In 2006, the Health and Social Care Information Centre announced that one in four children in England were clinically obese.
From 1995 to 2004, obesity among boys aged 11-15 rose from 14% to 24% and girls from 15% to 26%.
The problem is not just a health and social one, although you would think that this would be enough to spur the nation into some sort of action. It’s also an economic one – currently obesity related illness costs the NHS around £1bn per year, plus an estimated £2.5bn cost to the overall economy. And it doesn’t look as if the problem is going to be easily contained. Here’s an example: while giving blood last week, I was speaking to one of the nurses who had just completed a dissertation on the challenges facing blood donations in 20 years time. He claimed that by 2050, around 60% of the population would be unable to give blood, largely due to obesity related disorders.
Obviously, the factors that contribute to this trend are seen as complex. For kids, they involve social context, diet (der…), lack of exercise in the school curriculum, transport, leisure activities, and so on. For adults, you could take most of these factors and repeat them, plus add a few – worse diets, really sedentary lifestyles, role models, food labelling etc.
The government announcement earlier this year that, having considered this epidemic, it was looking at putting £372m into schemes to reduce the problem should be welcomed, and amongst the plans are schemes to reward overweight people for eating a healthier diet.
Now, there’s a danger that I might come across as a bit of a health militant here, but it just doesn’t seem right that people should get themselves unfit and overweight then be financially rewarded for any corrective measure. I understand that you have to make schemes work, and anything that works to curb this trend should be applauded, but it doesn’t fit with the lack of reward for not making yourself obese in the first place.
To this end, my friend Steve has (largely to his surprise) had a petition accepted on the 10 Downing St petition site. At the time of writing, he has a massive 8 signatures, but given that he’s only told half a dozen people, it’s a start at least. You can see it at http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/healthyrewards/I don’t think Steve has got anything particularly negative to say about the problem, just a view that a positive healthy approach from the start might be a good counter.
And, I know the causes might be complicated, but then so were the reasons that it was so hard to stop people smoking in the UK, and that seems to be going in the right direction. Sometimes simple messages (smoking will deliver to you a lingering and unpleasant death, make your breath stink and turn you infertile) are quite effective. So maybe “take more exercise and eat less” ought to be the mantra for the future.