Can we learn from cats and dogs?
If you own a pet, say a cat or dog, and it becomes unwell, one of the first questions asked is "What do you feed him/her on?". Good quality food or lots of brightly coloured 'treats'?
So, when did we stop making the connection between what we eat and our long-term health? Because everyone wants health long-term, right?
In general, we're living a lot longer but with reduced good health. This means that for some people a large proportion of their life - even up to 50% of it - will be about managing disease. And most of these 'diseases' are not communicable, they develop over time, driven in part by the environment of our 'modern' life.
And food, specifically food manufacture, plays a large part in this. A lot of what we eat isn't real food anymore. That's the definition of ultra-processed foods (UPFs) which 'contain industrial substances such as preservatives, emulsifiers, sweeteners, and artificial colours and flavours'1; the raw ingredients which the body needs to function well, have been so utterly changed from their natural state that the body grinds to a halt.
So, what are you fuelling yourself on - highly nutritious, filling and balanced calorie foods in their least processed state, which the body can use to optimum effect, or high calorie, low nutrient UPFs which don't fill you up, increase weight and disregulate natural body systems?
UPF's are highly marketed with dubious labelling claims and often associated with aspirational associations. They appear to be cheap to buy, but at what cost to long-term health? And that can be a bitter pill to swallow. To find out more about a new policy document on food marketing, click here.
And since we're on the subject of pets, when you take a cat/dog to the vet, the first thing you're asked to do is put your pet on the scales to assess its weight. Why? Because weight, whether its gain or loss, is a good, initial indication of health, and what might be going wrong. In 2017, the annual spend on the treatment of obesity and diabetes, two of the major 'co-morbidities' or non-communicable diseases, was greater than the amount spent on the police, the fire service and the judicial system combined2. Obesity costs the NHS a massive £6 billion annually and this is set to rise to over £9.7 billion each year by 2053. Click here to read a perspective on the issue of non-communicated diseases, including obesity, weighing heavily on the NHS, as highlighted by The British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine.
Every dog and cat owner knows that getting your pet to loose weight is far harder than keeping it off in the first place. Prevention is better than cure. Take your dog for more walks, reduce its food a little, swap the high calorie treats for a carrot (great for teeth as well) and interact or play with your pet to stimulate it more, both physically and mentally. Sounds like good lifestyle advice for us humans too.
Prescribing lifestyle medicine, alongside traditional methods of healthcare, will surely need to develop, to help address lifestyle-driven health issues which we're all vulnerable to. Click here to read where social prescribing can fit into healthcare policy. This would go a long way in helping lift the burden on the NHS.