8 The scale of obesity as an issue
The Foresight Report was commissioned by the UK Government to develop an evidence base about obesity and to inform the interventions designed to tackle it (Government Office for Science, 2007). The report took into account the role of structural factors and this was reinforced in its executive summary, which states:
People in the UK today don’t have less willpower and are not more gluttonous than previous generations. Nor is their biology significantly different to that of their forefathers [and foremothers]. Society, however, has radically altered over the past five decades, with major changes in work patterns, transport, food production and food sales. These changes have exposed an underlying biological tendency, possessed by many people, to both put on weight and retain it.
This report took a strategic view up to the year 2050 and explored how the UK can respond sustainably to rising levels of obesity. It acknowledged changes in work patterns (e.g. the sedentary nature of many jobs), transport (such as our reliance on cars) and issues around the food that we are consuming.
In 2012 the Department of Health published an update on its approach to tackling obesity (Department of Health, 2012), which built on the earlier work of the Foresight Report (Government Office for Science, 2007). Their update provides a helpful overview of the scale of the problem and who is responsible for addressing it.
Activity 7 What has been done to tackle obesity?
Read the. Note that you only need to read from page 7 (the heading ‘Why obesity remains a problem’) to the end of page 15 (up to the heading ‘Childhood obesity’). Then answer the questions below.
1. Based on statistical modelling carried out by the Government Office for Science, what proportion of men and what proportion of women are likely to be obese by 2050?
Modelling carried out suggested that, if trends continued at the current rates, 60% of men and 50% of women (as well as 25% of under 20 year olds) could well be obese by 2050.
2. Which country has the greatest proportion of obese people (i.e. the highest obesity prevalence rate)?
The United States has the greatest proportion of obese people, according to Figure 4 in the report: in 2010 the prevalence was 35.7%.
3. Who is accountable (and either receives or provides funding) for addressing the issue of obesity?
According to Figure 5 in the report, it is the Department of Health, local authorities, the NHS (in particular the Commissioning Board), clinical commissioning groups (those responsible for commissioning or buying services) and providers of services (such as hospitals). Local communities are also involved, as those responsible should be accountable to their communities.
4. Which campaign is cited as an intervention assisting ‘families and individuals to make simple changes to their diet and activity levels’?
The Change4Life campaign is cited by the report. This is a project that aims to support millions of families to make healthy behavioural changes. If you have time now, you might like to take a look at the campaign’s website and its approaches to tackling obesity.
Having established the scale of the obesity problem and costs to society, it is often argued that governments, and even society as a whole, have a responsibility to try to address obesity as an issue.