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Erik Hemmingsson

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No More Quick Fixes

Recently, I was visited by a good friend from Gothenburg, where he runs an initiative together with his wife that helps people adopt a better lifestyle gain better health. As is common in such contexts, there tend to be a lot of discussion about all of the odd ideas the health industry sometimes produces, especially pertaining to food.

Something I found rather comical was when he told me a few anecdotes about what people say they eat. For example, there was one person who rotated three different diets more or less simultaneously, in addition to periods of intermittent fasting from time to time. Dear God, I thought, why do we humans do this to ourselves?

Perhaps there is some latent need for emancipation, that we are now rebelling against the centuries of boring meat and potatoes or plain rice and beans. But more than likely it is the hope that drives us, i.e., the hope that there is a quick fix somewhere that actually works.

What we eat has also become an important status marker, and a way to make certain social points, depending on what’s hot at the moment. The young adults groups are particularly lightning-fast to catch up on new trends and diets. We all remember the hysteria around 5:2 when it was launched in 2013.

Food plays an extremely important role in our health, (1) so of course we should take an active interest in what we eat, and what we serve to our children. In addition, it is clear that food that works well for one person will not do it for another. We need to customize what we eat, so some experimenting can be a good thing.

Wouldn’t we all feel more at ease if we relaxed a bit when it comes to trends and diets, and realize that we need to find a balance and a long-term view of what we eat, and scale down the press around body, food and diets? How about just eating regular nutritious and preferably locally produced food in season, and cutting down on things like sugar and processed junk food? That’s what I like to prescribe to anyways.

In contrast to the discussion about good food, staying active and exercising are so much easier, almost banal. Very recently, a very long-awaited study was published on how all types of movement have an extremely large influence on longevity. (2) The study showed that compared to those who did not move at all, those who only moved a little had about half the risk (48%) of premature death. The corresponding gain for those who exercised more diligently was a risk of only 27% compared to those who did not move at all, a completely astounding effect. A better life insurance than regular exercise is thus not quite easy to find, and completely on par with the clear links that are seen between education level and income on life expectancy. (3)

Similar clarity when it comes to research findings in food and health is a far greater challenge. Before we get there, it would probably be wise to draw down the heat around food a bit, and relax a bit more. Square diets and commercially powered ideals are not the solution to our health challenges.

References

1. Mozaffarian D. Dietary and Policy Priorities for Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, and Obesity: A Comprehensive Review. Circulation. 2016 Jan 12; 133 (2): 187-225.

2. Ekelund U, Tarp J, Steene-Johannessen J, Hansen BH, Jefferis B, Fagerland MW, et al. Dose-response associations between accelerometry measured physical activity and sedentary time and all-cause mortality: systematic review and harmonized meta-analysis. BMJ. 2019 Aug 21; 366: l4570.

3. McDonough P, Duncan GJ, Williams D, House J. Income dynamics and adult mortality in the United States, 1972 through 1989. Am J Public Health. 1997 Sep; 87 (9): 1476-83.

This is a guest post. The opinions expressed are the writer’s own.

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