Is sitting the new smoking?

The national press has seen an influx over the past few months of shocking statistics on the growing problem of the nation’s growing waistlines, with figures showing British people are eating 50% more food than they even realise.  ‘Millennials’ are on course to become the most overweight generation since records began and obesity-related hospital admissions have doubled over the last four years, with a growing ‘obesity divide’ between children and young people living in the UK’s richest and poorest communities.

Startlingly, we have even caught up and passed the USA, home of the Big Mac and Deep Pan Pizza,  with latest figures showing that more children aged 11 in the UK are classified as obese than their US peers.

Britain is getting fatter, but what can the Government do to lighten the load? Is it even Government’s role to tell people what to eat, and can Ministers do so without being seen as forever imposing ‘Nanny State’ measures on a population which showed a preference to ‘take back control’?

Public Health Minister, Steve Brine, recently paid a visit to Amsterdam to see how they have managed to bring down numbers of obese children in the city, with success, in particular, amongst children from families with a low socio-economic status.  In Amsterdam, obesity has been treated as a ‘public health emergency’ and an ‘epidemic,’ but this approach seems to have worked, with child obesity levels dipping 12% in just five years.  Amsterdam’s ‘world-leading’ approach is multi-layered, with promotion of tap water and after-school activities to keep fit, but also more extreme measures, such as the city refusing to co-sponsor events which take money from companies who specialise in fast food and sugary drinks, such as Coca Cola and McDonalds.

Britain has also taken measures to tackle obesity, which currently seems to feature highly on the agendas of stakeholders across the public and private sectors.  OFSTED has recently signalled that it may require schools to weigh and measure pupils each year, followed by those identified as obese receiving ‘intensive support’.  Even former Chancellor, George Osborne, weighed into the debate claiming that the Government’s recent ‘Sugar Tax,’ which has led to soft drinks companies lowering the amount of sugar in their products, was his greatest achievement in Government.

The private sector has followed the advice of the Chief Executive of Public Health England that ‘Britain needs to go on a diet’, with some restaurants taking the previously unthinkable step of listing calorific value on their menus, fast food shops stocking low calorie options and big names such as McDonalds, Subway and Starbucks planning to signpost foods to enable consumers to make more considered choices on what is the ‘healthier option.’

Studies show that whilst it will help, simply cutting calories or carbs is not a panacea in itself, and that increased physical activity also plays an important part in tackling weight loss.  Public Health England’s guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week in bouts of 10 minutes or more, but these can only ever be recommendations as Government cannot compel people exercise or to lead fitter, healthier lifestyles.

The fact of the matter is that nanny statist style interventions can only really offer short term fixes to a long term problem and, if it is to achieve sustainable results, the Government must appeal to mind as much as body by not being scared to talk about the shocking adverse effects of obesity in same way as anti-smoking campaigns have done for years.  We should highlight the 13 types of cancer which result from unhealthy lifestyles and seek to bring about self-change in the mindset of the British public otherwise there is little chance of slimming down the numbers on obesity.