The government’s obesity plan is dangerous – Labour Article
On 27th July, the UK government outlined its new obesity strategy with the aim of encouraging people to lose weight as a way of defeating coronavirus and protecting the NHS. Sounds innocent, right? Not quite. The problems with the proposal are endless. Rather than a well-advised plan to tackle a serious health issue, it has fallen to be yet another example of mental health taking a backseat under Johnson’s government.
I can’t fault the intention. Obesity is a problem in the UK. 63% of adults in England are either overweight or living with obesity, with the statistics for children being similarly shocking. So, understandably, where this weight is detrimental to one’s health, the government must do something. Particularly now when obesity has been closely linked to coronavirus.
However, as they currently stand, the proposed measures will not be overwhelmingly helpful in tackling obesity and physical health. Rather, they will severely impact mental health across the UK.
My issue predominantly is with the proposed calorie labelling. Larger restaurants will now be required by law to label calories on their menus. Initially, I see how this could be interpreted as a good thing; it is not a bad thing for people to know what they are eating, and to be aware of a less calorific option. However, it is not that simple.
It is by no means surprising that a government that has continuously cut spending on mental health has yet again let it take a backseat. But it does pose the question as to how much thought they put into this proposal. All it takes is a quick google search to realise its complexity and the potentially ruinous effects this could have on mental health. Just last year there were significant calls to ban calorie counting apps as they had the potential to “exacerbate eating disorders”.
Is this an innocent over-simplification of what is a very complex issue? Or just complete ignorance from Johnson’s government?
It is estimated that between 1.25 and 3.4 million people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder. These people live with a constant battle against their eating habits. Calorie labelling will only worsen this. As the UK’s eating disorder charity ‘Beat’ reports, eating disorders can be triggered by public campaigns that promote a fear of obesity and encouragement of calorie counting. The government’s proposal is just this – a trigger. A dangerous one at that.
The proposed calorie labelling offers another unwanted opportunity for calories to control people’s lives. In both the long and short term, it will do more harm than good.
Ultimately, it is really only those suffering from eating disorders that will notice the changes. Those of a healthy weight, and for the most part the overweight also, will disregard the labelling. I imagine they won’t be advertised in flashing lights around restaurants so they can easily be ignored. Unless of course, you are suffering from an eating disorder.
And there is evidence for this. A similar scheme was introduced in America in 2018. This year, 83% of men and 72% of women in the US are still overweight or obese. It is, therefore, rather reasonable to question the likelihood of success from calorie labelling.
Of course, calorie labelling isn’t the only point outlined in this proposal.
The ban on unhealthy, junk food adverts before 9pm doesn’t make much sense to me either. Granted, it may prevent young children from craving such foods but it is ultimately the parents who make the final decision in purchasing them. More so, a lot of these adverts will be from household names. The banning of adverts is not going to make people forget about these brands.
There is also the proposal of removing ‘Buy one, get one free’ deals and the like on unhealthy food. Call me a pessimist, but I also don’t see this proving too successful. It is merely limiting the choice of the less fortunate, while leaving the wealthy with ample choice. Something we have seen far too much of over the last ten years.
Clearly there is a lot wrong with this proposal. But what would be a better solution?
I think the ideal would be to provide greater education around food nutrition and healthy lifestyles. After all, calories are not the be all and end all to weight loss.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Abi Clargo
Point of Information
A personal flaw or a social problem? – A Liberal Response
I couldn’t agree more with the issues Abi has highlighted. It is almost certain that those who will take most notice of the calorie content labelling will be those with a tendency to look already. This policy will, therefore, impact those who currently experience or have experienced disordered eating disproportionately.
Whilst technically the solution to obesity is as simple as a calorie deficit, counting calories isn’t a healthy or long term solution. The government should not be promoting diet culture.
Instead, the government should address the structural causes. Why are so many people in the UK overweight in the first place?
Looking into the demographics of the statistics Abi has discussed reveals that obesity is primarily a problem of deprivation. Four million people in the UK simply can’t afford a healthy diet.
Using £10 million to advertise a healthy lifestyle when the majority of the targeted population can’t afford to make necessary changes in the first place can not be an effective policy. The strategy taken by the government is another example of a policy shaming the poor for being poor.
Whilst it is good that COVID-19 has raised concerns of weight as a health problem, it is not something new and it is not limited to the increased risks from the virus.
The division in life expectancy in the UK correlates with the deepening socio-economic divide. The factors causing the nearly ten-year difference in life expectancy are consequences of the different lifestyles accessible between economic groups in the UK, such as diet. Structural causes are not inevitable, they are determined by decisions made in our democratic institutions.
Food poverty should not be framed as a personal flaw.
I really agree with Abi’s suggestion that we need better education. Children born into families who don’t have the time or money to consider nutrition are only expected to continue this trend of increasing obesity. However, this education should focus on what it means to feel healthy, not what it looks like.
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Abby Milnes
Obesity: is it the true health issue here? – A Conservative Response
The attempt to attack the UK ‘obesity crisis’ by the government is arguably meant with good intentions, however, this is not the foremost important debate to had around the issue. The true subject that needs to be debated is the actual diagnosis of obesity itself, alongside mental health, and whether obesity is as much of a problem as it is being made out to be?
Firstly, in response to the UK’s mental health issues surrounding lockdown and weight gain, I feel this is stemming from long term derogatory perceptions of weight. It is commonplace for mocking those of greater weights, irrespective of actual healthiness. This seems to have seeped into medical practices in the assumption of ‘greater weight, unhealthier the person’.
People are afraid of gaining weight, arguably for the response from their peers rather than actual impacts on their health. Mental health is something that needs to be taken more seriously and the issues presented by lockdown has made the challenge more difficult than ever.
With regards to the policy itself, it is a confusing and misplaced initiative. Currently, mental health should be the main health focus of the government as opposed to UK obesity, which as an issue itself is highly dubious and subject to reform.
Using the current system of diagnosing obesity is what is truly dangerous, the current government plans are only exacerbating this issue as there needs to be a deep revision of how healthiness is determined in relation to weight. Being heavy is not mutually exclusive with being healthy, this needs wider recognition within health. Until this is acknowledged, no obesity plan from the government is going to effectively help people with their physical fitness.
The NHS diagnoses a person as obese by calculating their BMI and this is where the discrepancies lie. Abi states that 63% of the UK population is either overweight or obese, meaning that their BMI is either higher than 24.9 (overweight) or 29.9 (obese). The earliest iterations of the BMI were in the 1830s, so it has stood the test of time, perhaps more out of convenience than its medical merit.
A BMI is calculated (on the NHS calculator) using a person’s height, weight, age, and level of activeness, with the option to include ethnicity also. It does not take into account the mass of fat on a person, any diseases or chronic illnesses they have, or even muscle mass. In other words, diagnosing someone as obese is not mutually exclusive with being healthy.
This is where my contention arises. Using a BMI to diagnose obesity is only a generalisation, you may be more at risk of some diseases with a high BMI, but this is not definite, and it doesn’t take into account how some illnesses can affect people with both ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ BMIs.
Under the current system of diagnosing obesity, international athletes such as Joe Marler, James Haskell, Alun Wyn Jones, Cian Healy, and Sonny Bill Williams classify as obese from their BMIs, despite all being international rugby players. One can simply Google pictures of them to see that they are in peak physical form with rippling muscles and the fact they can play a full eighty minutes of rugby which is no easy feat.
Simply telling people who are classed as ‘overweight’ and ‘obese’ they need to get fit is no solution at all. If anything it could trigger an opposite effect, leading to eating disorders, which will lead to severely worse health issues. Not to mention the impact on mental health. The nuances of health and weight need to be examined in order to help those who are suffering from health issues as a result of their weight, rather than trying to give a prognosis from a blatantly ill-equipped system of quantification as the BMI.
Being obese does not equate being unhealthy.
Written by Guest Conservative Writer, Peter Pearce