Ok, so come on. Who doesn’t like a couple of biscuits with their tea or a piece of chocolate cake at their favourite café – or even a steaming bag of fish and chips on a winter’s night? The question is when and how did these little treats turn into the “obesity crisis” nation we have today?
I propose to make some suggestions.
If you haven’t seen it already here is The Foresight Obesity Map – outlining all factors that contribute to people becoming overweight.
Try as we might, as health care professionals, it is very difficult to take on that vast array of influences!
Simplifying some of the main influences on the UK’s obesity epidemic below may help some to understand how we have ended up with more than 1 in 5 adults in the UK classified as obese:
- The increase in portion sizes – Slowly and steadily portion sizes have become bigger. So much so that now, even the good food we cook at home is spilling off our plates. Restaurants and fast food outlets have been increasing the portions of food for a long time and now we need more food to be fully satisfied after a meal. Not only have these portion sizes got bigger but also the introduction of “value packs” means that bigger portions cost just a little more and tempt us to buy twice as much. Meanwhile increasing profits for food manufacturers.
- Mindless Eating – No wonder we are eating more when we have such little regard for the food we put in our mouths! ‘Mindless eating’ explains the way we frequently eat today: never taking time out to sit for proper meals, eating on the go, eating whilst watching the TV or chatting on the phone. All this means that our body is distracted from the food we are eating and therefore a high volume of food goes undetected by our body’s satiety signals (signals that tell us when we are full). Ultimately, this results in us overeating during mealtimes and throughout the whole day.
- Food availability – with 24 hour access to pretty much any food, the environment we live in is what is described as “obesogenic”. For most people the default option is to eat more and exercise less.
- Types of food – Of course, this list would not be complete without acknowledging the types of food we are consuming as a hugely influential factor. Less cooking at home and a lack of knowledge as to how to cook and prepare meals from scratch. This results in the public relying on foods prepared by the food industry. Unfortunately, priority for the food industry is to make foods that sell – which ultimately leads to overproduction (and therefore overconsumption) of foods high in sugar, fat and salt. These are, after all, the foods which sell.
- The eating habits of our babies – eating habits developed in early life has an impact on patterns of food consumption throughout a child’s life. Therefore starting our babies and toddlers on all the wrong foods has a huge influence on the habits of the next generation. Too many manufactured baby foods, pre-packaged baby meals and the sweets, cakes and biscuits we all know we should avoid, may lead to a lifetime of bad eating.
- The Food Industry (and the government’s co-operation with them)– Industry, unfortunately for consumers, has a big influence on government policy and government recommendations around food. With multi-million pound budgets, loopholes in labeling and government policies are not hard to find. The Food Industry is here to do one thing and one thing only – TO SELL THEIR PRODUCTS TO YOU. Making decisions that could reduce how much is sold or encouraging people to EAT LESS could bring down profits, which would certainly not impress shareholders.
- Diet myths – Every day the media is responsible for confusing the public. This leads people to start faddy diets and accept ideas about “losing weight fast” both of which inevitably lead to failure. What is the result? – a despondent population which feels there is nothing else it can do but accept fate and stay fat (or of course try a different diet next time round). People try and look for blame else where “I’m big boned”, “It’s in my genes”, “It’s my metabolism” which leads them to feel that they may as well keep doing what they are doing as nothing seems to work.
- Becoming more inactive – It is not necessarily about “exercising” per se, but more about increasing the energy expended in day-to-day activities. Jobs today are less physically demanding. We drive rather than walk, we have inactive entertainment in the form of the television rather than active games or interests. As humans we are inherently lazy. We will do as little as possible to get what we need. Do you think the cavemen would go on search of food far afield if they had access to food nearby?
So, there we have it. These are some of my suggestions as to why we are becoming an overweight nation. Of course, we can see by looking at the obesity map above that these are not the only factors responsible. However, they are certainly big players in the overweight game.