“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Edmund Burke’s profound words could be applied to those members of our democratic electorate who selfishly and stubbornly refuse to vote. In their ignorance they seemingly don’t realise democratic systems need voters for the system to work: without sufficient voters it becomes a dictatorship, elected by a very small percentage of the population – currently just over 1 in 5.

Similarly Burke’s words could be applied to politicians (of all hues and colours) who choose to do nothing regarding regulation of advertising and the peddling of junk (rubbish) food to the nutritionally uneducated of our society: including our school children – who will shortly be producing our next generations.

The week beginning January 16th 2006 was a good week for those campaigning for better food to create healthier minds. Joint publications between Sustain: the Alliance for better food and farming, and the Mental Health Foundation appeared ‘midst media fanfare: Changing Diets, Changing Minds: how food affects mental well-being and behaviour (aimed at stakeholders in the food and farming sector) and Feeding Minds: the impact of food on mental health (aimed at stakeholders in the mental health sector).

On Tuesday 17th of that week the McCarrison Society for Nutrition and Health together with the International Society for Prenatal and Perinatal Medicine (ISPPM) and the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition held our highly successful conference Generating Healthy Brains linking nutrition and psychology at the Innholders' Hall in the City of London – a report follows below. Material from the conference made the cover of the Economist, was mentioned in the editorial, and included in a 2-page report1. Other newspapers also reported its findings, including the Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Times and United Press, and a most helpful article in Foods Matter.

The conference addressed both the alarming EU cost of mental ill health at 386 billion euros (at 2004 prices) and the World Health Organisation’s predictions for 2020 – less than 15 years away – that should we choose to do nothing to stem this tsunami of madness, one third of our population will by then be suffering from some form of mental ill health or brain disorder - a frightening thought if ever there was one.

The more so when already we see so many tragic examples of mental unwellness wandering around our streets and on our public transport. Predictions such as these date back to 1972 when our Chairman published the prediction that unless something was done to correct the food system, brain disorders would follow in the wake of the rise in mortality from heart disease – from the brain being less well-served with blood, and therefore nutrients. This has now happened. The 386 billion euros is the highest cost in the EU’s burden of ill health at 25% followed by heart disease at 17%.

Such predictions would make the current combined UK and EU governments’ maladministration in releasing 1000 foreign criminals into the community seem like a child’s tea party in comparison. For the WHO prediction would involve tens of millions of both sad and also dangerous people.

The current concern is caused by the exploding rise in mental ill health in children – who are not so much in public gaze – the poor things often being in hospital or home-bound. This won’t come as much of a surprise to many, for have we not seen for decades what rubbish foods so many children have been brought up on; and indeed, adults fed on?

Our current government, whilst banning advertising junk tobacco (except in motor racing circles after being given a million pound bung), refuse to ban the advertising of junk food: despite the fact that illness caused by junk food is estimated to cost the national health service three times what smoking costs. (It is right to stress that our Society is apolitical and Labour is not alone in supporting poor nutritional policy - indeed amongst the first things that the Thatcher administration legislated for allowed more water to be put in meat, and more air put in bread).

Jamie Oliver, who has done so much of late to improve the diet of our nation’s children demonstrates his frustration in his latest outburst. He has complained that he manages to talk to one Minister, then, when he seeks further audience, finds there is new Minister who says ‘time is needed to get into post’. The next thing that happens is yet another ministerial replacement so nothing gets done. What a way to plan the wealth of the nation – our children’s health! Of which, more below…

Everyone should read George Monbiot’s excellent article “Tough on crime, to hell with causes of crime if they make money”2. Monbiot cites a recent publication3 ‘providing empirical evidence’ that ‘the longer children watch television, the more overweight they become because not only do they exercise less, but they eat more of what they watch during the commercials… junk foods: fizzy drinks, crisps, biscuits, sweets, burgers and chicken nuggets’. The paper reported that hours watching telly ‘is also inversely associated with intake of fruit and vegetables’.

He goes on to ask what such junk food diets do to the mind, in addition to making 27% of girls and 24% of boys aged 11-15 more likely to develop diabetes and to die before they reach 50. He then discusses research carried out in penal establishments – one published by the Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine in 19974 and Bernard Gesch’s study at Aylesbury detention centre5 on junk food and nutrition supplementation and behaviour. Results in both studies were outstanding both in terms of the amount of improvement recorded over the time of the trials, and the speed with which the improvements occurred. Confirmation has recently come from Alex Richardson’s EFA supplementation study of 117 school children with developmental coordination disorder (DCD) in which significant improvements were found in spelling, learning and behaviour6.

Monbiot concludes by showing how our UK and EU governments are as bad as each other in this regard, commenting that Ofcom (Independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries) “claims that tougher rules would cost the industry too much. To sustain the share values of the commercial broadcasters, Ofcom is prepared to sacrifice the physical and psychological well-being of our children”.

These shocking facts tally with one outcome of our Generating Healthy Brains conference, which (whilst not openly stated) left attendees with the impression that the guidelines dished out by the Food Standards Agency on the consumption of fish for pregnant women – only 2 portions of oily fish a week – had been wildly understated. For the women in a recent study who had ignored the guidelines and eaten much more fish, had by far the healthiest, advanced and cleverest (IQ increase of 6 points) babies.

Echoes here of George Monbiot’s sentiments – “To sustain share values …. [fund managers are] prepared to sacrifice the physical and psychological well-
being of our next generations - the wealth of the nation”.