution been a factor?

In what way does the eating habits of the average malnurished Brition differ from that of the average malnurished American? I was under the impression that Britain has become more like American in its patterns of food outlets and consumption.

What steps need to be taken to reverse this trend in eating?

11 July, 2007 18:11  
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04 February, 2016 08:36  

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