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