The Government wants to tackle obesity. So why do fat adults immediately focus on skinny children?
Adults are fat, not Children
We have good quality data on obesity and weight. This reflects one of the great values of a singular NHS that records patient data across the country.
We know, for example, that more men are overweight than women, but that more women are obese than men. We know as well that London is thin and Yorkshire is fat and that the UK’s weight problem stopped getting worse in 2001 – and has been static ever since (albeit with an anomalous jump in 2016/17).
This makes it particularly weird that whenever people look at ways to tackle the national waist bulge, conversation turns quickly to children. After all, only one in ten children is obese, compared to almost a third of adults.
The obsession with tiny numbers of obese children leads to some perverse policies. Take the newly announced ban on junk food advertising before 9pm.
The 9pm watershed is designed specifically to control what children are subject to. This makes it a largely useless tool for dealing with us fat adults. Suggestions like putting more PE hours into school are similarly silly as I for one haven’t turned up for PE in decades.
Meanwhile, no meaningful suggestions are forthcoming for getting 50-year-olds to take more exercise or to eat less food. Instead, fatuous nonsense about child obesity being a root cause of adult obesity gets spouted, despite the fact at least two out of every three of us fat adults were not fat as children.
The reason we fixate on children is complex. To an extent, we are accustomed to thinking we should intervene in the lives of children and we have obvious tools already in place to do so. Thinking the same way about a grown up is rather less comfortable, however, because we adults don’t like the idea someone will then tell “me” what to do.
Additionally we have to note that the government is mostly popular with the over 50s – who are by coincidence more likely to be fat than the under 50s. This raises two problems in a country quite politically divided by age.
Firstly, no one wants to hear from their government that they (and their tribe) are “the problem” in any policy matter. Secondly, this government became the government by spending years telling people to ignore po-faced expertise and instead do what feels good – the reverse of any policy instinct against obesity.
Can Obesity Be Cut?
If the government isn’t willing to confront its elderly support base with the fact that it is elderly people who make up the bulk of the bulky, then we might as well give up on obesity coming down.
If it is willing, then what is needed is a dramatic change in how our society functions. Long working hours and extensive commutes leave little time for physical exercise or healthy cooking as leisure activities. Driving is particularly toxic, reducing the amount of walking or standing people do to travel. Lack of money is also a great cause of stress for millions and millions, and stress is known to add to weight gain.
So the big question is how motivated the government really is.
Will it do what is necessary – such as legislate for a shorter working week and/or pay employers to keep more people working from home so as to free up more family time. Would government perhaps tackle car-use across much of the country? Will the UK spend big on subsidising new parks, leisure centres and livelihoods to help millions back out of poverty and obesity?
Or will this anti-obesity push fade after a publicity stunt and misdirected targeting of children?