IT’S become one of the biggest challenges to public health, but solutions to Britain’s worsening obesity problem are hotly disputed.
Are individuals simply making the wrong choices in a society where food has become plentiful, or is the culture in which we all live steering us towards unhealthy lifestyles. Who are the fat controllers?
Professor John Wilding is Head of Obesity and Endocrinology at the University of Liverpool, he said: “We all have to recognise that this is a very complex problem. Of course, there is an element of individual choice and responsibility, but people live within an environment that is largely outside their control.
“We know that physical exercise is important, and we know that people do significantly less walking and other day-to-day activities than 40 or 50 years ago. In the 1950s, the average person walked 25 to 30 miles a week. Now, the latest figures show 25% of the population walk less than one hour a week, let alone the recommended 30 to 60 minutes brisk walking a day.
“Physical exercise has gone down and that’s part of the problem, but other changes have also occurred.
“The food industry has been doing very well encouraging people to eat its products. But how do we address the food industry? Should they take responsibility or should they be regulated? To retain the status quo is not an option, it doesn’t work and it hasn’t worked.”
Today, 61.3% of adults and 30% of children aged two to 15 are classified overweight or obese, creating a significantly increased risk of contracting type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Obesity has also become the most common cause of mothers dying in childbirth. And, according to the Department of Health, the issue costs the NHS more than £5 billion annually.
Professor Wilding will be joined by Professor Tim Lang, City University London’s Professor of Food Policy; Dr Susan Jebb OBE, Head of Diet and Population Health at the Medical Research Council Human Research Unit, Cambridge and Ian Twinn, Director of Public Affairs with the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, for a panel debate on Wednesday, asking ‘Who are the Fat Controllers?’.
And Professor Wilding, who deals with the clinical fallout and health consequences of obesity, such as diabetes, on a daily basis through his role at University Hospital Aintree, is in no doubt about the urgency of the problem.
He said: “I think it is now probably the biggest public health problem facing this country.
Changing the environment
“We’re slowly getting better organised from a treatment perspective. When I started talking about this 15 years ago, there were no services in Merseyside to help people lose weight. Support is now available to those who need it, but from a public health perspective the key issue is prevention.
“We’ve got to look at changing the environment we live in, and that will mean changing the way we eat and the way we move, but how we achieve that is unclear. This is a tough debate that’s going on right at this moment.”
The event, the first in the latest of the University’s Policy Provocations debate series, takes place on Wednesday May 15, from 6pm at the Victoria Gallery and Museum. Tickets are free, visit http://www.liv.ac.uk/events/policy-provocations/fat-controllers.php for more.
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