I find one of the biggest (pardon the pun) issues I read about is obesity. Not only why are we getting bigger but what getting bigger is doing to our health and the impact on society as a whole. We know – or have the ability to know – more than we have ever known before. We are inundated with stats on an almost daily basis about how dangerously unhealthy we are all becoming –
'Nearly 2/3 of middle aged people in Wales are overweight or obese' (University of London – Nov 2013),
‘Overweight seen as the norm, says chief medical officer’ – March 2014,
‘At least 900 Welsh children attend slimming classes’ (Public Health Wales – August 2013),
‘WHO: Daily sugar intake ‘should be halved’ – March 2014
The above links give you an idea of what we regularly see in the press health pages and although there are often two sides to every story, it is becoming harder to ignore that our lifestyle choices have an important impact on our long-term health. I believe one of the more frightening aspects to the weight debate is that obesity seems to be affecting more and more children than ever before. Poor eating habits seem to be starting younger with many children overweight and obese before they start secondary school. Many of our habits are formed in childhood and those of us who become overweight and unhealthy, as children will find it easier to continue in this vein for the rest of our lives. Over the past 10 years there have been many studies that have been published that have frighteningly claimed that children born now may die at younger ages than their parents. As I have previously said you will often find counter arguments and varying factors that have gone into making a point with regards to health, but this cannot be ignored as simply scare mongering.
I am unfortunately programmed now to look at people in a certain way. I can usually tell just by looking at someone whether or not their diet is healthy (skin, breath, energy levels, physical presentation) and what exercise they should be doing. I would never advise anything by simply looking at someone, but how we look and where we are carrying fat and how vital we appear is usually a pretty good starting point and can help when taking a detailed case history. I am often shocked when I see the size of some young children. I have been on the train or the bus on many occasions when I will see young children gorging themselves on fast food and junk food. I see children eating crisps, fizzy drinks and chocolate on the way into school (around 7:30 – 8am) in the morning and outside McDonalds, Dominos and other fast food establishments at lunchtime eating vast amounts of fatty, processed foods. Eating badly has never been easier, I get that, but why (if we know all we know) is this allowed to happen? Do people still not understand that eating food like this, regularly over a period of time is going to kill us? Do we not understand that fat doesn’t just sit there looking a bit ugly; it actually prematurely ages us, and may kill us (probably many years before it should and after causing years of ill health and misery?) Do people really think that their lifestyle choices really only affect them? What about your friends and family? What about your work colleagues? Not to mention the huge societal impact – the NHS simply cannot cope with a nation of obese people, can it? And why should it?
So, what can we do to prevent obesity and ideally keep ourselves disease-free for as long as possible? The answer seems to lie with tackling it from many different angles. The government needs to seriously look into the stranglehold the food industry has on all aspects of society and effectively manage more campaigns, such as those designed to cut down on smoking. If taxes are to be levied on sugar then there needs to be consistent messaging and rules applied. All foods need to be considered when applying taxes and looked into properly. And, if we are going to be penalized for eating less healthy foods, will we be incentivized for eating healthy foods? It is not just about making unhealthy food less appealing we need to make healthy food more appealing. We need to redress the balance. Schools and parents need to work together to educate children on why and how they can make sensible food choices and take time and energy to teach children how to cook healthy, low-cost meals and to understand that that eating badly will affect them health-wise. We need to stop being afraid of talking about people being fat and create a dialogue and a way of tackling this that is sympathetic and effective. Young people cannot be blamed for this. They are getting the junk food and the money to buy the junk food from somewhere. This needs to be seriously looked at. The NHS has a very important job to do. With everything we know it is still very difficult in 2014 to be able to buy any healthy food in a hospital. I have been in hospitals in the UK that have fast food and junk food franchises in the same building as the hospital. How can this be allowed to happen?
In order to tackle the issue seriously and effectively everyone needs to be on the same page and a consistent action is needed. It won’t be easy but it needs to happen, as unfortunately the endless articles, research and knowledge are not making enough of a difference. We have the information and the control to prevent obesity, which will in turn help to prevent to prevent long-term serious illnesses, which will in turn help to prevent a strain on society and untimely deaths. This is everyone’s problem, and we need to make this a priority.