Art / Healthcare / London attractions / Science

Cravings: Can food control you? An eye-opener for adults and kids as obesity levels rise.

Food, glorious food. Never before has the nation talked so critically about portion sizes, sugar and fats than it has now. Back in 2005, Jamie Oliver was triumphant in banning turkey twizzlers from primary menus. There was no looking back. Still, we’re an unhealthy nation ranking just 27th in the world’s health league. One in four teenagers are now obese by the age of 15, according to a study carried out by King’s College London and published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood. It’s easy to see why children are suffering as busy lifestyles and rising expenses lead parents to heat ready meals and forgo buying fruits and vegetables. Every few weeks, a new campaign, set of guidelines and statistics gets the press, Government and experts talking, about the need to educate. Health is now a priority for most political parties, with obesity at the top of the agenda. Perhaps now is the time to strike the iron while it’s hot by using an exhibition to further amplify the necessity of making critical changes to help lower obesity levels, for a healthier generation.

At the Science Museum, an exhibition called ‘Cravings’ is on show, designed to make adults and children understand what drives our desires for the foods we love. It explores how prenatal flavour learning has an effect on newborn babies and what cutting-edge technology is helping to tackle unhealthy eating. I popped along to see how food we eat affects our body, brain and eating-habits. A lot of interactive and fun things form part of the exhibition, allowing you to get involved by deciding, for example, how you would keep cravings in check if you were in control. I found the Craving Commander touch screen quiz a really good way of thinking about what guidelines I would want to put in place. Turns out, I am a ‘Champion For Choice’ wanting freedom to choose what everyone eats, but with a need for helpful information about what food should be available. According to my answers, I believe if you want to treat yourself now and then, no one should be allowed to stop you. I think that’s fair enough as I do believe in treat days!

   Like this, the exhibition reveals interesting facts on how the colour of utensils affects flavour. For example did you know that using a white spoon makes yoghurt taste sweeter? A blue spoon makes food taste saltier? A gold spoon is great for sweet dishes?  I also found the ‘sniff experiment’ really cool – if your nose is sharp enough to identify three smells, you can probably smell the difference between low fat and full fat milk. As you make your way around the exhibition, you encounter stories from school children on what goes on inside their heads when cravings strike. You also learn how mammals are born with a liking for sweetness and the whole idea of a mother’s food choice shaping a baby’s palate (prenatal flavour learning). It’s becoming more important for pregnant women to look at their eating patterns. Research has found that babies who experience the taste of fruit and vegetables through amniotic fluid or mother’s milk, react less negatively to carrot flavoured cereal and eat more of it compared to babies who aren’t exposed to it while in the womb. Rather than beginning to look at portion sizes at toddler ages, the first 1000 days between pregnancy and age two should be considered for maternal and child nutrition.

 The exhibition wraps up nicely with a display of the cutting-edge science and technology to help obese patients lose weight. This really hits home how losing control of how and what we eat can be detrimental. Looking at the gut sleeve designed to trigger an ‘I am full’ signal you think, ah ha! A potential solution to obesity! Eventually it leaves you thinking that it’s something you don’t really want inserted in the inside of you. Job done I think and timely with Oliver launching a petition calling for improved food education in schools around the world, ahead of Food Revolution Day on May 15th.

 Check out Cravings: Can food control you? at the Science Museum, free entry, tube station South Kensington.


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