Obesity was once a rich man's disease. Now its devastating impact is far greater on the poor than on their wealthier neighbors. During this time our life styles have undergone a dramatic change. Two centuries ago, the ruling classes got little exercise and consumed far more rich foodstuffs than the peasantry. Now the positions are reversed. At one time, when sugar was first brought to Europe from the New World, it was as expensive as caviar is today and stored like tea in locked caddies. Only the rich could enjoy its luxurious taste, and even they ate only as much in a year as the average Briton eats in a fortnight today. This is one of the greatest dietary revolutions in man's history, a change which had a disastrous on men like William Banting, the nineteenth century businessman who is the leading character in this slimming tip. Banting, who'd made a fortune selling upmarket coffins to the gentry, had a passion for sugary foods. As a result, by the time he reached the age of 65, he tipped the scales at what for a reliably short man was a gargantuan 202 lb.

This atavistic craving is shared with most other animals, including horses, bears and ants, who are all tempted to overindulge if they're offered sweet foods. Research has shown that if rats are given food which is bland but highly nutritious, they eat just enough to balance their energy requirements. But if they're given sugary foods, like biscuits, chocolates and sweets, they overeat and put on weight. Even babies show a preference for sweet drinks, a tendency which is so strong that you can get a new born baby to smile simply by giving it something sweet to eat. The sweet tooth habit starts in the cradle, although it should more properly be called a sweet tongue craving, since the receptors which distinguishing between sweet and sour are located on the tongue.

Sugar now provides about a sixth of the total calorie take in Western countries. This is a particular hazard for Britons, who are Europe's heaviest sweet eaters. The people in the south or Europe have always shown a lesser risk of obesity and heart disease than those in the north, which we attribute to the 'Mediterranean diet' rich in vegetables, fruit and wine. We overlook the fact that they eat fewer sweets, and less sugar laden junk foods. Surveys reveal that compared with the British, the French eat 39 percent fewer sweets and the Italians 60 per cent less. For us, today's jam donut is tomorrow's middle aged spread. Most of the heavily advertised foods on television are laden with salt, fats and sugar, which is how their sales are boosted. Researchers reckon that if people only ate food that was advertised on TV they would consume 25 times more than the recommended daily allowance of sugar.

One simple way of keeping slim, and improving one's general health, is to avoid eating any foods which are heavily featured in media advertisements. The other is to reduce one's overall intake of sugar. This brings us back to William Banting, who over the years had tried a variety of ways of reducing his bulk, including fast, spa treatments, diets and exercise regimes. Relief only came when he visited his doctor, the eminent Dr William Harvey, who advised him to adopt the low sugar diet he recommended for his diabetic patients. On this time his fat disappeared at a rate of about one pound a month. He was so facilitated than he published his experience in what became the first world's first recorded diet book, Letter on Corpulence (1863). In it he tells how by reducing his sugar intake he lost over twelve inches around his waist, slept better, moved more freely and could go up and down stairs with ease. These benefits can be achieved by any chubby person who reduces their sugar intake.