Obesity: tackling a national crisis

In a recent consultation, the government is considering a ban on junk food – products high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) – advertisement on TV and online focused on children. This forms part of ongoing efforts by the government to address the issue of obesity in the United Kingdom. Although, some companies are mounting opposition against this strategy, the crisis of obesity can be left unaddressed.

Obesity is measured using the body mass index (BMI). This is a function of your height and weight to determine if your weight is healthy.

The BMI calculation divides an adult’s weight in kilograms by their height in metres squared. For example, A BMI of 25 means 25kg/m2. For most adults, an ideal BMI is in the 18.5 to 24.9 range.

If your BMI is:

  • below 18.5 – you’re in the underweight range
  • between 18.5 and 24.9 – you’re in the healthy weight range
  • between 25 and 29.9 – you’re in the overweight range
  • between 30 and 39.9 – you’re in the obese range

Other forms of measurement of obesity include:

  • blood pressure
  • glucose (sugar) and cholesterol levels in a blood sample
  • waist circumference (the distance around your waist)

Image Courtesy The Harrow Health Care Centre

Effects of Obesity

In addition to weight problems, obesity increases the risk for other health conditions that include non-communicable diseases like coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, etc This implies that by addressing obesity, the occurrence of these diseases can be prevented in some people.

Not only do these diseases lead to more avoidable deaths; they increase the demand on the health service, affect self-esteem and mental health and impact the economy through loss in time to work.

Tackling Obesity

Although several factors can cause obesity in an individual; diet and physical exercise has been reported as the two most vital measures that can be used to control and tackle the incident of obesity.

When food is consumed, the excess nutrients produced from the digestive process are converted and stored as fat. This process of storing fat in the body will continue to increase for every excess food consumed; unless a demand is made on the body to use them through physical activities and exercises.

A monitoring of one’s diet to ensure it is balanced with the right proportion of food to supply carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, vitamins, and minerals that are essential for bodily functions. A reduction in high calorific food and an increase in vegetables, fruits and fibre is often recommended. The eating of manageable quantities of food and reduction in eating snacks, refined, processed and junk foods will assist in reducing the amount of excess food that gets stored as fat.

In most cases, a change in diet alone does not suffice to address the problem. The food consumed has got to used through embracing an active lifestyle. Our inactivity invariably stems from the sedentary nature of work in the 21st century; this has got to be addressed by advocating a change in behaviour to engage in more physical activities and exercises. Going to the gym might not be feasible for everyone, but a commitment to explore walking, jogging, cycling, swimming and even gardening (allotments & community gardening is an option for those that don’t have gardens) will assist to use excess food stored as fat. The gardening option gives an additional benefit of being able to grow one’s vegetables and who knows, an opportunity to make extra income might spring up as an added motivation.

Although, there are concerns and outcries of the UK becoming a “nanny state”, public health campaigns on balanced, healthy diet and physical exercise are an essential part of the strategies to create awareness, engage the public and facilitate a change to healthy lifestyles. The focus has been towards addressing this challenge in children, with the aim of facilitating the change at an early stage, thereby reducing further health challenges later in their adult life.

The sugar reduction programme (sugar tax) is another strategy deployed by the government to tackle obesity. The government’s strategy to tackle obesity is available for download.

In recent times, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has added his own voice to the issue; on his recovery from catching COVID-19, he publicly identified that being overweight became an issue during his treatment. He picked up jogging as a form of exercise. One can argue that this can go a long way to encourage others to embrace a healthy lifestyle, by monitoring their diet (and making changes as necessary) and taking up physical exercises.

Another option that could be explored as a public health campaign tool is the TV series, Inside the Factory. Although, this series focuses on the food production in a factory from raw materials to final product; this could be adapted to showcase food production from farm to fork. Inside the Factory is an interesting programme that incorporates with the production logistics, elements of the history and science of the food, thereby giving a wider perspective to the food being produced.

Although, there is no statistical data available to assess the impact of the programme on changing the eating habits of viewers; I can state that after watching the edition on croissant production, I have stopped eating croissants. Why? Watching the amount of high saturated fat used in the production process was enough to influence my decision.

How Croissants Are Made | Inside the Factory

One might argue that this is one person out of many, one food item out of many. I will counter that to tackle the national crisis of obesity, every little decision change to embrace a healthy lifestyle counts.

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