In an interview with the BBC, Dr Gary Frost of Hammersmith Hospital, London, suggested that the obesity crisis might be tackled by replacing unhealthy ingredients of processed and junk foods with healthier substitutes. However, aside from the potential ethical and production issues surrounding such a scheme, tackling the root of the problem rather than the symptoms remains a far more appropriate method.

According to the Health Development Agency, the number of people who are classified as obese in the UK has grown threefold over the past two decades. Even more worrying is the fact that obesity amongst children is growing particularly rapidly and by current trends, 20% of all boys and 33% of girls would be obese by 2020.

For over a decade now, governments across the developed world have sought to fight this problem by educating the public about the dangers of an unhealthy diet and by promoting healthy eating habits and lifestyles.

However, such campaigns seem to have had precious little impact and excessive consumption of processed foods containing high concentrations of fat, sugar and salt continues to grow, together with the associated health problems. In the face of this, some nutrition experts are endorsing a radical new approach to tackling the problem – keep the junk food, but make it healthy.

Much of the attractiveness of processed food comes from its texture and taste. However it is difficult to maintain these qualities without the inclusion of large concentrations of fat, sugar or salt. Yet technological advance means it should, theoretically, be possible to replace the fat inside a burger with a healthier substitute, while retaining most of the traditional taste. If such technology were to become widely deployed, the scientists argue that the obesity epidemic could be combated without having to convince people to change their eating habits – an exercise that they suggest is doomed to failure.

Such techniques could undoubtedly be of value in combating obesity, but any long term solution can only come from a change in people’s eating habits, and this in itself comes through education. The problem with the introduction of such engineered healthy foods is that it would address only the symptoms, not the cause of the problem, and would not enable consumers to take real control of their diet. Blurring the line between ‘real’ healthy food and ‘artificial’ healthy food is a risky move and one that could have unpredictable and potentially worrying ramifications for wider public

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