THE BLOG

A Modern Recipe to Tackle Obesity

14/01/2014 10:18 GMT | Updated 15/03/2014 09:59 GMT

This week's news agenda kicked off with a moral panic about obesity. Stories that break on a Monday always have a whiff of PR to them, being seeded to media over the weekend when there's less competition from other stories.

Obesity is a serious issue, but it's one that can be addressed. Whereas previous generations have had little nutritional knowledge, and indeed as recently as 100 years ago there was little nutritional choice, the coming generation is far better placed.

In addition to current treatments - spanning the psychological, clinical and lifestyle aspects of obesity - technology will play a significant part too. Formal education addresses nutrition in great detail, which provides an important baseline understanding. But the coming generation will benefit from a plethora of health-centric technology.

Technology to burn fat

The likes of Weight Watchers have already taken advantage of the interactivity that a well-designed website or app offers. And there is a fair market, and a battle brewing, for fitness watches that help enthusiasts maximise their performance. That market alone is forecast to hit around $8 billion by 2018.

But there is an emerging digital health industry which is bringing to market a huge and diverse range of internet-connected devices to automatically monitor, collate and analyse health data that will complement traditional weight loss strategies.

It will be the norm, for our newest generation, to accurately track the body's condition. Calorie in-take, fat levels, heart rate and oxygen are all simple things to measure through technology. Analysis of the data will allow technology to advise and suggest recommendations. Most importantly, it can then detect whether the advice given is acted upon.

Whether through common sense or 'gamification' it's pretty easy to understand and imagine how a child or adult's general health can be improved by a digital conscience that tracks the body's health.

The strong arm of legislation

Tech-led continuous health monitoring is likely to integrate straight into patient records at some point in the future; no more lying to the doctor, private health care provider or life insurer about alcohol consumption. Perhaps controversial legislation, which seeks to nudge people into taking appropriate action, will emerge over time; free healthcare for those that look after themselves, but a financial levy for those that wontedly live an unhealthy lifestyle.

Just as Western countries were the first to industrialise, and therefore the first to benefit (and occasionally suffer) from industrialisation, they were the first to adopt convenience food. The 1970s, a decade that bears much responsibility for modern day blights, saw the birth of frozen meals and the beginnings of the salt and sugar surge.

The children of that time, Generation X, may still exhibit some of those bad habits they were brought up on, but there is a cultural backlash against poor quality food. Of course, a Saturday morning trip down to the local 24/7 hypermarket may dispel that optimism, as trolleys overflow with fizzy drinks and crisps, but attitudes will continue to change.

Government health campaigns around smoking and drink driving has turned two previously socially acceptable 'norms' into one that is generally frowned upon and one that is now taboo. Additional advice and support for those wanting to address their smoking or drinking have seen great success. The 'Change 4 Life' campaign is a step in the right direction, and further initiatives will doubtless follow.

The workplace is another influence. Having just joined a new PR firm, I have noticed that all catering for meetings is incredibly healthy. Responsible workplaces encourage healthy eating habits that hopefully continue into the home.

Legislation also has its part to play in ensuring that the food industry - often under pressure to produce affordable food - is pushed into considering the nutritional value of its products. It takes very little time to adjust to drinking tea without sugar. If competing food products are compelled to cut various unhealthy ingredients at the same time, the nation would quickly adjust.

Technology, communication and legislation - combined with support that spans the psychological, clinical and lifestyle of obesity - are the four ingredients for a healthier national diet.