A life saver and entertainer

Dr Michael Moseley - Wiki Media Creative Commons \ Credit : SBS On Demand

Frank Hansen pays a tribute to Dr Michael Mosley and has some advice for Sir Keir Starmer

The sudden death of Michael Mosley in Greece attracted a lot of attention not just because was a media personality, but because of his ability to popularise the latest, leading-edge nutritional science – science that had a positive impact on the health and lives of thousands of ordinary people, including myself.  

While I have a “normal” healthy weight and BMI, I learned from Michael’s own experience that Type 2 diabetes (TD2) wasn’t always linked to obesity and could develop because of visceral fat around internal organs.  Even though I had no obvious symptoms – (TD2 can develop slowly and many people are unaware of it happening) – I decided to have a test and discovered I had high blood glucose levels. Over time these can seriously impact on health.  Using his 5-2 diet plan, intermittent fasting and low carb meals, I was able to put Type 2 diabetes into remission, lower blood sugar and reduce the risk of associated serious illnesses. Tom Watson (remember him?) was able to achieve a similar outcome using Michael’s advice to combat obesity and T2D, as were many others.   

This was at a time – 10 years ago – when the NHS’s approach to T2D was rather outdated relying mainly on drugs, rather than nutrition. Thanks partly to Michael’s friendly proselytising approach – in books, the press and on TV – and the fact that patients began to raise these issues -the NHS now has a more positive approach to prevention through its “Know Diabetes” programme. However, it is still in fire-fighting mode as food-related health problems continue to escalate, not only among older people, but also among children and younger people – where T2D used to be rare and obesity on a much lower scale – to the extent that the NHS is now danger of being overwhelmed. Labour acknowledges this in its health policy, although it lacks effective measures to address it. 

Mosley’s career path was unusual. After university he worked as an investment banker but found this unfulfilling and retrained as a doctor. “I decided that my primary interest in life wasn’t making money for myself or other people, I was passionately interested in what makes people tick… and I actually went into medicine intending to become a psychiatrist.”   After medical training he didn’t practice but became a producer on BBC science programmes including Tomorrow’s World.  This turned outto be a good move as he had a significant impact discussing health issues that affect millions and suggesting initiatives that could help.  

He began to appear on TV himself with Medical Mavericks in 2008. His rather zany, unconventional approach – a willingness to try things out and self-experiment on camera – engaged people as did his exceptional presentation skills. It was the release of his 2012 Horizon documentary concerning T2D “Eat, Fast and Live Longer” that really caught people’s attention because millions of us are affected by this.  Mosley himself had been diagnosed with T2D, which ran in his family, but wasn’t keen on the idea of immediately taking medication.  He was able to draw on leading-edge science (now more mainstream) to develop a nutritional programme for himself, including fasting and exercise, that put T2D it into remission and removed the need for high levels of medication, particularly insulin. While insulin is life saving for Type 1 diabetics who cannot produce it themselves – some experts claim it is not a long-term solution for T2D where the body slowly becomes insensitive to insulin and it may, in fact, prove harmful by raising insulin insensitivity with people putting on even more weight.   

The key thing is that Mosely didn’t portray himself as a “Health Guru”, or promote “magic” products, but brought together the ideas of a growing community of scientists and doctors in an accessible way. This opened a debate that challenged conventional (often failed) wisdom, focusing on practical steps that might prevent and halt the rise of modern metabolic illnesses such as T2D, obesity, dementia, cancer etc, illnesses that are now sweeping the UK and world. He gave people hope and a way forward by focusing on our own bodies and the effect of good nutrition and fasting as a means of rebalancing our metabolism – while also pointing towards the possible causes of illness, such as high levels of refined, industrialised food – particularly sugar, carbs and foods with chemical additives.  

He went where politicians and the state fear to tread – (even the Labour manifesto is tame on this and doesn’t include a sugar tax, now adopted by many countries) – by providing practical advice and guidance on nutrition and healthy eating based on up-to-date science. 

He also helped inspire further research and development. In a previous Labour Hub post “Food for Life” I outlined the growing concern about Ultra Processed Food (UPF) as a potential cause of rising illness and pointed to the pioneering work of Professor Tim Spector on the gut microbiome and his healthy eating programme, encouraging the consumption of “real food”.  The root of the problem is that UPF (reformulated food produced in factories) is highly profitable for Big Business and they have marketed it as “healthy” – to the extent that 57% of the UK diet is now derived from it (80% for children and the poorest.) As Dr Chris Van Tulleken has argued “industrialised food is the problem not individual consumers. I resent our food system being so polluted”. He promotes policies such as taxing UPF, banning it from schools and restrictions on marketing.  

So, while it’s very important to demand that Labour introduce free school meals, we also need to consider the long-term health impact of these meals – as well as those served in hospitals, care homes and bought in supermarkets. It is important that Labour doesn’t shy away from the issue of regulation on the basis that “it’s not our role to tell people what to eat”. Well of course it isn’t – but shouldn’t government be responsible – as with the water industry – for ensuring that the food on offer doesn’t undermine health and that healthy choices are supported? For decades Big Tobacco and right-wing libertarians denied the link between smoking and cancer and used dissimulation and the Nanny State argument to defend vested interests.  We need to wake up to the possibility that the same thing could now be happening with UPF, which also delivers high profits.  

The least a Labour Government could do is follow Michael Mosley and start a debate – currently there is very little independent research on UPF, although much is known about refined and added sugar (but action still isn’t taken!).  A Labour Government could commission an urgent review of the impact of UPF on our health and consider policy options. Undoubtedly there will be massive opposition from the food companies and the right-wing press. However, the press might find it a bit difficult to attack some of the ideas for reform, since Michael Mosley was very popular among their readers. As a result, papers like the Mail allowed him to promote his radical ideas rather than demonising them.   

Keir Starmer take note, if you do get round to implementing policies to improve the nation’s health, you will have to challenge powerful vested interests. To succeed you will need to mobilise people at the grassroots – and even Tory voters are concerned about their health. You could even appoint Tom Watson as the person to lead the review – please don’t call him a Tsar – at least he knows what he’s talking about and has some experience. A last thought for a party concerned about fiscal probity and neo-liberal rules, with a leader who proudly declares that he is to the right of Tony Blair – just consider the real efficiency savings to be realised if we can hold back and reverse the tsunami of rising ill-health facing the country.


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