Birmingham Post restaurant critic Richard McComb is surprised by the results of an autumn health MoT.
It’s like the old joke, without the side-splitting punch line. Doctor tells a patient: “I’ve got some good news – and some bad news.”
In my case, the good news is that I am not a heart-attack-waiting-to-happen.
The bad news is that unless I get off my backside and eat more sunflower seeds, I will be a heart-attack-waiting-to-happen.
Of course, Becky Cope, health promotion nurse at Superdrug, doesn’t present her prognosis in such bleak terms. In fact, she is fairly upbeat about my whole health meltdown.
It’s nothing that a few lifestyle changes can’t fix, she says.
Oh, and some dietary ones.
But I am a restaurant critic. How’s that going to work? Eating is what I do. Chefs aren’t going to think much of my bulldog reputation if I start ordering tofu and wasabi.
Tough decisions will need to be made, however.
The facts are irrefutable: 26.3 per cent of my body is fat, which puts me on a par with a sperm whale. Chuck me in Gas Street basin and I won’t sink.
The question of body fat and the like have arisen because I have taken the opportunity to have an autumn health MoT, with a mole inspection thrown in for good measure, at one of Superdrug’s nurse-run clinics.
It is a terrific system. You book a slot, pay a not unreasonable fee and get an on-the-spot check-up, warts and all.
I was under the impression that the state provided these once-overs to men of 40 and over, but I’ve never been offered one and was delighted to be asked along by Superdrug.
Who knows, it might save my life, at worst prolong it.
I went to the company’s store in Union Street, in Birmingham city centre, and was given a bronze health inspection (£20) by Becky, a registered nurse who is eight months pregnant. Surely she should be having the health screen, not me.
Anyway, Becky proceeds to check my blood pressure, glucose levels (for diabetes), cholesterol, weight and lard content.
The results are not entirely as wished for, but at times like these one clings to anything positive, however tenuous.
So I am overjoyed to discover that although I am overweight, I’m not obese. Result!
First up is a blood pressure check. Inevitably, being a bloke, I am fine, right up until the arm pump comes out.
Becky assures me that lots of people’s heart rate rises as soon as they see medical equipment. It makes me feel a little less of a fairy.
The three readings are all in the same range (a good thing) but are too high (a bad thing).
The figures are 141/97, 145/92 and 138/97.
A systolic blood pressure consistently over 140 (the top bit) and/or a diastolic blood pressure (the bottom bit) above 85 is considered to be “raised,” according to the Superdrug bumph.
I lose on both counts, a technical knock-out.
This means the picture isn’t great, but I console myself with the fact there are two more “danger” categories above mine in the Blood Pressure Association’s guidelines.
It is time, though, to de-stress, cut salt intake, lose weight and in the words of Diana Ross’s Work That Body, it’s time to, umm, work that body, but not before I get my cholesterol checked.
Here, I am quietly confident.
I don’t eat takeaway curries or Chinese meals and haven’t had a kebab for years. No crisps, no sticky buns, hardly any fry ups. Bring it on, nurse.
I take the pin-prick in the finger like a man and wait for the blood sample to be tested on the hand-held CardioChek machine.
First up is my glucose reading, which storms home at 2.6 mmol/l (millimoles/litre), well below the recommended level of less than 7.0 mmol/l.
I haven’t got type two diabetes, which is synonymous with obesity. Another result. (Fact: more than 80 per cent of people with type two are overweight.)
Being fatalistic, I ask if it is possible to have too low a glucose level.
I haven’t eaten for almost four hours and Becky assures me it will buck up once I’ve had a mung bean.
And so to cholesterol. My total cholesterol is 6.75 mmol/l. I’m “slightly over,” says Becky.
She’s being kind, and I love her for it.
Ideally, the reading should be less than five.
Cheese may be my downfall. Ditto red meat and the gorgeous, meltingly wonderful fat on my favourite rib of beef.
Becky tells me to increase my consumption of good cholesterol, such as olive oils and sunflower seeds (which I am eating now, honestly!).
My weight is an “issue.” OK, OK, it’s 13st 6lb (say it quickly), but I am wearing a heavy pair of corduroy trousers and robust pants.
Taken together with my height (5ft 9in), I get a body mass index of 27.75, a good 2.25 points off obese. My BMI should be between 18.5 and 24.9, so I’m still a blubber boy.
Then there’s the fat-o-meter. A set of scales with foot sensors calculates my body fat percentage at 26.3. Clearly, they’re wrong.
Becky tells me: “Your health is manageable at the moment.”
I say: “So I could still be an Olympian?”
Becky: “I don’t think that ... You could be normal.”
Normal? How boring, but I get her drift.
The final test of the day is a mole examination, which Superdrug conducts in partnership with the London-based Mole Clinic.
The Birmingham centre does brisk business and Becky has examined customers and their moles from Solihull, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Nottingham and Derby.
“People do travel an awful lot of miles to get their moles checked,” says Becky, raising the prospect of mole miles.
She gives me a top-to-toe examination carried out in accordance with NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) guidelines.
I had a mole removed from a toe a couple of years ago and am reassured to discover there is nothing nasty lurking anywhere else.
There are a few burst blood vessels, called cherry anginoma, which sounds like an ex-girlfriend, and are harmless.
Becky scans my moles with an aspherical lens – a posh magnifying glass – and concludes they are all the same shade of brown, which is a good thing.
She is interested in the shape, size and colour of the moles and is specifically on the hunt for abnormalities.
If anything crops up, patients are referred to a specialist.
I leave the consultation reassured – and head to Marks & Sparks for a healthy wild salmon and cucumber sandwich (calorie content: negligible).
* For more information about superdrug's health checks, go to superdrug.com/icat/health
A single MOLECheck costs £30. A complete MOLECheck of every visible mole costs £95.