AN author of a controversial report challenging the benefits of conventional heart medication has proposed a Middle East ban on the advertising of junk food and sugary drinks.
UK-based consultant cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra also suggested banning the sale of chocolate and junk food in hospital vending machines.
The GDN reported yesterday that he authored a report questioning the use of statins to treat heart patients, which prompted opposition from doctors in Bahrain.
However, his ideas for improving people’s eating habits have been backed by former Health Ministry nutrition department head Dr Nadia Gharib.
“Sugary drinks are a concern worldwide and we see that sugar is added unnecessarily into these drinks,” said Dr Gharib.
“They say it is fortified, but I can say that more than 50 per cent of the sugar added is not natural.
Dr Gharib and Dr Malhotra
“It is the white sugar, which is full of calories, and we need a law or regulation to curb this.
“In Bahrain we can bring in regulation that would ban products containing a certain amount of sugar from entering the country.”
Dr Malhotra, who is based at Hertfordshire’s Lister Hospital in Stevenage, said at the very least such products should carry health warnings.
“This is a real problem in the Middle East and if I had a magic wand as a doctor who cares about your health, I would personally have them eliminated from the food supply,” he said.
“At the very least there should be warnings on sugary drinks, which include fruit juice as well because it is not healthy – it has the same metabolic effect on the body, in terms of liquid sugar, as having a can of cola.
“No parents should think they are giving children something healthy when they are giving them these juices.
“All sugary drinks must be significantly limited in consumption and among children in particular.
“There should be legislation that bans junk food advertisement and endorsement of sugary drinks in the media.”
The heart specialist and author highlighted the importance of diet to health, describing poor eating habits as worse than smoking.
“Diet is the number one issue,” he said.
“More than physical inactivity, smoking and alcohol, it contributes to more disease and deaths.”
He encouraged people to adopt better eating habits, saying simple lifestyle changes could reverse Type 2 diabetes prevalent in Bahrain.
“If the (Middle East) region adopts simple lifestyle changes, they can achieve results within three weeks and, in some cases, even reverse Type 2 diabetes,” Dr Malhotra told the GDN.
“I have seen people who have been diagnosed and reversed Type 2 diabetes within 30 days.”
Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are on the rise in Bahrain, including in children, and obesity is a major contributing factor.
“Increasing consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugar, specifically excess consumption of bread, pasta and rice combined with sugar, which is being added to most processed food, has created a public health time bomb of obesity and Type 2 diabetes,” said Dr Malhotra, whose book The Pioppi Diet – A 21-Day Lifestyle Plan focuses on a village in southern Italy recognised as the home of the Mediterranean diet.
Simple lifestyle changes such as consuming less sugar were more powerful than any medication doctors could prescribe.
“Walking is very powerful and brisk walking for 30 minutes daily is good for your health.
“Making sure that you get seven hours of sleep and manage your stress levels – with all of these supported by a diet which concentrates low sugar and refined carbohydrate and eating high healthy fat food like olive oil and butter and lots of vegetables – we will have a much healthier population within a short space of time.”
More than 154,000 people in Bahrain live with diabetes, of whom 35.5pc remain undiagnosed, according to the International Diabetes Federation.
It said the percentage of diabetes-related deaths in people under 60 was 67.7pc in 2015.