The Rise and Rise of Obesity in the West
‘Trust for America’s Health’ is an organisation that regularly clashes head-on with the country’s ever-growing obesity problem. TFAH released a report a few months back that must be quite the sobering read for anyone worrying about their weight gain over Christmas. In it, the report prophesises that all 50 states could have obesity levels of over 44% by 2030, with 13 states exceeding 60%.
“This is a tale of two futures,” said Jeffrey Levi, the executive director of Trust for America’s Health.
“We’re at a turning point where if we don’t do something now to mitigate these trends, the cost in human health and healthcare spending will be enormous.”
This is nothing new to us. Anyone who has watched Supersize vs. Superskinny or Man vs. Food will know that America’s relationship with food borders on the criminally dysfunctional. It’s an American stereotype, after all. It’s pretty safe to assume we all know that there is a problem, then, but at least it’s only in America. We’re safe, right?
According to the Health Survey for England 2011 published last December, we’re actually in danger of following suit. To quote some figures from the data summary that would make Jamie Oliver choke on his salad, in 18 years, the level of people classified as overweight or obese rose by 7.4% for men to 65%, and by 9.8% for women to 58.4%.
The public health minister, Anna Soubry, even went so far as to suggest that income levels determined the likelihood of someone becoming overweight.
“Obviously, not everybody who is overweight comes from deprived backgrounds but that’s where the propensity lies,” later adding: “It is a heartbreaking fact that people who are some of the most deprived in our society are living on an inadequate diet. But this time it’s an abundance of bad food.”
It’s tempting to side with her. I don’t buy into the idea that people are too poor to get decent ingredients. However, there is a problem with education in that quite a few people simply don’t know how to feed themselves, unless we’re counting chucking a half-frozen slab of lasagne into the microwave. Similarly, people might not have the time, something that Mr. Oliver’s doing his best to thwart. I’m willing to bet with anyone that his next book will feature a recipe to cook lobster in 10 seconds.
Where does exercise come into this, though? It should. Lecturing people to improve their eating habits will do little good unless people exercise, too. I should know: I used to weigh over 21 stone, and it wouldn’t have been lost without biting the bullet and working out.
Unfortunately, committing to exercise is not something that a lot of people can simply start with the flick of a switch, including myself. How many people do you know that have started a New Years’ Resolution to do just that, only to find out that they’ve quit a few weeks later? It will take time to build the mindset needed, and working out is as important as eating the right sorts of stuff.
Emphasising the link between being fat and the consumption of food is a premature conclusion. It should not be seen as a casual little extra to a dietary plan to lose weight, assuming one is physically able, of course. Diets, most notoriously the Atkins diet, try to sell the idea of eating in a specific way with the goal of short-term weight loss in mind.
How is this healthy for anyone? The best you can hope for is some sort of weight loss after a few weeks of one of these diets, though that’s not long enough to establish a routine to maintain that weight. What about people who decide to take it to the extreme? Society doesn’t seem too bothered about being underweight, but it’s just as much of a problem. Just flick to Channel 4 and watch ten minutes of Dr. Christian’s food clinic. I’m not sure I could survive on a Boost bar a day. I like Nandos too much.
People need to realise that exercise is more than a New Years gimmick. It’s as important as cutting down on foods glistening with fat. In fact, it might even be more important.