In Depth

Tom Watson’s new mission in life: beating the public health crisis

Tom Watson, PHC 2019

Former deputy leader of the Labour party, Tom Watson shares his new mission in life at the Public Health Collaboration (PHC) conference in May 2019.

Yesterday, Tom Watson announced he was stepping down as deputy leader. His talk at the PHC foretells of his passion to focus his time towards battling the public health crisis.

In his talk with Dr Aseem Malhotra, Tom talks us through his commitment to understand the scale and influence of food lobbying and his bid to encourage independent research into nutrition.

In the candid interview, he even states how he intends to work for McDonalds as part of figuring out what is going on with the food industry.

A new mission in life: public health

The interview starts off as Dr Malhotra asks Tom about his personal health journey.

In answering the question, Tom reveals he has a “new mission in life”. He tells us how he was able to transform his life, through nutrition and health, at the age of 51.

He talks about how he had been living reactively to situations in his life and how he is now looking at his life ahead:

“I want to live another 51 years but a purposeful life, where the decisions I made would be positive decisions based on really deep values.”

He talks about his hopes for the NHS, that the organisation develops to include a greater emphasis on preventative measures.

Tom states, “The only reason I got well was when I defied the advice of my own government and my own NHS on nutrition. [The NHS] needs to put full and fulfilling lives at the centre of its purpose.”

“Utterly transformational”

Aseem asks Tom about his health journey, which involved following a much lower carbohydrate approach to his diet and Tom answers saying, “I feel emancipated, I feel free.”

He mentions about how many health books, research papers and podcasts he read and listened to, in order to give him the information he needed to choose and have certainty in his approach to lifestyle.

Tom tells us his own diet was to start on a ketogenic way of eating and that he “kicked type 2 diabetes in six weeks flat”. After achieving sufficient improvements for his health, Tom now alternates his diet between keto and Mediterranean/Pioppi diet approach.

“I’ve never felt more determined and strongly about anything”

He states that he waited a year before talking about his health achievements, and that a key guiding reason being that he wanted to be sure that his achievement was a lasting success and not a “weird temporary aberration”.

He mentions how, and feels many others must share this feeling, that when he’d achieved this, he became angry and annoyed that he could have pulled this off 20 years earlier.

“You just want other people to feel as good as you do,” he states.

He empathises with others who have type 2 diabetes and how millions of them could also enjoy the same success as him if they know how to.

He resolutely states: “I’ve never felt more determined and strongly about anything. Every time I have to go into a stupid meeting about Brexit, I feel like I’m missing an opportunity to return to what I think is the remaining big cause I have in politics.

“That’s why I’m going to do it”

Dr Malhotra next asks Tom about the extent of commercial influence on dietary guidelines and the conflicts of interest.

Tom talks about the difference in scale with these huge global companies and lobbies compared with the people who are working towards a balanced, independent review of the guidelines.

“It’s the people in this room versus Coca-Cola,” he states before adding, “The man from Coca-Cola only does it because he’s paid to do it. You do it because you believe in it. And that’s why I’m going to do it.”

Tom goes into the scale of the influence. He tells us how the most powerful lobbies try to influence at every point in the communications chain about diet and health. While Tom doesn’t detail these points, such points include influence of the people doing dietary research, how the media conveys research and how governments respond to it with food policy.

He talks about how busy Parliamentarians are and how it is very difficult for them to map out the communication chains of huge food lobbies

“MPs know there are problems in how much sugar there is in the diet, but they don’t know what the scale and what the game is,” he states.

There is policy work to be done to ensure there is independent work into nutrition.

Cross-party talks

Tom discusses how he would not like to have his involvement in the Labour party “over-politicising” his bid to tackle public health.

He states that he has raised a commission on halting the rise of type 2 diabetes and his future aims to convince Matt Hancock, current Secretary of State for Health, of the need for change to tackle the public health crisis that exists.

In light of the news this week, the interview Tom gives at the PHC conference gives an enlightening insight into where Tom’s future ambitions lie.

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