Obesity Epidemic – How did we get here?


Last week I read an article that stated currently in the UK 62%  of the adult population is overweight/obese.  Just think about that for a moment.  62%.

That isn’t a few.  It means that there are more fat people than there are of a healthy weight.  Just recently we’ve seen the likes of Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall embark on campaigns to highlight this problem.  Not that the problem needs highlighting.  You can see it every time you step outside of your front door.  So how did we get here and how do we solve it?

There are so many reasons that we’ve all got fatter, below are a few of the common reasons that professionals think we’ve become bigger.

  • Sedentary lifestyles.  Most people these days have a car at their disposal.  We don’t walk and we certainly don’t cart heavy shopping bags around like we used to.  We also like to plonk ourselves in front of televisions and computers.
  • Increased availability of food.  There is some kind of takeaway food outlet on nearly every street these days.  We have access to more convenience food in supermarkets than we ever have before.
  • Decreased knowledge about food and nutrition.  50 years ago Home Economics was taught widely in schools.  It taught basic cooking skills, how to put together a nutritionally sound meal.  I know from my own secondary school children that these things are not taught anymore.  If they are lucky they can construct a fruit kebab or cook a sausage roll.
  • Change in society norms.  In this day and age,  both adults in the house have to work.  That means that unfortunately in a lot of households there just isn’t time to cook a meal from scratch with fresh ingredients.
  • Acceptance.  It’s acceptable to be overweight these days.  Years ago society associated being overweight as lacking in intelligence and being of a lower class.   However, these days obesity isn’t confined to those with perceived low-income or low intelligence.
  • We are all so much more stressed than we once were.  Our pace of life has increased exponentially in the last 50 years or so.  It’s well-known that stress is a key factor in weight gain.
  • Poor sleep.  Given that we are all so stressed and living life at 100 miles an hour, it’s understandable that more people than ever are all suffering insomnia and sleep associated disorders.  Not having good sleep can also lead to weight gain.
  • Medication.  Certain medications can lead to weight gain, in particular some anti-depressants.  Which we are all taking because we are over working, under paid and not sleeping!

So how do we solve our obesity epidemic?  It’s not an easy one for sure!

Rarely a day goes by where a new iniative is announced by the Government or a charity to tackle weight loss in the UK.  In 2013, A LOT of doctors got together and issued a “prescription” that would go someway to addressing the obesity levels.  These included the traffic light system on food packaging, tax on sugar, a ban on advertising unhealthy foods before 9pm and various schools initiatives. Some of these have been introduced but most others are still a bone of contention.  Mainly driven by the fact that there is a lot of money in junk food and some people don’t want to let go of that.  When I was a child you couldn’t just eat a handful of Cornflakes from the packet, it w as like eating sawdust.  You absolutely had to put milk and a sprinkle of sugar on them to make them palatable.  Now they taste more like the Frosties from the 70’s!  So unfortunately whilst there is still money to be made in junk food, a lot of manufacturers will not get on board.

To me it seems that education at ground level is the key.  Educating our young about food, from cooking to portion control.  We need to stop preaching at people.  We need to motivate and inspire, we need to help those who need support to lose weight.  Open up Mental Health services, although I know they are already stretched to breaking point.  We need a 360 view on this problem and we need to give people options.  Of course I’m not an expert, but I am an overweight person.  The problem is that people hear the word diet and instantly think of deprivation and hunger.  We need to teach everything in moderation. With anything in life if you tell someone to do something they are more than likely to do the exact opposite.  It doesn’t help with processed and lower quality foods being so much cheaper.  I realise it’s not as simple as making fresh food cheaper, it’s hard enough for our farmers these days.

Today’s government seem to be focused on rail roading people into making the right choices, but what if you can’t afford the right choices?  Our whole food system is broken, and until we tackle it from the top down I can’t see much changing in the future.

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