Eat To Live: Too thin -- and too fat

By JULIA WATSON, UPI Food Writer  |  Sept. 18, 2006 at 11:47 AM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 18 (UPI) -- Madrid last week banned stick-thin models from its Fashion Week catwalks. British Culture Minister Tessa Howell has asked London Fashion Week to follow suit, as has the mayor of Milan for the upcoming Italian event. So far it doesn't seem likely either city will follow the Spanish lead.

At the other end of the spectrum lie the obese. And if the response to an article in the Financial Times on Sept. 1 is anything to go by, just as little will be done to alter their condition.

The piece focused on a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in May that has rocked the medical profession.

It found that although the United States spends more on health than any other nation and over twice as much per head as in the United Kingdom, Americans are far less healthy by middle age than their English counterparts.

In the 55-to-64-year-old age group, rates of diabetes are twice as high among Americans than the English. They also suffer more hypertension, heart disease, heart attacks, stroke, lung disease and cancer than the same English age group.

Health policy and healthcare professionals have been struggling in the months since publication to find the reason why.

They're not convinced, as e-mails have proposed, that it's related to the English taking more exercise, or being less car-dependent, or drinking more tea.

One of the authors of the report, James Smith of the Rand Corporation in California, said, "We have to go beyond first-order explanations such as obesity, smoking and drinking to something more profound."

It appears the experts have decided the cause is higher levels of stress in the states.

With stress, energy is not stored away for non-urgent use like tissue repair, growth and reproduction but is always being drawn upon to transfer energy to the muscles, and blood pressure and heart rate are increased.

All this activity can cause an increased risk of insulin-resistant diabetes. Blood vessels can be damaged by persistent hypertension, and if combined with metabolic stress responses, can lead to clogged arteries.

I'm no health expert. But why has no one mentioned diet?

Although they may be on their way to the United States, there is so far no pancake-palace option for breakfast. Krispy Cremes are treats, not lunch. There is far less snacking in the street. Portions in restaurants at all economic levels are far smaller.

More significant, though, is the use of sweeteners, particularly high fructose corn syrup, in processed foods in the United States. Anyone who has spent time in England and returns to the states is surprised to find so much of everyday foods like bread, cereal, bottled condiments and ready-meals are unnecessarily sweet. Even brands of canned or processed sold in both countries seem sweeter in the version sold in America.

Isn't it possible that the higher rates of diabetes and heart disease are caused by an excessive use of sugar, or HFCS?

It's all very well for governments to encourage megalithic food processors and the agri-business to grow, create and promote foods that are better for our health. But until they impose restrictions upon them, or punish them for foods whose nutritional value is not as high as it could be, nothing will change. With the industrial food complex as rich and powerful as it is, what government is likely to do that?

Even when trying to protect young girls from eating disorders, Tessa Howell said that banning models with a body mass index of less than 18 from the catwalks was "categorically not an issue for government regulation."

However, it was "an issue of major concern for young girls who feel themselves inferior when compared to the stick-thin young women on the catwalk," she continued. "The other concern must be for the harm it has done to the starving girls who believe emaciation is their route to fame and fortune."

Neither the very thin nor the very fat are likely to be able to change their habits just because government officials say they have become a matter for concern.

This almost fat-free recipe might please both camps.

Oven-baked rainbow trout for 2

-- 2 fillets firm white fish, like halibut, butterfish or cod

-- 1 can peeled tomatoes

-- 1 small red onion, peeled and finely sliced

-- 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped

-- 1 red chili, finely chopped (optional)

-- 1 lemon

-- ¼ pound mushrooms, thinly sliced

-- small handful pitted black olives

-- handful chopped flat-leaf parsley

-- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil

-- Preheat oven to 400 F.

-- Pour the olive oil into your clean hands and rub the fish all over.

-- Sauté the onions, mushrooms, garlic and chili in the tablespoon of oil till soft, then add the olives and tomatoes, roughly chopped, and their juice.

-- Slice the lemon half way in paper-thin slices, then squeeze the other half into juice.

-- Simmer the sauce to thicken for 10 minutes, then add the lemon juice.

-- Put the fish in the oven to bake for 15 minutes, then pour over the sauce and serve sprinkled with chopped parsley and the lemon slices, with a dish of steamed carrots, broccoli or other vegetable.

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