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Notes on The Obesity Crisis

Here’s an understatement for you: We’re eating all the pies…

…and judging by these sorry statistics, we’re following up with all the donuts, cakes, cheese fondues and chinese takeaways too – and that’s just for starters. It’s a really cruel joke. Millions of people are suffering from famine across the globe, and yet here we are: cutting people out of their own homes because they’re too large to leave by themselves*. What’s to blame for the growing obesity crisis, and is it too late to halt our expanding waistlines?

As always, cruelty isn’t the answer. I’m all for tough love where it’s necessary, but obviously calling someone a “fat piece of shit” isn’t going to help. I’m pretty sure the standard response would be to cry rather than hit the gym, and meanwhile the emotional pull of food would only grow stronger. On a related note, people that are offended by the “fat acceptance” movement completely baffle me. Under any article about it you’ll find a comments section packed with judgement and abuse, even though 62.9% of adults in the UK are obese*; so chances are those commentators could do with losing a few pounds themselves. What’s so bad about people feeling less shit about themselves? We could do with more of that everywhere. It’s not glorifying obesity – only saying that your weight shouldn’t determine how you are treated by others, or how you view yourself.

As far as I’m concerned, “fat acceptance” itself is just a predictable by-product of a bigger problem: a general culture of complacency and excuses from us as individuals. We’re fat because the convenience of a McDonald’s on every street corner is too much to bare, rather than because we actively choose to feed ourselves and our kids this junk. We’re fat because healthy living is reserved for the rich, even though for every Waitrose there are two Lidls, and walking to work costs nothing. There’s no question, all of these cultural factors have fast tracked an obesity crisis, but the real question is: What are you going to do to fight back? There’s a long list of excuses lined up to justify obesity, but the most important one never gets any airtime: we’re lacking in self-control and self-discipline. A better lifestyle is right there for the taking if you want it to be.

All this being said; solving an obesity crisis goes much further than just telling people to pull themselves together – it’s never as simple as that. It’s hard to see how anything will change without wider societal adjustment. We’re all human beings responsible for our own lives, but we’re also products of our environment; and modern living isn’t exactly set up to help people. Fast food advertising is plastered literally everywhere, gym membership costs are eye watering, and it’s haaaard to gain the motivation to cook a proper meal, or go for a run, after eight hours at the office. We’re encouraged to surrender to immediate emotions and desires, rather than seek productive solutions to problems; so it is no wonder a tube of pringles becomes one of many unhelpful comforts in times of stress and unhappiness.

It doesn’t help that government response has been so uncreative so far. The “sugar tax” was such a predictable move. I’m confident it was implemented simply to rub Jamie Oliver’s ego. To me it said: It’s a complicated problem that we don’t really know how to solve, therefore we’ll just take the opportunity to rake in the cash instead. It doesn’t work, all it does is create a skewed market* and punish people who are already struggling with rising prices. Surely there are more nuanced things you could try? Clearer labelling, or broadcasting advice on diet as a matter of routine on TV (think Martin Lewis’ Deals of the Week, but for nutrition!) to name a few.

As much as my younger self would scowl, sport in schools hasn’t gone far enough either. If doctors suggest an hour of physical activity every day*, then it should be worked into the schedule every day – drastic problems* call for drastic solutions, after all. Make (fun) physical exercise a part of students’ daily routine. That way, it doesn’t matter so much if they’re spending their downtime glued to a computer. The state could also have a role in creating incentives for private business to take the health of its employees more seriously. It could be as simple as financial assistance with setting up employee wellness programmes, or tax relief for companies that are making employee health a priority as part of their corporate social responsibility strategies.

There aren’t any shortcuts or quick fixes when it comes to solving a nationwide obesity crisis, but one thing is for sure: Ronald McDonald is here for the long haul. Therefore it is our attitudes that need to change, and our bright ideas that need to come rolling in right about now.

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