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Calorie and nutrient intake over time


I wrote an article last year that i'd like you to read called calorie and nutrient intake over time.
If you haven't got time here's the synopsis. In the UK we actually eat less now than we did during the rationing of world war 2. Yet we’re far more obese now than then. Why? My answer. We’re so much less active now than then.

Task Discussion

  • Thys   July 6, 2011, 11:20 a.m.

    In the first year of german occupation health went up in the Netherlands due to less availability of food. Children born after the second world war were asked by their parents to eat much. It made the parents angry, when their child refused to eat.

  • Tim Hunt   June 23, 2011, 6:52 p.m.

    This paper presents some evidence for what Colin hypothesises. (Yes, paywalls suck. Sorry if you can't get the full text, but actually the abstract says it all.)

    My guess is that, as well as the exercise thing, averages do not tell the whole story. My guess would be that in the 1940s, with rationing, most people were eating about the same number of calories. Today, I am sure there is a huge variation in calorie intake. So, it may be that while the average has gone down, and the large majority of people eat less, a minority, the obese people, eat much more than 2000 calories a day.

    What I think would be informative would be a calorie intake frequency distribution for both the 1940s and 2000s. I don't know if anyone had that data.

    If I may briefly head off-topic to discuss the technology. I was a bit disappointed by the graphs in the blog post. It bugged me that I could not change the y-axis to start from 0. Also, in the graph with many lines, it would have been helpful if you could have togged some of the lines on and off.

  • Colin Chambers   June 24, 2011, 5:44 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Tim Hunt   June 23, 2011, 6:52 p.m.

    Great points tim. Funny thing is that many people put on weight while still eating few calories mainly because they're not very active. Without the extra few hundred calories activity gives you most diets will, on average, give you more calories than you need. It's only when you're active can you easily have flavour and texture and builk on your foods. 


    But also you're right. Most people judge their portion size on what other people have. Most people have the wrong idea of portion size. I'm normally ridiculed for having a correct portion size because apparently and active man should eat more. Truth is that many athletes put on huge amounts of weight once they stop being so active because they don't adjust their diet. I try to adjust as needed. It's patterns like this that add weight add few have patterns that safely remove it. 

    Re the tech behind the graph. It's a proof of concept that I developed last year mashing up existing technology because I wanted to make it easier to visualise data. It's still very clunky but you can do what you want just not with the data as it is.

    You can actually change the graph presentation as needed. the data options button is where the dataset is configured. to do as you ask you'd need to make a copy of the spreadsheet I'm using and change as needed. Or adjut the sql statement used. 

    The visualisation options change the chart type used to bar chart, pie or whatever. It's not a polished or finished example but it's taught me enough about data visualisation and I want to bring it to the apps that I am building. The OU VLE should have better data visualisation but I'll leave that for more important people to suggest. 

  • Maria Droujkova   June 20, 2011, 8:51 a.m.

    There was less trash to eat in the 40th. Also, some of people's notions about food were actually better back then (ironic, given the idea of the scientific progress), for example, "We're also told that more of our calories should come from carbohydrate and less from fat" - well, this will make a person fat in a hurry, and mess up other bodily functions as a bonus, too...

    Do you think people don't have energy and vibrancy for physical activity because of non-food they eat instead of food?

  • Colin Chambers   June 20, 2011, 9:12 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Maria Droujkova   June 20, 2011, 8:51 a.m.

    It's a growing idea isn't it. AS a quick aside I got the Kins speech for my birthday. I really love that the doctors back then were prescribing, or suggesting, smoking as a cure for things. They recommended smoking as a relaxant. So how will the pills of today fair tomorrow? Will they turn out to be bad like smoking has. 

    I only mention this because I find it interesting how health fashions change over time. 

    Back to your question Maria. I'm not sure of the exact effects of the 'non foods' that people eat. I certainly feel they create side effects that can put you off being active. But when I've tried to help others be active I've just found that the infrastructure and culture isn't there. Most leisure activities people want to do arent very active. 

    Things are changing and I'm learning ways to help but most of the effort and money goes on food not activity. 

  • Maria Droujkova   June 20, 2011, 4:08 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Colin Chambers   June 20, 2011, 9:12 a.m.

    Do you have data on what sorts of fats people are eating now, vs. then? This is one of the big changes for the worse.

    As for the infrastructure: our group trying to do parkour in public places meets all sorts of obstacles. We were told using any structures downtown (even low rails) was not allowed for exercise - by a rather plump guard, I may add... Only walking, running and biking is allowed. All of these are boring activities.

  • Colin Chambers   June 22, 2011, 4:57 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Maria Droujkova   June 20, 2011, 4:08 p.m.

    Very good question. I've found finding specific data that you can compare over time, particularly across different nations hard to come by. This kind of data just wasn't tracked reliably until recently. 

    Yep. Anything interesting and slightly different from standard is hard to do. My a level course work was all about the barriers girls face in being active. I picked the topic because The allied dunbar study of the time reported that girls were far less active than boys and that's exactly what I saw in my school. Being the same age I thought I could understand why. Simple things like appearance can get in the way. Believe it or not some girls didn't want to be seen sweating. They felt it would make them look ugly. Given the pressures at that age or any age and what I see in the wider media it doesn't surprise me. 

    Guys face the same pressure but from a different angle. Then when we grow up it's just really hard to fit activity around a day job, kids and other commitments. Especially since most people socialise sitting or standing and with a ton of food and drink around. 

     You've helped me give more context to the activities in this course. Essentially food, nutrition and many other aspects are well researched areas. Always have been. Activity is not. The benefits are generally misunderstood and/or ignored. 

    The role of activity in losing weight for example has for years been negated because the direct amount of calories burnt from even intense activity is very little compared to cutting down on food. On the face of it this is true but it's too reductionist. There are studies showing that bones are stronger in active people than inactive despite both taking calcium supplements thus exercise directly protects against osteoporisis. That sugar regulation is better in active people than non active so it can protect against type 2 diabetes. This can be explained right down to the cellular level in that cells get better at listening to insulin through activity. It's a training effect that has been monitored in the lab. 

    This is the kind of information I want to bring out over time and I want to see what everyone else has to share aswell. Thanks for bringing this out. 


    You can imagine I can go on but I'll stop my rant there :-).

  • Maria Droujkova   June 22, 2011, 8:56 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Colin Chambers   June 22, 2011, 4:57 a.m.

    Thank you for your rant. What I find hardest is to integrate activity about my life - at the level of routines, but also into "meaning and significance" so to speak. I can rattle off a list of twenty or thirty "meaning and significance" items, say, for Twitter - but not as much for anything physical I do.

  • Colin Chambers   June 22, 2011, 9:14 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Maria Droujkova   June 22, 2011, 8:56 a.m.

    here, here,


    We all know we need tobe more active but we just can't fit it in or find things we actually want to do for the rest of our lives. I've started looking at things I already do or want to do and seeing the activity they give. 

    Things like shopping. I do loads on line now but some things you just have to check in store. Food and particularly clothes are good examples. So I just see that going to the shops, or popping round a supermarket is actually activity. It's a place where you have to walk and particularly with clothes, it you're prepared to put in a little effort you could save money and fine nicer stuff. It's an approach I'm working on but it does fit my life because I'm not really changing anything. I'm just appreciating what I already do and maybe doing a few minutes more of it. 

    does that make any sense?

  • Maria Droujkova   June 22, 2011, 9:21 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Colin Chambers   June 22, 2011, 9:14 a.m.

    I started to have "peripatetic" meetings and it feels great for participants - but only works with 2-3 people.

    Here are quotes from a recent discussion "What is parkour doing for you?" in our group's Facebook:

    - It's changed basically everything about me. How I see the world, how I think. It's gotten me in shape, made me feel better about myself.
    - Rediscovery of a different perspective of the world. Exciting and challenging
    - I look at parkour as a sort of a fun exercise with a twist of imagination....parkour for me also keeps me in shape and i like to meet other people who share the same interest
    - The practice of parkour has helped me summon my inner child. Parkour exercises my imaginative side and my confidence grows with every challenged conquered. I'm inspired to continue to develop my self control mentally as well as physically to achieve a more balanced life altogether. It has positively affected my self awareness.
    - I definitely view the world differently since I've been involved. I think what I enjoy the most is seeing people overcome their fears and challenge their minds, including my own! It's amazing what we can do if we set our minds to it!