The Olympics banned list

The official list of prohibited items at the Olympics includes "oversized hats" and "sharpened combs".

For those who have yet to read it, the 2012 Olympics list of prohibited items is quite a funny diktat. At first, it looks like a typical bit of health and safety box ticking: no booze, no fireworks, no laser pointers, blah blah. Most of the stuff in the first half of the list is brought in by the kind of people whom it’s fair to say don’t particularly care for health and safety regulations. At least, I can’t remember the last time I headed down to Twickenham with a “sharpened comb”, a “bayonet” (what with it not being 1890) or some “CS gas”. Just in case, like.

But it’s the second half of the list whereupon things get interesting. Immediately, we see “excessive amounts of food”. Who defines “excessive”?  My own definition wavers between “a big sandwich” and “an entire Domino’s pizza, three bottles of Lucozade and a tub of Ben and Jerry’s”, depending on whether or not I’m hungover. I guess the important thing is that if your definition tends towards the latter, then you can hit the world’s largest McDonald’s (1,500 seats!! No?) in the Olympic Park as hard as you like, thus helping the games bring us that economic boost we’ve all been promised. Cunning stuff.

But more to the point – “any objects or clothing bearing political statements or overt commercial identification intended for ‘ambush marketing’”. Again, the problem here is one of clarity. It seems that while Locog are quite happy with you wearing that banterific Inbetweeners “Pussay Patrol” t-shirt, there’s a clear question over your “Keep Calm and Smoke Weed” one. Is that too political? Will your Che Guevara t-shirt get you sent home, and if so, for what? For supporting communism? For espousing the 1958 removal of Fulgencio Batista? For championing the right to look like a tool? Reader, I wish I could tell you.

And as for “ambush marketing”, it seems unlikely anyone outside of the advertising industry (let’s be honest, this guff has their moronic paws all over it) understands this term. I know I don’t. The problem is that ever since clothes started getting logos, we’ve all become ambush marketers, in a way. Will I be a suspect on the grounds that when clothes shopping I just buy what the mannequins in Marks and Spencer are wearing? Is the complimentary “I’m an Amiga gamer and proud” hat I got in 1992 now acceptable? (My ex-girlfriend can answer this: apparently not). And while we're on the subject of hats, heaven forbid it's got a bit of a brim on it - "oversized hats" are strictly forbidden.

Those of us who regularly go to sports events are used to this arseclap.  No doubt it kind of makes sense to the companies that implement it, and most of the time we – being British – shrug our shoulders, grumble and play along. The Olympics has taken it to a whole new level, a somewhat surreal, otherworldly level where, thanks to McDonald’s, you can only order chips on the Olympic site if they’re accompanied by a fish. Ludicrous, you say? Well yes: we’re talking branding here, not sense.

The truth is that Locog know this sort of thing adds to any cynicism the public feels about the Games. But they also know that £750m in sponsorship is £750m in sponsorship. McDonald’s, Visa, and Cadbury can pretty much do what the hell they like. Apply that principle to the world outside the stadia, and suddenly it’s not so funny.

Here's the full list:

Prohibited and restricted items lists

 

Look! It's the Pope wearing a sombrero. No, really. Photograph: Getty Images

Alan White's work has appeared in the Observer, Times, Private Eye, The National and the TLS. As John Heale, he is the author of One Blood: Inside Britain's Gang Culture.

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Low fat, full fat: why the diet industry keeps changing its mind

A new report illustrates just how disillusioned the diet industry has become, at the expense of everyone else.

Another year, another wave of dietary fads. Most seem to surface in the summer, when new nutritional advice claims to provide the panacea to everyone’s health woes: “Eat clean get lean!” “The simple secret of intermittent fasting!” “The paleo way is the only way!” “Six weeks to a super you!”

However, despite the barrage of diet books, the expansion of nutrition research and the growth of education about healthy living, global obesity has more than doubled since 1980.

It may be that this is due to the conflicting information constantly issued from the diet industry. “Eat lots of protein – it’ll speed up your metabolism!” “Too much protein will damage your kidneys – reduce your protein intake!” “Superfoods are a vital source of antioxidants!” “Superfoods aren’t so super at all!” “Don’t snack it will make you pile on the pounds!” “You should snack – it’ll stop you from binge eating!” It’s no wonder people aren’t sure what to eat.

The UK launched its first dietary guidelines in 1994, which have since been continuously revised to form the guide now known as “The Eatwell Plate”. The dietary guidelines recommend plentiful carbohydrates “such as rice, bread, pasta and potatoes”, at least five portions of fruits and vegetables, some protein, some milk, some dairy and minimal saturated fat.

However, a recent report serves to highlight the confusion consumers face when it comes to food: it claims that the official advice on low-fat diets is outright wrong, even damaging.

Led by the National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration, the report (not peer-reviewed, it’s worth noting) attacked a host of official health proposals. It claims that “eating fat does not make you fat”, and criticises Eatwell Plate’s small fat allowance. The report also stated that saturated fats have been unfairly demonised, as there is allegedly little evidence to suggest that they cause heart disease. Meanwhile sugar consumption should be dialled down to zero, apparently, and calories shouldn’t be counted, as an abundance of them won’t cause obesity. Also, forget about the exercise - apparently a bad diet can’t be outrun, according to the report.

Professor David Haslam, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: “As a clinician, treating patients all day every day, I quickly realised that guidelines from on high, suggesting high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets were the universal panacea, were deeply flawed. Current efforts have failed – the proof being that obesity levels are higher than they have ever been, and show no chance of reducing despite the best efforts of government and scientists.”

Dr Aseem Malhotra, consultant cardiologist and founding member of the Public Health Collaboration reinforced this by saying the guidelines were “perhaps the biggest mistake in modern medical history, resulting in devastating consequences for public health.” Under current dietary guidelines, obesity levels have indeed increased in the UK, with nearly two-thirds of men and women overweight or obese, costing the economy more than £3bn per year.

In the face of such starkly opposed sides - both backed by seemingly reputable experts who claim all their research is based on empirical evidence - what are consumers meant to do?

The vilification of fat

In 1983, it was recommended that overall dietary fat consumption should make up only 30 per cent of total daily energy intake – 10 per cent of which, at most, should come from saturated fat.

The recommendations came from a number of research papers published at the time, which suggested a link between saturated fat intake and increased levels of LDL cholesterol – the cholesterol which has been connected to increased risk of heart disease, stroke and atherosclerosis.

An even simpler reason for the suggestions boiled down to this: fat has more calories per gram than carbohydrates – nine calories per gram versus four, to be exact. This shape to future official guidelines, and gave birth to the low-fat high-carbohydrate mantra. Fat was cemented as public enemy number one.

As a result, the fat eliminated from people’s diets was to be supplemented with an increased intake of carbohydrates. Tipping the scales in favour of carbohydrates were promises of weight loss as a result of higher fibre content, elevated levels of serotonin to aid sleep and boosts in mood from feeling fuller.

But obesity levels continued to soar, and health experts shifted their focus to the next culprit: carbs.

The low-carb era

An analysis by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition combined the results of 21 studies and found that “saturated fat was not associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease”. Other studies demonstrated the positive effect on testosterone levels in men from increased saturated fat intake, and have noted increased levels of triglycerides (the stuff that makes you fat) from lower fat diets.

As a result, dieticians developed a deep suspicion of carbs, and sugar in particular, and diets like the Atkins regime became more and more popular.

In part, the report by the National Obesity Forum and Public Health Collaboration uses the research that propped up these low-carb high-fat diets as a means by which to attack the general consensus surrounding healthy eating. Dr Malhotra, who led the latest report, previously worked in a pressure group called Action on Sugar – a group that has tried to get the food industry to reduce the amount of sugar added to food.

The reasoning goes something like this: guidelines encouraging greater carbohydrate consumption are oblivious to the fact that sugars constitute a vast amount of refined carbohydrates. By cranking up the sugar intake we ratchet up the risk of type 2 diabetes; this in turn could spark further health problems including obesity.

The logic seems sound, and yet obesity levels have continued to soar in the face of this research. The notion that all sugar should be avoided also ignores the fact that our brains require a significant amount of glucose for optimal functioning.

Everything in moderation

In the face of an industry that can’t make up its mind about how people should eat, it’s no wonder obesity levels have grown to epidemic proportions. So what can be done?

Professor Susan Jebb, the government’s obesity adviser, believes that the current debate needs to expand beyond the battle between carbohydrates and fat. She said: “We’re eating too many calories – if we want to tackle obesity people do need to eat fewer calories and that means less fat and less sugar.” And she’s right. If decades of research have pointed to anything assertively, it’s that calories count, and paying attention to portion sizes could take us a long way.

Both fat and carbohydrates are necessary for our bodies to function. The solution? Enjoy everything in moderation. Eat fruits without fearing fructose, don’t throw away the egg yolk, get a decent amount of protein and yes, you should have your slice of cake too.