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Mark Radcliffe: 'Nursing needs to be at the heart of the obesity debate'

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Language is a beautiful thing. Always alive, always evolving. The more we see, or think we see, the more words we need. Often that involves creating new words. Many of these are hybrids, drawn from Greek and Latin - for example lipo (Greek) and suction (Latin). Other examples include dysfunction, neuroscience and electrocution.

Language is a beautiful thing. Always alive, always evolving. The more we see, or think we see, the more words we need. Often that involves creating new words. Many of these are hybrids, drawn from Greek and Latin - for example lipo (Greek) and suction (Latin). Other examples include dysfunction, neuroscience and electrocution.

Obesogenic is also a hybrid word. A bit of Greek, a bit of Latin, a sprinkling of sociology, and a great big dollop of 'it's not my fault mate, it's the environment, pass the Jaffa Cakes'.

Last week we were told individuals can no longer be held responsible for obesity and that the government must act. If current rates continue, 60% of men, 50% of women and 26% of children will be obese by 2050. Some suggest obesity is a greater threat than climate change, which wins my hyperbole award for this month.

Others say it is a bigger health hazard than smoking. However you look at it, obesity is an out-of-control epidemic and if we're not careful we're all going to be wearing trousers with elasticated waistbands. And not just because they look good.

Understanding the environmental causes of obesity is important. Developing some political responses to those causes is also important. But isn't it just a little bit belittling to be told that we, as individuals, cannot be held responsible for how we live, what we eat and how wobbly we get?

On the one hand we eat fast food, drive everywhere, have fewer open spaces where we can romp around and (bizarrely) less time in which to romp. And this set of circumstances gets a word - obesogenic - a report and a load of 'policies'.
On the other hand we blame things - our environment, our circumstances, our lifestyles or our glands. Why? Because we can, and because looking for a point of power in our lives is not fashionable or is too hard.

Yet, assuming ours is an obesogenic society and we need policies to protect us from ourselves, how happy will we be if the government does start taking responsibility for us? Will we mind if it bans adverts for cake? What if it stops obese people from accessing certain healthcare treatments or doing certain jobs? What if it uses child protection regulations to split up families?

And more pressingly, who is going to be at the heart of the obesogenic dilemma? Nurses, of course. Not only will they be providing the advice and support to help people live more healthily, they will also be charged with policing the obese. Reporting body mass indexes to social workers or surgeons or a new 'Gym Tsar'.

How we confront the obesity crisis will, arguably, establish a philosophy of nursing and healthcare practice for the next 50 years. So nursing needs to be at the heart of this debate, don't you think?

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