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Should we be doing more to tackle obesity?

I read this week an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about a study conducted by the London School of Medicine on global obesity.

The researchers predict that if all people had increased their weight to the same average body mass index (BMI) as Americans (85 kg), it’s equivalent to adding one billion people to the world’s population. In short, it’s not just an increasing population we need to worry about for food security, it’s our widening girth.

So, now the agenda has broadened from chronic disease to ecological sustainability, are we doing enough to tackle obesity? Or are we quite happy for our kids to eat pizza and it be classified as one serving of a vegetable?

It’s a tricky line to tread, because civil libertarians would argue that as long as we can pay, we can do what we like in society, and that tackling obesity is moving towards a nanny state. The argument is the same as the tobacco industry continue to spruik – as long as you’re an adult, you should be free to choose what you want to do.

But when the burden on society is so great on our population and resources today and tomorrow, we can’t simply turn a blind eye and continue to pander to food lobbyists. Can we?

What do you think?

Should people be free to make their own choices, whatever the consequences on society? Or should governments step in and tackle the issue head on?


20 thoughts on “Should we be doing more to tackle obesity?

  1. It’s most certainly a question for parents to address particularly in the West. As usual there is the problem of greedy multinationals producing useless food that tempts simple palates.

  2. jazzeblu says:

    Great topic and hard to discuss over email – great one for a face to face.

    Must watch ‘Food Inc’ and ”River Cottage Treatment” series in the UK.

    I don’t know…..At first I thought it was all about education. However, after having seen Food Inc I am not sure where one should start. One can say if your obsesity is self-inflicted (and not related to a disease) you pay for any related illnesses and medical treatment etc. But in the movie they interviewed an average family of 4. They were all a bit podgy but were educated to understand about 5 servings of veg etc but simply cannot afford it. Cheaper to have a Happy Meal for 4 from MacD and the husband’s diabetic meds the for them to shop and eat 5 portions fruit and veg. These 5 portions for 4 people, 2 growing kids was unaffordable.

    Vicious circle – how to break it? Hope one of the kids, becomes educated, has a good job and can afford to eat well and help the family? But perhaps too late for Dad’s diabetic gangrene foot!

    It costs to be healthy!

    You have government susidies, corporate control, factory farms, wrong feed to animals, chemicals/hormones etc etc.

    River Cottage had a programme in the UK about chickens: The River Cottage Treatment.

    ”This was a complete departure from the format of his previous shows, but still the same enthusiastic Hugh. He took a group of people who loved fast food – in tonight’s case, cheap joints of chicken as served at your local greasy takeaway – and showed them how he raised, killed and cooked his own chickens in a bid to convince them that factory farmed hens were not a “good buy” – for them or for the chickens.

    It was fascinating to see how it gradually dawned on the group that the £2.99 hen bought at the supermarket or the plate of chicken nuggets was not only inferior tasting, but not that much cheaper than the economic use of a whole free range or organic bird, from making kebabs from the breast meat to cooking up a chicken soup from the carcass and a few bits of veg.”

    However, at one point he was stumped and put on the spot when one of the group how she could not afford an organic chicken as at 2 for GBP5 she could feed more people. He had to prove how she could make it stretch.

    Worth watching…

    However, I digress….after all that I still don’t know…so many factors and who to blame, who to pay etc.

    BUT, the lady who is aiming to be the world’s fattest woman should not be allowed any medical treatment for anything. She knows the dangers but still goes ahead. Does my head in why there are folks like that…stuuuupid!

    • Jazzie, great comments. It’s complex and needs a holistic approach. Public healthies would say:
      – influence policy (eg curb ads to kids)
      – build capacity ( eg teach people how to cook)
      – reduce barriers (eg improve public transport to out of town supermarkets)
      – help those already afflicted (eg counseling, medical intervention)

      • Andy, I agree with your comments, above. Tobacco use has declined steadily in our state, from 30-40% in the 1980s to only 11% now. I think education, advocacy and ultimately peer pressure will turn the tides. I certainly hope so.

  3. From my, admittedly narrow, experience, we seem to get it mostly right here at the baby stage – lots of advice and help for weaning babies room onto a healthy diet, homemade when possible. It seems to start going wrong around the toddler stage and goes downhill from there! But, like you, I find it hard to judge others for their poor food choices as I am lucky enough to be able to afford healthy, organic produce.

    • Hi Rachael, yes I agree. It’s hard for people to make the right choices when so much is stacked against them. I mean who can compete against the marketing clout of the multi-billion dollar food industry. It’s a bit one sided in my view.

  4. In my opinion, parents should be doing more with preventing this issue in their children. What happened to the days of riding your bike, or walking if you wanted to get somewhere? When did the change happen that kids began to be allowed to spend the bulk of their free time sitting in front of the TV/video game/computer/etc rather than outside in the fresh air?
    It saddens me to see overweight adults, but even more so when I see kids that are going to struggle their entire lives with weight, body image, and self esteem problems because they weren’t taught healthy lifestyle features as they were growing up. Fast food, soda, candy, television, video games, etc should be an exception, not a rule. A treat from time to time.
    This fast paced society with the “I want what I want & I want it right now” attitude is giving birth to a whole new breed of problems…ridiculous problems, at that.

    • Do you think it’s all the parents fault? I know they have to shoulder responsibility, but when the social norm is processed, quick food, and parents and children are marketed to very aggressively, there is no balance. It’s hard for the average Joe to make informed decisions. It’s also hard for them to fight against it because the social norm is not healthy wholesome food. And the healthier alternative is more expensive. So those with no money make the cheaper choice.

      Kids are fed crap in schools five days a week. That can’t be the parents fault. So kids are taught the wrong things from a very early age.

      I think the problem is far more complicated

      In the UK, the biggest barriers to eating healthily are 1) people don’t know how cook 2) people don’t know how to choose fresh food (because they are bombarded with advertising that claims to be healthy) 3) people can’t afford the healthier alternatives 4) lack of decent public transport to out of town shopping areas and 5) crap food in schools. The solutions are a challenge and will take a lot of political will. Something at the moment that is not seen as a priority.

  5. As a marketer I know we make it very hard for parents. The way the aisles are created and the most sugary and non nutritious products eye level for the child. That said, parents do have the final say and should be more careful about their choices of what is allowed in the home or how often. I am happy to hear that Disney is now only airing healthy foods.

    • Agree, parents have a huge role to play, I just worry the odds are stacked against them. I’d be interested to see where Disney draws the line between healthy and unhealthy and how they define it. Do you have any info?

      • Yeah, the don’t go into too many specifics because of course they wont cut out all major advertisers but they say “Disney plans to cut advertising during children’s programming on its networks such as ABC and Disney XD or its kid-focused websites for foods that fail to meet minimum nutrition requirements, the sources said.”

        And i’m sure you know about New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement last week of a plan to ban sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces (about half a liter) in most restaurants, theaters, delis and vending carts throughout the city. Personally, people will just buy two? Am I right? I ca only hope they would stop at one and drink some water.

  6. School systems are short budgeted and put out a selection of food in the cafeteria that is not directed towards maintaining a healthy weight. I took my lunch when I was a kid and there was always a piece of fruit, celery and carrot sticks, and fresh ingredients. Now they get those snack packs and pudding cups and chips. At some point we have to stand up and say enough.

    • 100% agree. I think it’s so ironic that we educate our kids because they are our future, yet they are fed crap.

      Thanks for your comments, much appreciated.

  7. I live and work in China 10-11 months of the year. I find more fresh food and less packaged products available. This made me feel better and some of the discomfort and bloating I get from ‘western’ food doesn’t exist until I return home. Makes me wonder what am I eating???
    When I returned home this summer I was shocked to notice the amount of heavy and very obese people… I wonder if part of it is what is avaialble to eat… it is faster and easier to eat a fast food or quick serve meal than making something fresh. Is this healthy? What about all the hidden calories and not to mention chemicals etc.? We eat out a lot in China and portions are reasonable, or small to western standards, but do we need all that food? One of the first things I did once to lose weigh was change my plate size to something smaller. I was still full and eating less!
    You raise a good point about controling what people eat and what is their responsibility to the world or community. I think parents need to teach their kids good habits young which would help. Yes people need to think about others and not be selfish, but companies also need to be responsible with portion sizes and what they are feeding us.

    • So true. I lived in Hong Kong for eights years. The traditional diet and small portions kept the Hong Kong Chinese healthy. Straightforward rice, meat and green vegetable, nothing else.
      However this started to change with the introduction of western fast food. Obesity and other diseases started to increase. Just goes to show what influence advertising dollars can have on society.
      Thanks for taking the time for putting forward and thoughtful comment.

  8. Government should do something about it. When I was in the contact center the company I was working for launched a campaign against obesity. As call center agents are target of obesity because of the nature of our jobs. They conducted a free evaluation of BMI and nutrition consultation. tied up with nutritional products and launched a full education campaign about obesity. Too bad, I left he company in the middle of it and was no table to benefit from it since I started my freelancing. My point is if a company administration can d this so thus the government. This article is personally timely for me as yesterday I had my BMI checked with a nutritionist and boom went overboard have to change in eating habits and exercise. :) Thanks for this.

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