THE BLOG

Fat Chance To Have Honest Talk About Overeating

20/09/2017 14:58
fcafotodigital via Getty Images

Drawing attention to obesity has turned into the last taboo, which, to coin a rather relevant phrase, is not healthy and must change.

The consequences from more than half the UK population being significantly overweight will be a rising bill for the NHS in treating the health consequences, lost productivity, mental health problems and a bigger benefits bill.

But rather than have a straightforward debate about what goes in our tums, the issue of food has become mired in the morality of 'fat shaming' and questions about freedom of choice. Every week there seem to be media reports of someone having to apologise for being rude about weight, often alongside articles about the latest fad diet to help lose it.

Such cultural schizophrenia is drawing attention away from a serious problem in our midst: We are simply eating too much of the wrong stuff and not exercising enough to deal with the consequences.

To point out is not a judgement on people about how they look or what they choose to eat. Neither does it deny the many social, mental, medical and cultural reasons why they may be clinically overweight. But it is to say that more must be done to work on an increasingly serious and expensive problem.

Individuals are only partly culpable, of course. Food makers and fast food chains that 'supersize' portions whilst knowing full well the genuine nutritional consequences of the products they peddle share responsibility, as must the negligence of Government. Successive politicians apparently think their remit goes no further than ensuring we're not immediately poisoned. There was a similar reserve, which looks incomprehensible now, about tobacco. Future generations will wonder why we've been so blinkered about food.

I trained as a dietician, but stopped pursuing it as a career 30 years ago partly because it was clear to me that psychology - something well understood by food makers, by the way - needed to pay a greater role than portion control, but didn't at the time. Meanwhile, the food industry has done what a good business does, which is try to grow demand for its products; for example, by creating the current snacking culture.

So these days many of us never stop digesting food. Imagine a car engine ticking over every hour of the day, every day, without switching off. No wonder vital functions pack up or that treating Type 2 diabetes - which is the one triggered by food consumption - is now one of the largest drains of NHS budget and affects 3.5 million people. One projection even suggests that treating what is for many an avoidable condition will account for 17 per cent of the entire NHS budget within 25 years.

Yet only this month, it has been reported that simply switching to a 600 calorie healthy diet (and therefore losing weight) can reverse the condition. But that boot camp approach brings us back to psychology. We cannot reasonably expect people to fully resist what is available, nor demonise them. The answer is real restrictions on manufacturers, perhaps encompassing packaging as well as ingredients, and public education through doctors and schools.

In other words, we need the sort of public education that in the end forced changes to the way tobacco was sold and marketed.

We need to help people understand that moderate exercise when combined with sensible eating of the sort understood a generation ago is all that is needed. Of course nobody should be shamed, but we all should be educated. And, just for the record, I do eat and enjoy cake and biscuits, too. In moderation.

Comments

CONVERSATIONS