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The fight against obesity

Updated Friday, 16th November 2018

How are we battling the unrelenting rise in obesity? And how could the government help?

Much of the media coverage on obesity tells us of the detrimental impact of the somewhat unrelenting rise in obesity, such as the two following recent updates:

  • From Diabetes UK: Over the next 20 years, the number of obese adults in the country is forecast to soar to 26 million people. According to health experts, such a rise would result in more than a million extra cases of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
  • A recent study, published in the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, showed that life expectancy for obese men and women was 4.2 and 3.5 years shorter respectively than people in the entire healthy BMI weight range.

However, not all information is negative and one drive to reduce obesity has had considerable success. The Newcastle Can Campaign led by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is an example of a new approach to tackling obesity. The approach is inspired from research indicating that obesity is not simply an individual problem, but a problem of society. Therefore, community focussed approaches are likely to be successful. The Newcastle Can campaign brought people together from all parts of the city and resources provided online meant that there was regular support regarding healthy eating and recipes as well as exercise tips to support and encourage those involved to maintain healthy lifestyle habits. In Newcastle the combined efforts of the community meant weight loss of 112,978lbs over a year. Other areas across the country have replicated the Newcastle Can Campaign; Norfolk, Southampton, Manchester, Torbay and Cornwall.

What is the government doing about obesity?

The lifestyle changes being made through these community-based campaigns can be challenging to maintain, and there is a growing need to have anti-obesity policies put in place to support communities to eat healthily. One might ask what the government has done to curb obesity? In recognition of the increasing numbers of children who were overweight or obese a Childhood Obesity Plan was released in 2016, but was heavily criticized for having no teeth, as it included voluntary targets for the food industry to cut sugar in children's food and drink.  An interesting contrast is the Irish example where a policy and action plan (A Health Weight for Ireland 2016) has been developed. It includes legislation as well as targets and one in particular is to work with the food industry to develop a code of practice for food and drinks promotion, marketing, sponsorship and product placement.

Junk food marketing

The Irish action plan is ambitious as food marketers have sophisticated ways of targeting children to promote unhealthy food. Take a look at the following short video on the top 5 things junk food marketers know about your child:


...and did you know that your child’s phone is a junk food marketer?  Have a look at this short clip:


These two clips provide worrying insight into how children and young people are targeted, demonstrating that there is a need to curb such access to young minds, especially when parents are often unaware of such approaches being made.

On the other hand, one promising development this year has been the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) that has been convened to look at obesity. The group is calling for the government to take a new approach in tackling obesity through prevention and treatment and have published a report that calls for a 9pm watershed on food advertising on products high in fat and sugar (APPG on Obesity Report 2018). So a combination of communities coming together with support, along with all political parties coming together to tackle obesity may provide a glimmer of hope in the fight against obesity.





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