TV Review

woman with appleTV Review: Health & Fitness Documentaries

Please note: this reviews page covers TV programmes in 2010. For more recent TV reviews skip to the Reviews page.

If you're looking for a personal trainer in London EC1 and EC2 (Smithfield, Clerkenwell, City of London etc) just click the link to get started on your new body.

Foods That Make Billions (9pm Tuesday 30th November 2010, BBC2)

Breakfast cereals is the focus of this episode. Sadly, most boxes of breakfast cereal are full of sugar, in quantities that put you at risk of type 2 diabetes, and unhealthy weight gain.

There are healthy cereals (such as unsweetened porridge oats), and not so healthy cereals ( which constitutes pretty much 90% of all branded breakfast cereals aimed at children). The majority of cereals targeted at children are, not suprisingly, saturated with sugar, salt and chemicals to make them more appealing. They're not real food, they're sweets disguised as food.

Although many breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamins, it's probably fair to say that these cereals are not the healthiest start to the day for our nation's children. Vitamins and minerals are best consumed naturally in healthy whole foods, like fruit and vegetables.

The wheat-based cereals go through so many refining processes that most of the natural goodness of the wheat is removed. The outer skin of the wheat (the bran, an excellent source of fibre) is removed to enable better absorbtion of the sugar/salt/chemicals. The wheatgerm is removed because its oils would make the cereal go rancid after a lengthy period, and anything that shortens the longevity of a packaged food product is removed for commercial reasons.

The secret of the breakfast cereal manufacturers' vast profits is 'adding value'. 1kg of corn costs 15p, whereas 1kg of Kelloggs Cornflakes sells for £3 (that's more than one cereal packet). Quite a profit margin. The 'added value' is the convenience, the taste, and the brand image created by clever advertising. And Britain eats more branded breakfast cereals than any other country outside the USA. In contrast, Iceland, Norway, and Finland have among the lowest consumption of sugary cereals in the world.

Given the amount of sugar and salt, kids breakfast cereals are little more than junk food, with vitamins/minerals added in a bid to appease health-conscious parents and health experts.

Are You Fitter Than a Pensioner? (8pm Sunday 26th Sept 2010, BBC3)

This entertaining show is The Golden Girls meets Little Britain. Four unhealthy young Brits spend a week with four ultra-fit pensioners in an active retirement village in Florida.

There's Kevin, a nine-stone party animal who lives for fried chicken. And Sean, who's love of pizza is greater than his love of anything else in life. Heavy smoker and drinker Jaqualine hates authority. And finally there's Caroline, mother of a poor kid of 3, and they share meals out of a plastic carton full of takeaway sludge.

The pensioners are incredible. They wear only sports gear, they get up at 7am, they swim and cycle and pump iron and dance and eat like athletes.

Some highlights:

Kevin is faced with a plate of vegetables and lean turkey. He looks like he's going to cry. "The sweet potato is...sweet," he squeals.

Caroline launches herself into the pool with the biggest belly-flop ever known in TV history.

"Eat your veg, or shots will be fired," says one of the pumped-up pensioners, a retired New York cop.

And Jacqueline describes her binge drinking to the mildly mortified couple she's staying with.

Biggest highlight:

They all form an emotional bond. The pensioners dispense wise and warm advice to their guests. The young Brits beat the pensioners in a fitness challenge, promise their new American friends they'll ditch the junk-food, booze, and lazy lifestyles; and vow to become as fit as 21 year olds when they return to the UK.

Kevin wants to enter a triathlon when he gets back to London. Caroline swears she'll set a better example to her 3 year old. Sean and Jacqualine are both determined to get into shape. There are tears on both sides as they wave goodbye. Turns out the young Brits are on the brink of becoming pretty incredible too.

Watch this show or you're dead.

Food (8pm Wednesday 15th September 2010, Channel 4)

This new series looks at all aspects of our food. Tonight we learn that there are 100,000 cases of food poisoning in the UK each year. The main culprit is chicken, as most of the time we can't see or taste or smell the bacteria responsible. We're advised to store chicken in the fridge for maximum 2 days, so eat on the day of purchase or the next day at the latest.

The show then turns to sugar in fruit juice. There's a lot of it! One brand of apple juice has more sugar per 250 ml serving (6 teaspoons) than cola (5 teaspoons). The lowest in sugar of all fruit juices is Morrison's tomato juice, the lowest orange juice is Tesco from concentrate with bits in. And the highest in sugar of all juices is Tropicana's red grape juice. (I advise my personal training clients to dilute fruit juice 50/50 with water, and not drink more than a glass a day. Fruit juice can only count as one of your 'five a day', regardless of how much you drink).

LazyTown (Saturday mornings 9am, on BBC's CBeebies)

This dynamic show for kids is the creation of Icelander Magnus Scherving, who stars in the show as Sportacus.

"Sportacus inspires us to be the best we can", says the website, and "Anyone can be a hero".

Sportacus is a rare example of a positive role model for kids, leading by example with his energy, healthy eating, and love of physical activity. Makes a refreshing change from the barrage of junk food advertising that kids are force-fed every day. Fruit is referred to in the show as 'sports candy' and the whole show is a blitz of dance, music, activity and adventure.

The Icelandic Surgeon General says that the show has made the biggest single contribution to tackling child obesity in Iceland.

Marcus Scherving, the show's creator and star, is a former world class athlete, voted Athlete of the Year in Iceland in the 1990's. Marcus founded one of Iceland's most popular fitness clubs, as well as growing the LazyTown brand to include books and CD's and more. What an inspiring role model for kids. He's like a celebrity personal trainer for the world's children.

If you're a parent of young children, get them tuned into LazyTown on Saturday mornings, 9am on BBC's CBeebies.

Final Episode of Generation XXL (channel 4, Mon 11th January 2010,9pm)

This episode follows three kids aged 6-7. After a few minutes, it's clear why they're all obese. It's the parents.

One mum grates a mountain of cheese to sprinkle over the evening meal. "I can't work out why we're so fat," she says. Another mum is unhappy with her daughter's school, which is encouraging healthy lunches. "I don't agree with this healthy eating," she says, and defends her daughter's size by saying "When she's big, she's cuddly." You'd think she was talking about a soft toy, rather than a human being.

To her credit, one of the mums hires a one-off session with a personal trainer for her daughter. They go to the park and do boxercise and running around. A one-off session is good as far as it goes, but some exercise every day is needed to reverse obesity.

When the kids are assessed by the experts, the mums have a change of heart. Except one, that is, who says, "she's my little girl at any size, I don't care." Two of the kids body fat percentages are off the scale, dangerously obese. They begin to exercise more, and change their eating habits. Even the mum who gives into her daughter's demands for sweets "for a peaceful life" gets her daughter to attend swim club and dance club.

It's fantastic to see the fighting spirit of the boy who becomes determined to lose the weight, and starts to play football regularly. Even more gratifying is the transformation of the girl who wouldn't eat any fruit or veg, to eating them willingly. And this same girl who wouldn't go in a paddling pool without bawling, now loves her swimming sessions with her dad at the local pool.

None of the mums were aware of how obese their kids were, until the health expert explained it to them. Now they're all making improvements. As one mum put it, "Maybe it's the kick in the teeth every parent of an obese child needs."

Generation XXL (Channel 4, Mon 4th January 2010, 9pm)

In this series, Channel 4 follows 7 obese kids. Tonight's episode focused on Jake from London, Sabrina, and Lauren, all aged 9-10, from 3 different families.

The three kids are asked what worries them about their weight. Being bullied and looking different from the other kids, says Jake.

Jake's mum gives him chips for a treat, and takes him down to the local pub. After school, Jake spends lots of time playing on his computer, and does no exercise. Sabrina, in another family, eats large portions of heated-up curry for breakfast, and deep-fried foods in the evening (mum has a deep fat fryer). We watch her mum (who has high blood pressure) add a heaped tablespoon of salt into the next family curry.  The third child in the programme, Lauren, does Weightwatchers which permits crisps and cookies as long as they're part of the 'points system.'

When asked what they know about healthy eating, Jake says 'chips and ketchup', and Lauren says 'carbon dioxide'. To their credit, they do both list fruit and veg as healthy foods.

The School of Sport and Exercise Science at John Moores University assesses the three kids. They're all classed as obese, and they're advised to do more physical activity. We watch all three get more active, and they all seem to enjoy it. There's also an adults' class for healthy cooking, which the parents attend. Looks like there's hope for all three kids.

I can't help thinking that the programme didn't get to the heart of the issues. Why is there not enough focus on sport, fitness or healthy eating in schools? Why does the government not promote healthy eating to the extent that it actually makes an impact? Will Jake, Sabrina, and Lauren do enough exercise to burn off all that excess fat?

And why are Britain's sports facilities for kids so inadequate? As a personal trainer in London, I see first hand the lack of fitness opportunities for kids in London. Not everyone can afford a personal trainer, and the sports facilities that do exist are often overcrowded, dirty, with too much broken or substandard equipment. The programme explored none of these issues in any detail.

Next episode looks at 3 younger children.

Make My Body Younger (series 2, episode 6, see BBC i-player)

This episode features Bobbi, a 23 year old who hasn't eaten any fruit or veg for the last 20 years. She drinks over 20 units of alcohol on saturday nights, and smokes up to 25 cigarettes a day. Exhaustion, physical weakness, constipation, and mood swings, are all symptoms of her lifestyle.

"Brocolli is my Everest" she gags as she tries to eat some veg. The nutritionist explains that fruit and veg are vital for bowel health, as the fibre mops up the toxins in the colon and keeps bowel movements frequent. A low-fibre diet puts you at risk of bowel cancer, as the toxins linger too long in the colon. Her biological bowel age is 71, according to her 'living autopsy'.

Bobbi has a mineral deficiency test, which shows she is deficient in all the 8 essential minerals. Another symptom of no fruit and veg.

To drive home the message that the junk-food and takeaways she lives on are made from the lowest quality food imaginable, she is shown a dead pig's head, and when she realises that some of the low-price sausages and takeaways she is eating contain the snouts and ears and eyes of dead pigs, her love of junk-food starts to fade.

When her 3 year old daughter is given a nicotine test, which shows nicotine in her system from passive smoking, this is a major wake-up-call for Bobbi, who vows to cut down.

What was missing from the programme was the value of regular exercise to stimulate an appetite for healthy eating, and to boost circulation and heart health, which in turn help all the body's functions including digestion and healthy bowel movements. In additon to the nutritionist who advised her on the programme, she could have done with a personal trainer to get her active. Good diet and regular exercise are equally vital, a key message the programme didn't convey.

The World's Best Diet (Tuesday 11th August 2009 at 8pm ITV2)

Celebrities Darren Gough (former England cricketer) and Cheryl Baker (former singer with Bucks Fizz) were sent abroad to live on the diets of other countries, to see how much healthier than the British diet they were.

Darren, 15 stone 5 lbs with a waist of 39", went to Italy. We learnt that the Italians eat 50% more fruit and veg than us Brits, and they snack less between meals than we do. Shockingly, we were told that the UK eats half of all the crisps eaten in Europe. And surprise surprise, the Italians eat more fresh fish than us. And when the Italians eat pasta, the portions are relatively small.  Next week we should learn how much weight Darren lost in Italy.

Meanwhile, Cheryl, 10 stone 6 lbs with a 34" waist, was sent to India. Cancer rates in India are half that in the UK. We learnt that the spices in Indian food have anti-cancer properties, and the sulphur compounds in onions (that play a large part in the Indian diet), help protect the heart. Fresh local produce dominates Indian cuisine. Freshly picked and freshly killed that is, not freshly taken out of a ready-meal box.

Dietitian Catherine Collins and nutritionist Amanda Ursell were on hand to explain just how much healthier the Italian and Indian diets were than our good old British diet.

Tune in next week to see how more celebs get on with fresh and healthy food abroad.

What's Really in Our Food (Tuesday 14th July 2009 at 9pm on BBC1)

I had a feeling this would be an eye-opener, and it was. I'll never eat a ready-meal or takeaway again.

We learnt just how cunning the marketing wizards are at creating alluring illusions. Even Derren Brown would have been impressed. Ready-meal packaging with pictures of country cottages, rustic 'handwritten' typeface with words like "British Made" (merely means 'last handled in Britain') and "Outdoor Bred" (the pigs were outdoors only 20% of their lives). Rural dream vs industrial truth.

It got worse. What we think is prime meat in ready meals and takeaways, is more likely to include mechanically-recovered meat, which includes skin and connective tissue. Trading Standards, which enforces labelling, lament that the labelling of ready-meals may be misleading and morally dubious, but often is technically legal. So much for the law championing the consumer.

There was 'low fat mince' which had double the fat of regular mince. There was 'organic salad' where the only organic element was that it had been washed with an organic washing agent.  And some of these washing agents contained anti-freeze. At least we won't freeze in the winter then.

Even more creepy, we saw chicken breasts that had been pumped with water mixed with powdered skin and bone of pigs and cows, to bulk it up and boost profits.

If you want to lose weight, it might be worth avoiding ready-meals, mince, takeaways, and chicken from dodgy sources. Stick to good quality supermarkets and buy fresh produce instead.


Sidebar banner image