Weight gain is primarily caused by consuming more calories than you spend throughout the day and this is only false for a fractional minority of us that genuinely suffer from underlying health conditions. And yet, according to government statistics, around 60% of UK adults are overweight or obese and this problem is costing the NHS over £5billion every year! If losing weight is as simple as going on a calorie deficit and maintaining weight is as simple as balancing your caloric intake and consumption, why are so many of us fat?
In order to solve this massive problem, the government has been running the Change4Life programme, improved the standardised food labelling system and encouraged food businesses to include calorie information on their menus; it seems to no immediate avail.
According to mental health charity Mind, mental health problems cost the country an estimated £100billion each year. Despite this, they also found that local authorities spend less than £40million on public mental health compared to £76million on increasing physical activity, £160million on smoking cessation, £671million on public sexual health and £108million on tackling obesity.
The issue with mental health spending is starting to receive attention but it seems recently, whenever the issue of obesity is brought up its near impossible not to offend some group of people. Only in the past few weeks, we’ve had idiotic statements from celebrities about how businesses shouldn’t cater to people who are too skinny or too fat. Then there was the whole protein world beach body situation which brought the topic of “fat-shaming” back into public debate.
The time to talk campaign for mental health awareness has made me optimistic about the future of public mental health, but debacles surrounding the public obesity crisis (and it is a crisis when you consider the world health organisation predicting three-quarters of us will be overweight by 2030) make me less hopeful.
To get people to curb their smoking addictions, we basically shamed them out of it. Second-hand smoke, slow suicide, the health burden on others; there are plenty of socially acceptable ways we remind smokers every day that what they are doing is harmful- so why is this not acceptable, nor effective apparently, when we apply this to weight problems?
It seems that people are unwilling to understand that any concern to do with weight is not simply due to admittedly restrictive, and often unrealistic, societal expectations; but because, like smoking, obesity is strongly linked to many health related problems. Some of these actually include increased risk of mental health, and many fat people are actually likely to suffer from an eating disorder or depression. Perhaps a focus on improving mental health services rather than cutting them, as is predicted to happen, could even have a knock-on effect at reducing obesity levels.
I am not sure what the solution to this epidemic is but it’s clear that education and, what is often perceived as “body-shaming”, doesn’t seem to be working. We need a fresh approach to solving this issue that moves to an emphasis on understanding the reasons and causes that lead to unhealthy lifestyles and behaviours rather than simply repeatedly stating solutions that apparently aren’t always effective.
Editor’s Note: Originally published on TheKnowledge.