Obesity: no easy answer

Obesity – a product of our lifestyle choices, or a condition or disease over which we have little control and should accept as normal? This is a monumental challenge not just for the UK, but worldwide.

The UK government has set out its stall with a policy to “significantly help improve the way we eat and drink as a nation”. Nothing else will make as much difference to ensuring a healthy weight, it says.

Without doubt, coronavirus has been a shock to the system and the government sees now is as good a time as any to tackle obesity and do much better. It says the public will respond well to a publicity campaign to raise the profile of obesity both in relation to Covid-19 and to general health.

You can change your lifestyle. Weight is not entirely at the mercy of a genetic lottery. And obesity is not – with rare exception – a condition that we should continue to view as normal and acceptable.

Obesity is complex. Having been more active over the last few months you realise the body’s cleverness – the way it uses and stores energy, and the interplay between genetics, hormones, the environmental and behavioural factors that contribute to one’s weight.

Oh, were it just about energy balance, ie calories in/calories out. The battle with weight is also highly individualised.

Our comfortable, sedentary lifestyles make movement unnecessary. When we want to go somewhere, we get in the car and drive. A lot of things are done for us – from packing food, fixing minor car faults to waiter service at pubs because of coronavirus. We don’t walk unless we have to!

Food companies are not the enemy here. They should be seen as part of the solution.

Shouldn’t we encourage more education of what to do with foods? Be more creative? And make foods more enjoyable? Back in the day, people ate what they could grow, gather, or purchase locally – vegetables, fruits, grass-fed meats, and water – lots of water. That’s not a far stretch from what we can do now with all the technology and knowledge available.

Some of the answer is education and support, teaching people about the causes of obesity to healthy eating to debunking popular diet myths, plus recommendations for dining out, grocery shopping, meal prep, physical activity, and more.

Food companies and their brands have access to a tremendous amount of information and knowledge in all these areas. They should be used to extract this for everyone’s benefit. Vilifying them and putting them between and a rock and a hard place doesn’t help anyone.

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