“Obesity is one of the most challenging public health concerns of the 21st century. It is an epidemic that is sweeping Europe and about which not enough is being done.”
The European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) have designated this Saturday, the 21st May, as European Obesity Day (EOD16).
If you have read my most recent British Journal of Sports Medicine blog or my Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine Lay Views, you will appreciate and accept that I share EASO’s desire for increased awareness and action to address the ravaging effects of obesity, not only on our economies and health services, but on the lives of those directly affected.
Obesity is a disease that almost always leads to other conditions and is it telling that European Obesity Day lies within Mental Health Awareness Week. How many of us have seen our mental health suffer as a consequence of obesity and how we cope (or not) with it?
European Obesity Day is an opportunity to raise obesity awareness and to encourage dialogue and decisive action that will ensure a healthier and happier future for all. It is apt that the theme for EOD 2016 is Action for a Healthier Future.
It is also essential that this day isn’t just an exercise in celebrating our ability to get a hashtag trending. We need to ensure that European Obesity Day is on the agenda of every public health committee and on the desk of every politician.
This is especially true in Scotland, where, according to Obesity Action Scotland , 65% of adults are overweight, with 28% being classed as obese. Normal weight is no longer normal and as a nation our health and diet are inextricably linked. Too many have shortened life expectancies and life expectations. Obesity isn’t just a drain on our economy, it limits and ends lives.
The time has come for action.
European Obesity Day is an opportunity to bring together those dedicated to tackling obesity. We need to work together to pressurise those in power to make difficult, but ultimately necessary decisions.
Prior to the 2016 Scottish Elections, Obesity Action Scotland called upon all prospective MSPs to lend support to the five measures above.
These are the minimum measures that need to be explored and considered and, as a civil servant who serves on health and wellness groups, I pledge that I will encourage my department to reconsider the placement of vending machines in our offices. The contents are generally high sugar goods with no or little nutritional value. We cannot prevent staff from consuming these goods, but do we have to precipitate their purchase?
It might not make me the most popular person in my office, but we have to look beyond popularity contests if we are to contest policies and procedures that fatten the populace.
The failure of the Responsibility Deal proves that self regulation is no longer an option. Food retailers and producers now need to be directed to change their production processes and price promotion strategies.
Some will scream that this is an attack on the free market and indeed, free will. They will argue that we should not interfere with consumer choice and that government intervention is akin to a nanny state.
However, I believe that our purchasing habits are driven by price, advertising and perceived thoughts on what we think we need to eat and what we think is healthy.
It is estimated that £25 billion (yes, billion) is annually spent worldwide on food advertising, with much of this aimed at chidren. This advertising has one purpose. To influence our purchasing decisions to ensure increased profits for shareholders. Our health and wellbeing are not priorities.
We should not judge businesses for maximising their profits, but neither should we sit back. We need to stand up (and sit less) and take action to improve our nation’s diet. The much hyped sugar tax is an excellent start, but it is only one step and we owe it to future generations to take every necessary step to ensure their health.
So, this Saturday, please share #EOD2016 and pledge your support via the European Obesity Day Thunderclap. Take whatever steps you can to make more informed choices. Consider approaching your MSP and MEP and ask them to support the measures suggested by Obesity Action Scotland.