It may be hard to believe, but poor diet now contributes to more disease and death than physical inactivity, smoking and alcohol combined. We have been consuming sugar, refined carbohydrates and industrial vegetable oils as never before, with devastating consequences for public health. In the UK alone, type 2 diabetes and obesity have cost the National Health Service (NHS) more than £20 billion.
The good news, though, is that relatively simple changes in diet can rapidly reduce your risk of disease. As I tell my heart patients, adopting a Mediterranean diet after a heart attack is a more powerful life-saving tool than taking aspirin or statins or even having a stent inserted.
It’s time to wind back the harms of too much medicine and, instead, prescribe food. Four tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil daily, a handful of nuts, lots of vegetables and quitting sugar are just some of the daily prescriptions I outline in The Big Fat Fix, a documentary film I just made. The film shows how simple lifestyle changes can have a dramatic impact.
Dr. David Unwin, for instance, has managed to save £45,000 in diabetes medications through a simple message to patients: Cut out the sugar and other refined carbohydrates from your diet, and your blood glucose levels will improve. If this was adopted across all GP practices in England, it could save £423 million in diabetes medications alone.
The brutal fact is that the increasing burden of chronic disease will not be solved by even more conventional medicine. Sir Bruce Keogh, the medical director of NHS England, has pointed out that one in seven NHS treatments (including operations) should never have been carried out in the first place. A “more medicine is better” culture lies at the heart of this, exacerbated by financial incentives within the system to prescribe more drugs and carry out more procedures.
The harms of over-medication are now colossal. According to Peter Gotzsche, the co-founder of the Cochrane Collaboration, a highly regarded network of independent researchers, prescription drugs are actually the third most common cause of death across the world after heart disease and cancer.
In other words, the 1 billion NHS prescriptions that are handed out every year are an appalling waste. But what should concern us most is the considerable harm to the public.
A version of this article was previously published in The Times on Friday, July 22nd.
Download The Big Fat Fix here.
There will be a screening in NYC on Tuesday, August 2nd, 6-8PM, at MagnoSound Theater, 729 7th Ave., at 49th St.