Food for Body and Soul - part I.Food - a Matter of Life or Death

12. December 2022.

Let us go a little bit back in time. Ever since we have come down from the trees, hording in social groups of hunters and gatherers and started taking meals together somewhere in a cave, eating has been as much about culture as it has been about biological necessity. Therefore, food is not only about physical survival, but also about pleasure, about community, about family, friends and spirituality, about our relationship with the natural world and with each other, and about experiencing our own identity.

This also means that our eating habits are quite complex. There are many reasons for eating other than nourishing your body, and so it is not surprising that, very often, we eat without being hungry, or we don’t eat despite being hungry, or we eat something our body does not need or want, or that is not even good for us.

I am sure you will agree with me that we may be the most comfortable and abundant generation in human history, but we certainly are not the most healthy, happy and satisfied humans who ever lived on this planet. Our modern, speedy, stressful but effortless life, free from physical exertion, and abundant in food, has come with a high price tag.

Not everything looks bad at first sight

In the last 70 years, on a global scale, life expectancy increased by more than 20 years¹. Medical practitioners and scientists would be proud to attribute these results to improved medical care, guidelines and recommendations. But let us not celebrate too early. The truth is that, out of the 20 years that we live longer than some 70 years ago, we spend a whole decade in poor health, under medications, in disease or disability¹!!!

In the last few decades (1990-2017) neonatal disorders and so-called “infectious” or “communicable” diseases (such as tuberculosis, influenza, malaria, and sexually transmitted diseases), which had long been the primary causes for increased mortality and morbidity have seen a sharp decrease worldwide (40%)¹. At the same time, however, some new diseases emerged, which our great-grand mothers and fathers probably did not even know existed. Contrary to infectious diseases, which can spread and kill quickly and cause mortal pandemics, the newly emerging diseases degrade your health slowly but surely, until you die! These so-called “chronic” diseases are now responsible for 80% of disabilities worldwide, namely cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes and mental illnesses².

But what is interesting is that the majority of these diseases are the effects of nothing else but what we eat and drink (alcohol and tobacco included), how much we exercise and how we respond to stress³. As simple as that!!!

Our health today

We know that, today, 70% of Americans are overweight, and 40% obese. As you may have guessed, only 20% are meeting current physical activity guidelines and, of course, they eat excessively, with as much as 60% of calories coming from ultra-processed, so-called “junk food”. As a consequence, no less than 70% of Americans aged 45-64 years and 90% of those aged >=65 years are on some sort of prescription drugs, with 9000 $ of personal health care expenses every single year! Every third (30%) dies of a heart disease, every fifth (20%) due to cancer, and every sixth (15%) due to diabetes. And that is not all: the most dire projections point to almost 90% of Americans being overweight or obese by 2030 – that’s just a decade away!

Now you may think this is an American anomaly, but it is not. Today, even in Europe, already more than 50% are overweight or obese (13% obese). While some countries are resisting the obesity trends (like Italy (7%), Sweden 10% (Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary), France 12%, Spain 14%), Serbia (21.9%) and Croatia (21.5%) are becoming some of the leaders in this game. Interestingly, the prevalence of overweight and obesity remains the highest even among migrants from former Yugoslavia living in other countries. For example, in Switzerland, where the overall prevalence of overweight and obesity is one of the lowest in Europe, migrants from former Yugoslavia have a 5 times higher chance of being overweight and obese compared to migrants of any other European country.

The truth is that, every single year, food is responsible for killing almost 700’000 in America, and 11 million worldwide! Compare that to approximately 100’000 people being killed every year by all wars taken together. As you can see, the most deadly weapons ever used by humanity are not firearms, bombs or even nuclear weapons, but simply our forks and knives!


Dr. Katarina Melzer

Be balanced, be free!