Feast. (Photo: user Sillydog in Flickr)

Christmas time is here, and for those of us living in the wealthier parts of the world, these days are characterised by a lot of eating, most often way too much eating. Here is what can be read about that in Hitchcock & Hitchcock’ 1860 book Elementary Anatomy and Physiology for Colleges, Academies and Other Schools.

“334. Danger of eating too much.-2. We see that there is a great danger of eating too much. Large quantities of food distend the coats of the stomach, and give too much labor for them to perform. As a natural consequence the gastric glands are weakened from excessive action, and then indigestión or some other diseased action is sure to follow. And in how much better health would multitudes in the higher clases of society be kept, if some of the numerous dishes they use were omitted! And in this country the remark applies to nearly all classes.”

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the “national average apparent food consumption” (a more appropriate term than “food consumption per capita per day”) in industrialized countries is nearly 3400 kcal, and has increased by 11.5% in the past 50 years. Meanwhile, the daily amount of ingested energy barely reaches 2200 kcal in sub-Saharan Africa, and this value has remained almost stangnant in the last 50 years.

“335. We are apt to eat too many Kinds of Food.-3. We also see that our meals are generally made up of too many kinds of food. In the habits of the lower animals we discover a great simplicity of diet. Even in those whose anatomical structure closely resembles that of man, the appetites are easily satisfied by the simplest food. Nor does man’s intellectual superiority demand a greater variety in diet, all that is requisite being the materials necessary to support the growth of the different tissues.”

Here is some information from the Food and Agriculture Organization regarding global and regional food consumption patterns and trends: per capita energy supply has declined from both animal and vegetable sources in the countries in economic transition, while it has increased in the developing and industrialized countries. Similar trends are evident for protein availability; this has increased in both developing and industrialized countries but decreased in the transition countries. Although the global supply of protein has been increasing, the distribution of the increase in the protein supply is unequal. The lowest quantities of fat consumed are also recorded in Africa, while the highest consumption occurs in parts of North America and Europe. There has been a remarkable increase in the intake of dietary fats over the past three decades and this increase has taken place practically everywhere except in Africa, where consumption levels have stagnated. The per capita supply of fat from animal foods has increased, respectively, by 14 and 4 g per capita in developing and industrialized countries, while there has been a decrease of 9 g per capita in transition countries. A total of 19 countries fell below the minimum recommendation of 15% dietary energy supply from fat, the majority of these being in sub-Saharan Africa and the remainder in South Asia. In contrast, 24 countries were above the maximum recommendation of 35%, the majority of these countries being in North America and Western Europe.

And here is something for those smokers who make it a New Year resolution to give up their vice, but never do:

“650. Pernicious Effect of Tobacco on the Brain.-9. The effect of tobaco on the brain is thus described, in his medical lectures, by Dr. Solly, an eminent physiologist and practical physician: “I would caution you, as students, from excesses in the use of tobacco and smoking, and I would advise you to disabuse your patients’ minds of the idea that it is harmless. I have had a large experience of brain disease, and am satisfied now that smoking is a most noxious habit. I know of no cause or agent that tends so much to bring a functional disease and through this in the end to lead to organic diseases of the brain, as excessive use of tobacco.”

That was in 1860! If someone is still not convinced, please have a look for example at the study by Ghosh et al. (2009) about tobacco-specific procarcinogens and their effects on acute inflammation in brain, leading to neuronal damage and aggravating conditions in neuroinflammation-mediated pathological conditions.


Ghosh, D., Mishra, M.K., Das, S., Kaushik, D.K., Basu, A. (2009). Tobacco carcinogen induces microglial activation and subsequent neuronal damage. Journal of Neurochemistry 110: 1070-1081.

Hitchcock, E., Hitchcock, E., Jr. (1860). Elementary Anatomy and Physiology for Colleges, Academies and Other Schools. New York: Ivison, Phinney & Co.

World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization (2003). Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases. WHO Technical Report Series, 916.

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