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‘The obesity epidemic is not being properly tackled’

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We can tell that the public health message about obesity is not getting through. A few years ago friendly health professionals would suggest people cut down on waffles and maybe tried walking to the kitchen rather than hitching a ride on the cat. When it became apparent that obesity rates were rising the message became sterner.

Exercise three times a week, people were told, and try these new things called vegetables for dinner. But obesity became a new epidemic and so the message became more powerful, moving from ‘Cut down on the fat or you’ll get ill’ to ‘You’re all going to die of blocked up arteries.’

It was wound up a notch recently when a government adviser said obesity was as big a threat to the UK and the health service as terrorism. Meanwhile, in an attempt to get the attention of people who are overweight, council chiefs said children who are obese should, sometimes, be taken into care to be protected from cake-wielding parents.

Of course, saying dramatic things in August is a surefire way of getting on the news – it tends to be a slow news month, mostly because politicians go on holiday. But there is more to the ‘message’ than making the news.

Behind the warnings is the belief that the government needs to start taking more drastic action. What that amounts to is uncertain. They can’t ban bad food, for one thing it would drive cake underground and for another we increasingly define our ‘rights’ according to a our capacity to do stupid things and that includes eating kebabs. They can ‘ban’ advertising but that won’t break the habits people have come to rely on. They can try to police the food industry but that has proved problematic. One suspects they will probably do nothing. It’s a hard problem to solve and, given they will probably lose the next election, why not leave it for the next lot to sort out?

We have created a weird relationship with food. It is either comfort or reward – something quick and disposable, convenient, fatty and sweet. We don’t produce enough of our own food nor think about how it comes about. We just eat it. Often without chewing. But let’s face it, no politician is even going to wonder about stuff like that.

Governments don’t do politics anymore. They mostly do focus groups and photo opportunities. For example, we might like properly resourced health campaigns but instead we get arguments about the ‘obesity’ word and house building where playing fields used to be. For the first time in history our life expectancy is going down. And we’re not doing all that much about it are we? Except talk. And eat.

Want to read more of Mark Radcliffe’s opinions? Just click on the more by this author link at the top of the page.

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