Killing Millions and Costing Billions


In Britain, Lord Ian McColl was a professor of surgery for nearly 30 years, and has been a member of the House of Lords since 1989. He popularized the magnificent slogan quoted in the title of this post, which refers to the obesity epidemic that kills millions of people and costs billions of pounds.

Parliament keeps an excellent record of what its members demand that the government act on. McColl, although a political conservative, seems to care about some very basic human problems. He is particularly concerned about children in many areas other than the size of their waistlines. Education, mental health, domestic abuse, human trafficking, the foster care system — anything that impacts children’s quality of life interests him.

Last November, the House of Lords launched a charity called the Obesity Action Campaign. Its main mission is to make people, especially adolescents, more aware of the dangers of obesity — particularly the lesser-known hazards, like cancer of the liver and pancreas.

It also hopes to encourage expectant mothers to pay more attention to their diets, in order to prevent obesity in their babies. Lord McColl is a Patron of the Obesity Action Campaign, so it was the perfect occasion to repeat the slogan again.

He used this expression as far back as 2011, when he called obesity the worst epidemic to affect Britain in a century. Opinion columnist Robert Shrimsley opined that “killing millions and costing billions” was said “with the assuredness of a beat poet.”

McColl used it again in the House of Lords in 2013. In 2015 he repeated it, this time with comic effect, in the context of a jocular exchange over the American banning of haggis, a staple of Scotland’s ethnic cuisine.

Early last year, it was brought out again for a parliamentary debate over the enormous expense of the United Kingdom’s health services. Type 2 diabetes alone costs the taxpayers around £10 billion annually (almost $14 billion in U.S. currency), and in one year alone well over 7,000 children needed treatment for sleep apnea.

McColl criticized the eating habits of children and teens, saying:

The difference in the last 30 years is the grotesque increase in young people getting fatter and fatter.

In June, the National Health Service released another batch of horrifying statistics, and Lord McColl made another speech, saying,

This crisis is bankrupting the NHS. It’s killing millions and costing billions but the cure is free — eat less!

Possibly, he would have done better to quit while he was ahead, with just the pithy slogan and no tagline. At this point, the science is all over the place, but there is pretty good evidence from multiple sources that maybe the cure for obesity is not as simple as eating less.

In another parliamentary debate just last month, Lord McColl of Dulwich explained his beliefs about the body’s mechanisms for maintaining a constant weight. He is an advocate of chewing, which produces messages to the brain to quit eating.

The presence of fat in a meal also causes the feeling of satiety that prompts a person to say “enough” and push away from the table. He blames the food industry:

It demonized fat and got some unscrupulous members of the academic world to produce research that just happened to confirm its view that fat was the wrong thing… They filled the diet up with carbohydrates… The food industry then faced the problem of how to get people to eat this terrible stuff. The answer is to pour in sugar. That makes it palatable. So was born the obesity epidemic: a low-fat, high-carbohydrate, high-sugar diet.

McColl pointed out that the costs of obesity are not limited to the more obvious areas, like diabetes and cancer treatments. The epidemic has sent hundreds of thousands of the Queen’s subjects out jogging, which has led to many orthopedic problems, including costly replacements of knees and hips.

He is in agreement with many other health professionals on this subject:

Inactivity does not lead to obesity. Obesity leads to inactivity, but that is a different matter.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Written Questions and Answers,”
Source: “Charity launched to address obesity epidemic,”, 11/14/17
Source: “Survival of the Fattest,”, 10/14/11
Source: “Donald Macintyre’s Sketch: Answer to US obesity epidemic? Haggis,”, 01/15/15
Source: “Shocking new figures reveal nearly half of all young people are overweight,”, 06/25/17
Source: “Children and Young People: Obesity — Question for Short Debate,”, 04/17/18
Photo credit: Maurice on Visualhunt/CC BY

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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