Florence Nightingale and Dr David Unwin - change that can't be ignored

Well today is the day for part 2 of the recording with Dr David Unwin. I hope that it wasn’t too much for people to wait for, I know all too well that many of you have been desperate to hear the second part. Well here you go, available on all good podcast apps.

UK Low Carb podcast 

I really enjoyed the role play and hope you did too. Obviously, I will state that this is just an insight into the work that Dr David Unwin does and not advice to anyone listening. However, I think it is so valuable and I personally will think about his words when I next see my own GP – enough said!


However in this blog I want to reflect on the intro I recorded to Dr David Unwin’s episode. I mentioned the 1858 pictogram by Florence Nightingale who is much more remembered for her work in improving hygiene standards in Victorian hospitals. However what is less well known is how she managed to show the government the scale of the hygiene problem and the impact it was having on health. In 1858 she did the number crunching and could see that in military hospitals in the Crimean war, deaths by disease and infection were way higher than from battle or other accidents. She decided to make a pictogram to represent this data and as I look at this image I am profoundly moved by how simple and stark a message it delivers.

I’ve inserted her diagram below.




As you can see, each year is represented with three colours emanating from the centre. Each month has a petal this is made up of black – accidental deaths, red – death from battle and blue – deaths from disease and infection. What is striking is how the blue jumps out at you to clearly show that the vast majority of the soldiers were dying of disease and infection. It was this diagram that made the difference to policy makers in the government who now understood the scale of the problem poor hygiene was having and so could make the needed changes to hospital management.

Why do I share all that? Well Dr Unwin’s sugar spoon pictograms follow in this tradition. He has managed, with the help of Prof. Roy Taylor, to convert number rich specialist data to lay person language so that at a glance we can clearly understand how starchy foods become sugar in our bodies.


Making difficult data easily accessible and understandable is not easy. Yet it is essential as a way to change our perception of an issue and to agitate a reaction.  Some may even say a reaction from the established status quo! So why then is there resistance to his work…mmmmm I could go into that but I think that would be the start of a whole new blog post!  

Dan Greef 

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