Why has Britain become the fat man of Europe, with two thirds of the population overweight or clinically obese?
It’s a big problem and it’s getting bigger every day… the size of the nation’s waistline. Britain has become the fat man of Europe and we need to shape up.
Hi. I’m Leon Hawthorne. We’re talking about obesity… the crisis effecting whole swathes of the population.
The NHS in England spends £6 billion a year treating fat-related illnesses. No wonder, when two out of three people weighs more than they should. And one quarter of us are clinically obese.
Doctors use Body Mass Index - BMI - as a measure of how fat you are. It’s your mass in kilograms divided by your height in metres, squared.
A normal person - medically normal, that is - has a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9. Any less, and you’re underweight. 25 and over - you’re overweight. Above 30 - you’re obese.
In England, 27% of adults are obese. Scotland, the land that invented the deep fried Mars bar, is even worse, at 29%.
This table shows obesity in countries that are members of the OECD, the world’s richest nations. America, obviously, is the fattest. But Britain is catching up. Whereas South Korea and Japan put us all to shame.
If you’re obese, the increased risks to your health include Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteo-arthritis and some forms of cancer.
Hospitals admit more than half a million patients a year (525,000) where obesity is a factor. And there are 6,400 cases of bariatric surgery due to obesity. That’s where they staple your stomach or insert a gastric band to reduce your appetite.
It didn’t use to be this way. In 1980, only 7% of us were obese. This table shows being only-overweight has
stayed constant at around 36%, but obesity has nearly doubled since 1993.
There’s a direct correlation between obesity and social class. The poorer you are, the fatter you are, because you eat more junk food. In England, people get more obese the further north they live.
Health experts talk of an “obesogenic” environment. They say what makes you fat is a mixture of environment, genetics, culture and class.
But it’s really not that complex. Each of us has a choice every day. We can stuff our faces with chips or we can eat less and exercise more. We are individually responsible for our own bodies and there’s nobody else to blame.
The current debate over a sugar tax is part of a nanny state approach to denying the personal responsibility of the individual.
The argument is - we have taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, so why not taxes on sugar to discourage consumption?
Well, all taxes exist for one reason - to maximise revenue for the state, not to act as a form of social engineering.
A sugar tax is a tax on the poor. It makes the food they eat more expensive. It doesn’t do anything to reduce the price of healthy foods.
The state can save money in other ways. For example, by the NHS stopping procedures like bariatric surgery. These people cannot expect society to pick up the bill for their life choices.
And there are more effective ways to encourage people to live healthier lifestyles than taxing them.
The ‘Daily Mile’ is an excellent project aimed at combatting the lack of physical activity among young children. Working with schools, it encourages kids to run or walk a mile every day.
This scheme is particularly poignant because the obesity epidemic is now engulfing even our youngest children.
22% of 4-year olds are overweight or obese. 34% of 10-year olds are overweight or obese.
This is a form of child abuse, where fat parents raise fat children, who grow up to be fat adults, who repeat the cycle.
But bear this in mind…
One can of Coca Cola has 140 calories. You’d have to walk 1.6 miles to burn that off.
And a Big Mac and fries is 750 calories. That’s 8.6 miles.
So, exercise is always good, but if you want to control your weight, it’s a lot more efficient to eat less.
Aside from the health costs and the economic costs, there’s also an aesthetic cost to obesity. Not many fat people are happy about the way they look. I think an appeal to vanity would be more potent than any health warning… and would encourage more Britons to aspire to look good and feel good about themselves.
I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.