In a box tucked away in the back of my bedroom cupboard I have a small piece of paper that serves as a reminder to a former self. The slip contains some numbers which still haunt me to this day. Those numbers which for several years had a grip on me that I simply yearned to free myself from and eventually did. The digits in question revealed my former weight, one which revealed at the age of 20, I was officially classified as obese.
Throughout the latter part of my teenage years, I thought nothing of reaching for XXL shirts or size 40 inch jeans, for me this had simply become a normal part of my existence. I would look in envy at people who could freely shop where they wanted to, while due to my weight I was unable to purchase clothes from many high street chains - the only positive of which meant I'd always find my size in the sale rails.
Trying to account for my sudden weight gain has puzzled me even to this day. My parents brought me up on healthy food and I was always conscious about not overeating. However upon moving away to university I succumbed to cheap food offers in supermarkets which were for the most part unhealthy, fatty and highly addictive.
The impact of such weight gain did not just affect me physically, but it had a direct impact on my mental well-being resulting in me becoming very introverted and living in the shadows of others. I would often console myself knowing that as long as I could still fit into clothes from certain chains, then all would be fine. It took until stepping on the scales revealing that I was fast heading in the direction of 18 stone when I knew I had to take some action.
Much like my former love affair towards pizza, newspapers columns have been filled to the gunnels with reaction to the UK Government's strategy for dealing with childhood obesity. A strategy which even itself acknowledges that one in three children aged 2-15 are overweight or obese has been condensed down to a meagre 13 pages and focuses primarily on a new sugar tax, that manufacturers will be able to avoid if they reduce sugar content by 20%. The strategy also contains additional policies, three of which contain the caveat that they are "voluntary". Expecting voluntary action by an industry worth over £21bn according to the Food and Drink Federation, is absolutely nonsensical and flies in the face of the government's duty to address public health.
The strategy contains no proposals to deal with unhealthy food advertising on television or continued cut price promotions of unhealthy foods in supermarkets. This comes as experts estimate that obesity costs society nearly £1 billion per week in Britain. While children up and down the country looked in awe at the magnificent achievements of Team GB in Rio, they will continue to be exposed to messaging that prioritises junk food over health.
From my direct experience of being overweight, I know that tackling obesity is not just about reducing the NHS bill, but it's about ensuring people can have healthy body images. It's important to be aware that promoting a balanced diet isn't about resorting to body shaming or dismissing the fact that various shapes and sizes should be celebrated, but empowering young people to make informed decisions about their meals.
It has taken me nearly four years to get to my current position on the scales and as a result I have went down a third in body weight and I can now say I am a healthy size. I have not resorted to fad diets or marathon gym sessions, but a combination of slowly gaining body confidence and making sensible food choices,
I do not wish other young people to have to go through similar struggles with their body during what is already a difficult time when entering adulthood. We must therefore urge the UK Government to not simply acquiesce to pressure from the food and drinks industry, but in the words of our new Prime Minister, "champion the needs of the individual in preference to the mighty".
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