The meals your parents made for you are now too calorific for modern lifestyles

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By BenjaminBeck

Globalisation has been a health disaster, creating a generation of people who expend so little energy each day that they no longer need to eat the same amount of calories as their parents, a new study by the London School of Economics suggests.

An analysis of 30 years of data by the LSE has proven that the obesity crisis is largely driven by modern lifestyles, which have allowed people to become so inter-connected that they barely need to leave their desks or sofas to work, socialise or shop.

It means that traditional meals recommended by parents are now simply too much for a less-active generation.

Trade deals between countries have also caused food prices to tumble, creating virtually unlimited access to unrestricted calories for most people, while on-tap entertainment through television, smartphones and personal computers has replaced many traditional hobbies and activities.

Recommended calorie counts, which have been about 2,500 for men and 2,000 for women since the First World War, were set at a time when people naturally moved far more in their daily lives. But the new study suggests those counts may now be too high and researchers say that people need to stop eating the way their parents taught them.

Dr Joan Costa-Font, one of the study’s authors, said: “Typically, life in the 21st century might mean a commute into a desk-based occupation, and three or four meals a day, leading to many people consuming more calories than their lifestyles require.

“We still eat like our parents did, or worse, but we don’t move around nearly as much as they did. People no longer have to visit each other to hold a face-to-face conversation, they can simply Skype. We jump in the car or the bus or the tube rather than walking.

“As lifestyles have slowed down and become more sedate, people haven’t amended their calorie intake accordingly. We should all eat less. The amount of food we eat compared with energy expenditure is simply too much.

“If people were as active as they were 30 years ago then recommended daily allowances of calories would be fine.

“It’s very hard to change how you eat from how your parents told you to eat, but we should all eat less today. Maybe we could work out how much people are over-eating and reduce calories accordingly.”

The study, published in the journal Food Policy, compared the link between globalisation and obesity, measuring two kinds of globalisation – economic, which leads to lower food prices and increased trade, and social, which has led to increased sedentary recreation activities.

Obesity rates have trebled in the last 30 years and the medical costs related to overweight conditions costs about £6 billion a year, with a further £10 billion spent on diabetes.

The LSE study focused on 26 countries, including the UK, between 1989 and 2005, when globalisation accelerated in many countries and obesity levels increased rapidly.

The authors found a strong association between globalisation and obesity; a one standard deviation increase in globalisation was associated with a 23.8 per cent increase in obesity within the population and a 4.3 per cent rise in calorie intake.

The authors concluded that individuals would need to adjust to the less calorific demands of globalised lifestyles to help mitigate the expanding world obesity levels and growing overweight population.

“It is probably no coincidence that the UK has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world, while it is also one of the world’s most globalised, advanced economies,” added Dr Costa-Font.

The government has faced criticism for not doing enough to tackle obesity and its Childhood Obesity Campaign earlier this year failed to include measures such as banning junk food sold at supermarket checkouts and preventing advertising to children before the television watershed.

However, from April 2018, drinks with at least 5g sugar per 100ml will face extra taxes, with a higher rate for those with more than 8g per 100ml.

Estimates from the Office for Budget Responsibility suggest that the levy could add up to 8p to the price of a can of drink if all the costs are passed on to customers.

Ministers have estimated the measures could raise about £520m a year, which would be spent on sport in schools.

Professor Paul Dobson, from the University of East Anglia, said the government needed to do more to persuade people that they needed to cut down their calories.

“The lower calorie burning rates due to modern sedentary lifestyles is partly due to a shift to a service economy and reduced manual labour but also greater use of vehicles for travel rather than walking and other technological inventions that have resulted in less physical activity.

“The government has to convince the public of the need to combat obesity. Until people understand the health consequences of overeating and being obese then they will resist changing their eating habits.

“As we have seen with the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, applying the threat of taxation unless products are reformulated can be very effective because industry has a clear choice: reformulate to avoid the tax, or do not reformulate and then pay the tax.”