Shock prediction claims most Britons will be obese

Dire warnings suggest that more than half of Britons will be severely overweight by 2050: experts call for radical action, but does shocking the public distract from balanced health messages?

At the time it seemed to presage disaster: a major 2007 report predicted that 50% of Britons would be clinically obese by the middle of this century. But this week public health experts said that no successful action plan had materialised since then, so the majority of the population, rather than just half, can now be expected to be obese by 2050.

‘The doomsday scenario set out in that report might underestimate the true scale of the problem,’ the National Obesity Forum warned.

Already, NHS figures show that the number of obese people in the UK has almost doubled in 20 years, and each week brings a new theory about who or what are to blame: earlier this month it was sugar in ready-made food and drink. But the latest study made the front pages because it contains a call from the experts for a radical plan to tackle the upcoming crisis.

What might this mean, reporters asked? Other countries have tried extreme policies. Denmark, forbids the sale of products containing trans fats, while some US states have experimented with fines for overweight welfare claimants.

In South Korea, the government funds cookery classes in the traditional, healthy, vegetable-packed cuisine of the country. This could be adapted to other parts of the world: in the emerging economies, a rising middle class now has a more sedentary lifestyle and more disposable income, some of which they are spending on Western junk food.

Australia’s television adverts about the dangers of obesity get ever-more-provocative, and doctors would like to see a similarly shocking campaign in the UK. Hard-hitting posters about the dangers of smoking, along with tightly regulated sales, have helped drive down tobacco use, so why not do the same for sugary, fatty foods?

But some government advisors warn that excessive finger-wagging by those in power might actually prevent people from taking positive action to protect their health.

Fat chance of change?

Repeated warnings about the plumping population seem to fall on deaf ears. For some young people, the future is hard to imagine clearly. So the penalties of not adopting a healthy lifestyle – getting steadily podgier, suffering long-term health problems like diabetes or heart disease, even enjoying a shorter lifespan – seem remote and irrelevant. Diets always start tomorrow, they say, but perhaps that is because many people cannot visualise the days afterwards.

‘The time has long passed for soul searching,’ retort the authors of this week’s report. Yes, we must guard against creating a mass outbreak of sensitivities about body image, and be understanding if some people need more help – and cajoling – than others. But with one in every three people in the world now overweight or obese, this is a public health emergency.

You Decide

  1. Do people worry enough or too much about being overweight?
  2. Who do you believe has the greatest influence over what you eat and how active you are? And who do you influence in turn?

Activities

  1. In groups, design your own public information advertisement about the dangers of obesity. Do you go for a positive message or scare tactics?
  2. ‘Obesity is a complex issue that requires action at national, local, family and individual level.’ Draw up an action plan based on this public health official’s statement.

Some People Say...

“A fat stomach never breeds fine thoughts.’St Jerome”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m not fat.
Well, lucky you. But everyone should think about whether their lifestyle is healthy, even those who are naturally slim. The television medic Dr Michael Mosley decided to do something radical about his own diet and lifestyle because although he was slim, he had diabetes and clogged arteries: through his actions he has enormously improved his health and probably prolonged his life.
So it’s not just about appearance?
Not at all. Being too thin can also harm your health. And even someone of the ideal Body Mass Index who eats a diet rich in fruit and vegetables might not be getting enough exercise. Think about it, but don’t stress, because there is always positive action that you can take, and achievable goals you can meet.

Word Watch

Doomsday
Taken from religious Christian texts about the end of the world. In everyday usage, it means the worst possible imaginable outcome or result.
National Obesity Forum
An organisation whose members come from the health professions, with financial support and sponsorship from charities, political groups and government agencies, and the food and drink industry.
Trans fats
Hydrogenated oils, which are mostly manufactured for frying or to add to foods like cakes and biscuits to give them a longer shelf life. The NHS says: ‘a diet high in trans fats can lead to high cholesterol levels in the blood, which can lead to health conditions such as heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. However, most people in the UK don't eat a lot of trans fats. We eat about half the recommended maximum of trans fats on average.’

Subjects

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