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The Men Who Made Us Fat: A revelation in 3 parts

Around the world, obesity levels are rising. More people are now overweight than undernourished; two thirds of British adults are overweight and one in four of us is classified as obese.

The Men Who Made Us Fat S01E01

Air-date: Wednesday June 14th, 2012

In the  first of this three-part series, Jacques Peretti traces those responsible for revolutionizing our eating habits, to find out how decisions made in America 40 years ago influence the way we eat now.

Peretti travels to America to investigate the story of High Fructose Corn Syrup. The sweetener was championed in the US in the 1970s by Richard Nixons Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz to make use of the excess corn grown by farmers. Cheaper and sweeter than sugar, it soon found its way into almost all processed foods and soft drinks. HFCS is not only sweeter than sugar, it also interferes with Leptin, the hormone that controls appetite, so once you start eating or drinking it, you don’t know when to stop.

British nutritionist John Yudkin was one of the first to raise the dangers of sugar but his findings were discredited in America at the time. Meanwhile, a US Congress report blamed fat, not sugar, for the disturbing rise in cardio-vascular disease and the food industry responded with ranges of ‘low fat’, ‘heart healthy’ products in which the fat was removed – but the substitute was yet more sugar.

Meanwhile, in 1970s Britain, food manufacturers used advertising campaigns to promote the idea of snacking between meals. Outside the home, fast food chains offered clean, bright premises with tempting burgers cooked and served with a very un-British zeal and efficiency. Twenty years after the arrival of McDonalds, the number of fast food outlets in Britain had quadrupled.

The Men Who Made Us Fat S01E02
Air-date: Wednesday June 21th, 2012

Jacques Peretti investigates how the concept of ‘supersizing’ changed our eating  habits forever. How did we – once a nation of moderate eaters – start to want more?

Speaking to Mike Donahue, former McDonalds Vice President, Peretti explores the history behind the idea of supersizing. 40 years ago, McDonalds hired David Wallerstein, a former cinema manager who had introduced the idea of selling larger popcorn servings in his Chicago cinema. Wallerstein realised that people would eat more but they didn’t like the idea of appearing gluttonous by going back for seconds. By increasing the portion sizes and the cost, he could sell more food. In 1972, he introduced the idea to McDonalds and their first large fries went on sale.

By the 1980s, we were eating more – and eating more often. Perretti speaks with industry professionals to examine the story behind the introduction of value meals, king-size snacks and multi-buy promotions. How did the advertising industry encourage us to eat more often?

The programme also explores the developments in dietary advice – by 2003, the Chief Medical Officer was warning of an ‘obesity time bomb.’ Peretti speaks to obesity expert Professor Philip James, who made recommendations in his 1996 report that the food industry should cease targeting children in their advertisements. He also speaks with Professor Terry Wilkin, who led a pioneering study into childhood weight gain; and former Labour MP David Hinchliffe, who chaired the 2003 Parliamentary Select Committee on Health.

The Men Who Made Us Fat
S01E03 – The Health Halo
Air-date: Wednesday June 28th, 2012

In the third of this three-part series, Jacques Peretti examines assumptions about what is and is not healthy. He also looks at how product marketing can seduce consumers into buying supposed ‘healthy foods’.

In Britain the sales of foods marketed as healthier are rocketing.  But what if the very food sold to us as healthier is making us fat?

Pierre Chandon, Marketing Professor at INSEAD and visiting Scholar at Harvard Business School, has done groundbreaking research into how fattening foods are marketed as healthy. Chandon has discovered a ‘Health Halo’ effect whereby consumers often just assume something marketed as healthy is less calorific, and wrongly think they can eat more of it without getting fat.

He believes the food industry exploits the financial opportunities this phenomena represents and warns, ‘The paradox of low fat food and high fat people is not going to go away.’

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