A look back at ‘Tackling Obesities: Future Choices’ (Foresight 2007)

In 2007 the UK Government’s Foresight programme published a report called ‘Tackling Obesities: Future Choices’ which pointed out that more and more of the population would become obese in the coming decades and that the economic implications of an obese population were likely to be substantial.

In 2007, about 23% of adults and about 10% of children were obese with another 20-25% of children overweight. Foresight extrapolated that by 2025 some 40% of Britons could be obese and that by 2050 Britain would be a mainly obese society.

As expected the numbers of obese adults and children have increased in the intervening years and are likely to continue to do so. In 2014, about a quarter of adults (24% men, 27% women) were obese, and nearly 22% of reception age children and 33% of year 6 children were overweight or obese. The statistics on the children are most concerning because researchers have found that overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults.

The Foresight report identified many and varied factors that are a part of our modern lifestyle and contribute to the obesity epidemic, including our work patterns, transport, food production and food sales. It concluded that it would take several decades to reverse the factors that drive the current obesity trends, since a comprehensive, long-term strategy would be required to make changes to our societal framework.

Overall, the Foresight report agued for a sustained commitment across all sections of society, including individuals, families, communities, business and government. It specified that urgent action would be required to halt the increase in numbers of obese people and to develop a sustainable response.

Unfortunately, nearly ten years after the Foresight report was published, the government’s latest offering does not scream ‘Urgent! Urgent!’.

In the last ten years various Government policies have not worked (remember the Responsibility Deal?) or have caused confusion – responsibility for public health, including obesity prevention, now rests with local government, while responsibility for obesity treatment (like gastric bands) rests with the NHS.

The Government’s latest policy called ‘Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action’ asks various stakeholders to please, please consider making changes that might prevent future tots from becoming obese. There will be a sugar tax of some sort, though the specifics are still to be decided (will the specifics be influenced by interested parties?). Food manufacturers are asked to reduce the amount of sugar in their products and businesses are asked to develop ‘healthier’ products using new technology. The public sector is asked to provide healthier food options for staff and service users, schools are asked to provide children with healthy food options and some physical activity, and early years settings are asked to provide healthier food choices. Various health professionals (like doctors and nurses) are asked to cover everyone else.

Surely many of these changes should have been explored and implemented by now? Wasn’t  Jamie Oliver’s school food crusade supposed to have inspired change? While the new policy does reach across various sectors of society there is no sense of urgency since there are no urgent deadlines to meet. Some of the proposals might be actioned by 2020. Most can be acted on if and when the stakeholders fancy a change – for example, primary schools can opt to join a voluntary healthy rating scheme from late 2017. See! No urgency. The schools can opt in, at some point in the future, if it’s not too much bother for them.

Taking responsibility for our own health has never been so important. Making healthier choices, choices that benefit our health, are essential. Despite our obesogenic environment poor health is not inevitable. Being overweight or obese can impact on our quality of life and it can contribute to chronic disease, such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, chronic heart disease and some cancers.

Even if you are not overly concerned about your weight, choosing good food (full of nutrients) is beneficial to your well-being in so many ways. The government wants us to eat well (including plenty of fruit and veg), do some exercise everyday and get some sunshine, but there is no way for it to monitor or enforce our choices. It is up to us to decide that we want to live a long and happy life, with good health now and well into old age.

Enjoy Good Food for Good Health

To do: a healthier diet for the UK population

After nearly a year away from the UK I thought that I would investigate the ‘big picture’ in regard to the health of the general population…you know, just in case I missed anything important while I was away. Here’s a summary:

Children

According to the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) conducted in schools

  • About 1/3 (33.3%)of 10-11 year olds are overweight or obese
  • More than 1/5 (22.2%) of 4-5 year olds are overweight or obese

A report from the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) highlight studies that say 77% of the parents of overweight children do not recognise that their child is overweight. The annual Weigh-In report (from the Academy of Royal medical Colleges) says that in the last year there has been no progress in regard to some important changes that could improve the health of children, including improving the nutritional standards of school lunches in free schools and academies, restricting the advertising of junk food and investment in weight management services.

Adults

The lifestyle statistics team at the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) reports:

  • 66.6% of adult men are overweight or obese
  • 57.2% of adult women are overweight or obese
  • Not many people are very active – for example, about 50% went for a 10 minute walk at least once in a 4 week period
  • Over 10,000 people were admitted to hospital due to their obesity in 2012-13

The CMO is concerned that being overweight is becoming ‘normal’, since the majority of the population is overweight or obese. Research shows that many people who are overweight think that their weight ‘is about right’, but the concern is that they are comparing themselves to the severely obese people that feature in many news stories and are not representative of most overweight people.

Diet

The latest national diet and nutrition survey (NDNS) has found:

  • Adults eat about 4 portions of fruits and vegetables every day (5-a-day is recommended)
  • Children eat about 3 portions of fruits and vegetables every day
  • Few of us eat the recommended amount of oily fish (140g) once a week
  • We all eat too much sugar – which can be hidden in all kinds of foods
  • We all eat too little fibre
  • We are getting enough vitamins from the food we eat, except for vitamin D (more time in the sun needed). Some children were also a bit low on vitamin A and riboflavin. Supplements, like multivitamins, do not seem to help.
  • Some of us are not getting enough minerals from the food we eat, particularly iron. Supplements do not seem to help.
  • Nearly half of adults had high cholesterol levels, which increases risk of developing cardiovascular disease

The HSCIC reports a significant increase in household expenditure on fats and oils, butter, sugar and preserves, fruit and fruit juice, soft drinks and beverages.

Overall, it seems there is still reason for concern about the weight status of the population and there is plenty to be done to encourage a healthier diet. Good news for nutritionists like me…lots of work to do! I’d better get cracking!!

What do you find interesting about this information?