You only have to walk through any shopping centre in the UK on a Saturday or sit on a beach during the summer to be struck by the increasingly worrying phenomenon of obesity amongst adults and particularly amongst children. An international study finds that half of British men will be obese by 2030 and 4 in 10 women. In 2004 the parliamentary Health Select Committee submitted its report on obesity to Government. Its recommendations centre largely on better education, collaboration with the food industry, easier access to good food, persuasive promotion, better advice and help to people diagnosed as morbidly obese. The need for the report had been recognised. We were travelling headlong into becoming a nation of obese people and all the attendant difficulties that flow from it.
The concluding recommendation was that the Government should be prepared to act more forcibly should voluntary agreements fail. They have failed but still there is no sign of the Government being more direct. The latest report has been met with very mixed feelings with many people directly involved with the issue saying that more has to done and others saying that a such things as a “Fat Tax” will never work.
In Finland they began tackling this problem many years ago. They promoted assertive Government action with a collaborative food industry but perhaps the biggest influence was that Finnish politicians were less concerned about being accused of a “nanny state” than ours. It seems that our Government runs shy of such accusations, clearly because they feel it will not produce the right results at the ballot box. Meanwhile the number of people in the UK suffering from diabetes has risen by 50% in the last five years, fuelled by soaring levels of obesity. Three million adults and children now have the condition. 90% of those have type two which can be caused by being overweight. The NHS spends 10% of its budget on diabetes and its complications, which amounts to £9billion a year or £1million an hour!. Care at this level cannot be sustained given the rapid annual increases. Action must be taken now.
Partnership working with voluntary and commercial organisations is vital if we are to change behaviour. Clearly the report of 2004 has done nothing to halt the rapidly increasing health crisis. It is therefore tempting to conclude that our future as a nation is an obese one. However, that is defeatist. If we all agree that something new and more dynamic has to happen then what?
I will begin the debate by suggesting that
1) Politicians need to be brave enough to be more prescriptive about the controls that government exercise over junk food
2) All trans-fats ( which the really dangerous ones apparently) in food need to be replaced with healthier alternatives
3) planning regulations should prevent over provision of fast food outlets in any one area.
No doubt many of you have views on this topic - let us hear them.