Little dose of food for thought

Health programmes are best approached with caution. The Food Hospital sounded like a recipe for smugness and condescension: a series advocating the use of "food as medicine" to treat everything from weight problems to cancer. The Food Hospital (C4), Top Boy (C4)

In what seems a contractual requirement for such series, it's presented by a team of medics who are all young(ish), good-looking and unbearably pleased with themselves. The basic message was the same obvious, common-sense one it always is -- cut out the crap, eat more fruit and vegetables, take more exercise -- but the results for the patients featured were in some cases remarkable.

Lauren (24) has suffered from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) since she was 15. The side-effects include serious weight-gain and, because of too much of the male hormone testosterone in the system, an excess of facial hair -- in Lauren's case a full beard, which she has to lather up and shave like a man. Her life at school was made a misery by bullies and these days she avoids leaving the house as much as possible. An even more worrying potential side-effect of PCOS is infertility; Lauren and her boyfriend are desperate to be parents.

Chris, who's divorced and works in sales, has type two diabetes and has been cavalier about following medical advice.

His job means he spends most of his time driving his car and existing on processed rubbish from garage forecourt shops. Chris weighs 24 stones and his teenage son fears his next sales appointment will be with the undertaker.

Most heart-rending of all is seven-year-old Harvey, who's been getting severe migraine headaches since he was four. The drugs aren't working any more and he can have up to five attacks a week, lasting for hours. He draws pictures of himself with his head chopped off and says, with a clarity only a child can manage, the pain feels like someone is twisting his brain.

Each was put on a tailored diet. For Harvey, this meant cutting out full-fat milk, cheese, peanuts, chocolate, citrus fruits, hotdogs (which he loves) and anything processed.

After six weeks, Lauren's weight had dropped by one-and-a-half stones and her facial hair growth had receded dramatically. Chris had lost nearly twice that much weight and gained twice the energy he'd previously had. His blood sugar level dropped from a dangerously high 8.5 to 3.5.

With Harvey's mother scrupulously controlling his diet, up to the point of feeding him homemade fish fingers for his birthday party while his pals scoffed the frozen variety, his migraines disappeared. A tolerable spoonful of TV medicine with a refreshing lack of weepy, sugary back-stories.

It's been a great few weeks for Northern Irish writer Ronan Bennett. His hugely entertaining conspiracy thriller Hidden ended on BBC1 last week and now here's the superb Top Boy, which couldn't be more different, running on four consecutive nights (last night's was the second) on Channel 4.

British television has been looking for its own answer to The Wire for ages. Top Boy isn't quite it -- you can't compare four episodes with five series -- although it shares much of that masterpiece's gritty DNA.

Ashley Walters, a former member of So Solid Crew who spent 18 months inside for firearms offences, and actor/rapper Kane Robinson, aka Kane O, play a pair of low-level drug dealers violently working their way up the ladder on a fictional inner-city flat complex in London and embroiled in a feud with a more dangerous outfit.

Malcolm Kanulete, meanwhile, is a young boy who's perilously close to being sucked into the vicious when his depressed mother is taken into hospital and he starts tending his neighbour's cannabis crop.

Top Boy is not for the faint-hearted; within the opening 15 minutes last night we'd seen a guy tortured with a hot clothes iron to the chest and another attacked with a bottle in a nightclub. But it's gripping, truthful, convincing and superbly acted.

The Food Hospital 3/5 Top Boy 5/5