Every year, billions are spent by the NHS on tackling obesity related problems, with one in four adults in the UK (recently referred to as the ‘fat man of Europe’) thought to be clinically obese and a number of others suffering from eating disorders. We report on the scale of the problem and its causes, and explore some of the potential solutions…
The scale of the problem
There are a wealth of statistics and studies on the impact of obesity, and the scale of the problem, which in itself tells a story. In February 2013, The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, a body comprised of more than 220,000 doctors, called for tough measures to be imposed as they warned that by 2050 more than half of adults could be seriously overweight.
And, according to The National Obesity Forum, things are even gloomier: “Unless bold action is taken − and quickly − the predictions of the Foresight Report (2007) may surely come to pass, with 60 per cent of the UK population being overweight/obese with a loss to the exchequer of some £50bn per annum.”
In June 2012, research from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), published in the journal BMC Public Health, drew up a ‘league table’ of the ‘fattest’ nations that have the biggest share of obesity.
The report ranked the UK, despite its relative small size worldwide, as number 18 and estimated that the adult human population was topping the scales at 287 million tonnes, 15 million of which is due to the overweight and 3.5 million due to obesity.
“What was once the problem of the wealthy who did no manual labour is now the problem of the poor,” says James Erlichman, author of Addicted To Food. “The nutrition transition refers to the point at around 2000, when there were more over-nourished people (one billion plus) in the world compared to under-nourished. Until the 1950s obesity was rare.”
And it’s not just obesity that’s a problem; according to official figures, hospital admissions for eating disorders rose by 16 per cent in England from 2011 to 2012.
The cult of celebrity and rise in media air-brushing has led to an increase in negative body image amongst school-aged children, with children as young as eight battling eating disorders. Experts agree that having a poor body image can not only affect a child’s health and self-esteem but also their social skills and educational progress.
Why is there an epidemic?
Society is at its most sedentary with a massive change in lifestyle habits and hobbies from the invention of TV remote controls, escalators and a convenience culture, and most recently the rise of social media and long period of time on computers.
According to the Lancet, July 2012, the UK is the third least active country in Europe and worldwide we’re facing a pandemic of physical inactivity, which it says is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide.
And our lifestyles don’t help; a study reported in The Journal of American Medicine found that watching more than 40 hours per week marked a nearly threefold increase in the risk of type-2 diabetes in men, compared with those who spent less than one hour per week watching TV.
In 2009, Baroness Susan Greenfield, the then director of the Royal Institution, told a science seminar at the House of Lords that social networking sites may be promoting obesity by changing the way the brain works, ‘infantilizing’ it and encouraging users to make bad food choices.
We also live in an unprecedented time where alcohol consumption is concerned; in 2012, it was reported that one in five young men (22%) and one in five young women (17%) were binge drinking. And according to The National Obesity Observatory report in 2012, alcohol binge drinkers seem to be at higher risk of obesity than moderate, frequent drinkers.
Obesity is responsible for an increase in coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes and cancers, as well conditions such as sleep apnoea, gout and even depression. And it’s because of this that the politicians and decision makers are taking action.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is fighting for a supersize ban on 16-ounce sugary drinks. And on home turf, UK Active, the body that represents the fitness industry, has a simple slogan: More People, More Active, More Often.
On an individual level, it’s simplicity that will make a difference: eating less and being more active, by walking, using the stairs and being more conscious will help you lose weight and live healthily.