Why This Book

Thousands of books. Billions of dollars. But society is continuing to get fatter, more un-healthy, and what to do about it stumped me. Personally. 10kg over my desired weight, but just within the healthy BMI range. At 24.9 I had another 0.1 before I was officially overweight. I was doing some exercise, restraining from too much food, too often.  But over the last 5 years was unable to make any difference at all to my weight, and I knew that skinny worms lived longer than fat ones.  That was the sum of my knowledge.

In a study of formerly obese people, researchers at the University of Florida found that virtually all said that they would rather be blind, deaf or have a leg amputated than be obese again. That is the extent of our desire to be slim and yet two thirds of people in the UK, USA and Australia are overweight and one quarter obese. Why?  To be slim, to achieve the thing we want more than our sight, hearing, or mobility, we are told that we just need to “eat less and/or do more.” Quite specifically, the advice is “One pound of fat contains 3,500 calories, so to lose 1lb a week you need a deficit of 500 calories a day.” So, why don’t we just follow the advice? Why on earth do we have an obesity problem, let alone an epidemic, when we so desperately want to be slim?

I wasn’t obese. This wasn’t me. But I did wonder.

I was about to turn 60, and I had been telling family and friends that I was going to live to 120. So something needed to change if I did not wind up dribbling to a room full of strangers in my mid- nineties. Or worse not speaking to the intensive care unit nurse at the age of 65 due to a cardiovascular “incident”. I knew looking after yourself was necessary, but what was based on good science, what was poor or compromised science, and what was fiction. Could one take steps to be more healthy and live for another 60 years. What was the current knowledge base?  Based on recent good science. Not mythology and not sensation. What could I do that could swing the odds?  My “pedigree” or DNA should be good with a father living to 96, paternal grandfather to 92, my maternal to 78 (with 2 pack per day cigarettes). Was that enough? What were the “low hanging fruit” things to do? The media were saying that this generation would live less long than the previous one, inspite of medical technologies.

Low hanging fruit are those things that take very little effort for very big outcome! That I knew from my mentoring business leaders. That low hanging fruit are the thing to focus on initially. They may take some work to identify – just because “common practice is not always common sense”.  And the more you know about the industry you are in, the more difficult they are to spot. So what did the medical industry know, and what were they ignoring. Too simple? Too much vested interest? Too keen to be complicated and not simple?

I know a “little” biochemistry – more than enough to be dangerous! With 4 years of undergraduate Agricultural Science and 3 years of PhD study in plant physiology and biochemistry, so I could get my head around a few thousand compounds. At the end of my PhD I could write down from memory hundreds of compounds in complicated biochemical pathways! I could read and was pretty good at reading and writing research papers (had published 38 science journals) and have a well developed discerning sense of what was not stated in the conclusions. (BS detector!) With 6 years of statistics study and 12 years in biological research, software programming statistical routines from the ground up, I knew about correlation and causation, and business numbers and trends are second nature after 20 years looking at balance sheets, profit and losses, marketing plans, creating training resources for business products and helping people get real understanding about numbers. I knew about diets. My partner and wife of 28 years had been on them most of our life together. Diets weren’t for me. Only if I wanted to put on weight and spend money needlessly. And I certainly had not realised there are over 660 diets, and increasing by the day.

Never bothered about health particularly. I had been a skinny kid, and wanted desperately to put on weight at the age of 15 to move from the Rugby Union under 9 stone 7lb team (60kg / 133lbs) to the senior teams. By the age of 20 was at 70kg (11 stone, 155lb) and 5’11” (183cm) and there I stayed until the 30’s. By 50 I had got to 95kg (15st, 210lb). How? Have no idea. Too much business travel or “lifestyle”probably. But the doctor at an executive checkup in late 1998 gave me some great advice. Go from full strength beer to light beer, cut out the chips and move to salads, swap soft drink for diet soft drink or water, and have more fish and less steak meals. Over the next 12 months 10 kg of that came off. Figured that if it had taken 20 years to put the weight on, 12 months was a fair time to take it off. Without pain or lots of mind games. More oysters, prawns, and fish. Twice as much beer! Less fried chips. I just wish that doc had known what I know now.

And there the weight stayed for another 8 years, at which stage gym beckoned. Not for losing weight, but to build some upper chest muscle, and ward off osteoporosis. Not that I had it (I think) but because my man boobs (10% of all males have Gynecomastia) were a bit off-putting down on the beach; to my 3 year old grandson who asked why I had boobies, so it seemed like a good idea. Going to a gym is hard mental work, but I stuck at it for 3 times a week, 1 hour only. With 20 minutes of cardio (high intensity rowing and cycling) and 40 minutes of mostly upper body strengthening. Some weeks saw 4 or 5 days and some none – depending on business commitments, travel or holidays. To my surprise, the gym actually reduced my weight by another 5kg down to about 83kg (ranged from 79 to 86kg). The waistline trimmed down. Heart rate has been steady at 55 to 60 bpm and blood pressure 117 over 63.

As I read health articles – when waiting in the doctors room for my annual inspection (or proctologist for my 2 year checkup), it seemed that I was not quite at “optimum”. The doctor had threatened statins to bring my cholesterol down, but my other risk factors for cardiovascular were low. My fasting sugar levels were a little high. Nothing seemed to make any effect. Weight was on the high side, with a BMI of 24/25 but everyone said “you’re ok”. But it did not seem like that. My father had a heart attack at 82 and at ninety got more and more frail. Without a hip operation, impossible due to his cardio vascular issues, he stopped walking at age 94.  My mother got dementia at 82 and died at 89. Was this what was facing me? Mid to late nineties, not 120, and certainly without some lifestyle and health change. But what?

I read lots. Working in commercialising innovative technology you have to get a feel of market opportunities. Popular press such as New Scientist, online forums, but also detailed studies in medicine as a I looked to identify business opportunities for colour x-rays, or how to position trampolines in the market to stop kids getting fatter. Great graphs of kids consuming fruit juices and increasing obesity! Or working or listening to policy makers in public health about the exploding costs of aging, of obesity.

So this journey of focused discovery started at the start of 2013. What has science come up with? The hip replacements are here now. Australian CSIRO scientists have just come up with a titanium 3D printing compound that can create individual tailored new hip joints. You can get 3D printed heart valves. Commercially, a new kidney or new heart might be here in the next 10 years, if you have enough money for them; but what about simple things, done now that will have payback over the next 30 to 60 years. What prevention tactic could I can do today to make a difference? Not some drug company. Or food company. Something really cheap and effective. What can I look forward to over the next 20, 30, 60 years? Is the 120 years a theoretical limit only, or is there science right now to change my biology? What do I stop doing that has no value? In business I get people to draw up a “not to do list”. Everyone has a “to do” list, but a “not to do” list allows you to achieve the really important things. What are the most likely winning strategies from good science? I know biological science is never 100%, but can only provide us best indications of what will or won’t work. It is about risk minimisation, and potential optimisation.

The writing has been very interesting. I thought I had it nailed early on, but then I kept reading. As I read more articles, and read or re-read books by others, the more I discovered I did not know. At a few times it seemed like mission impossible. What was new? What had others missed? Throughout my career in science or business there is one tenant I always try to be faithful to. Employ people smarter than yourself. While I am in the business of commercialising technology, I always try to find smarter people; people who can provide the foundation of ingenuity, of creativeness, and then try to create the framework for them to blossom.


Leave a Reply