Today is World Obesity Day and by 2020, 3 in 5 of England’s most deprived boys will be overweight or obese.
It is a shame that World Obesity Day, much like yesterday’s World Mental Health Day, should even exist, but they both do provide an opportunity to share important messages that highlight the need for action.
The alarming new figures from the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) above, released today on World Obesity Day, show a looming significant weight gap between the poorest and wealthiest primary-school aged boys living in England ( I see no reason why this would not be the case also in Scotland). Three in five (60%) of the most deprived boys aged 5-11 are predicted to be overweight or obese by 2020, compared to about one in six (16%) of boys in the most affluent group
According to the OHA, eating or drinking too much sugar is a key reason for consuming extra calories and is therefore a cause of obesity. Sugar currently makes up 13% of children’s daily calorie intake, while the official recommendation is no more than 5%. This is why the OHA fully supports the Government’s Soft Drinks Industry Levy, which is an important step to help make our children healthier. The alliance is also calling on food manufacturers to comply with the Government’s programme to reduce the sugar in food eaten often by children and wants to see loopholes closed to protect children from exposure to junk food marketing online and on TV.
As Robin Ireland, Chief Executive at Health Equalities Group and member of the Obesity Health Alliance, said:
From a young age, children are developing a taste for high sugar, salt and fatty foods that is difficult to break once established and as a nation, we all have a responsibility to help shape children’s diets. Sugary drink consumption levels tend to be highest among the most disadvantaged children who are hit hardest by obesity and tooth decay. The health gains from the soft drinks industry levy will be biggest for our most deprived children.
I have presented my view on health inequalities in my Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine Lay View, so these findings are unfortuanately of no real surprise to me.
However, what did surprise and stun me were tweets emanating last week from the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM).
@BJSMplus celebrated the donation of a recycling unit to the University of British Columbia by showering Cola Cola with praise and even promoted them as a partner in battling obesity.
That a publication and institution so dedicated to promoting Sports and Exercise Medicine should fail to recognise how inappropriate these tweets are and instead defend Coca Cola is both disheartening and disappointing. I count my two blogs for the BJSM amongst my greatest achievements and although this might bring an end to any further collaborations, I have to speak out.
The BJSM have to lead by example.
We all have to consider the support we give to businesses whose goal it is to sell more of the products that potentially cause us harm, regardless of the support they regularly provide to help encourage more of us to be active or to our athletes.
Last year the New York Times reported that, according to health experts, Coca Cola spend huge sums to:
deflect criticism about the role sugary drinks have played in the spread of obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
Coca Cola are by no means the enemy and they should be included as a stake holder in all discussions on sugar consumption. However, while organisations such as the British Association of Soft Drinks attack the Levy, we need to distance ourselves from them.
The University of British Columbia and the BJSM may have innocently shown their appreciation for the generous gift of a recycling unit, but we all have to consider the message that our associations send out as well as the actions we take
And we need to take action now!
Chris Askew, Chief Executive at diabetes UK, said:
Not taking action now will result in the NHS forking out monumental amounts of money for largely preventable conditions. This is why it’s so important to implement the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, manufacture healthier food, and close the loopholes of junk food marketing to children today, so our future health, workforce, and NHS can stand a chance tomorrow.
Our children deserve better. We, as adults, organisations and governments need to make their future health a priority.
The Soft Drink Levy is a policy that will hopefully directly help those that are most disadvantaged, but it is only one thing. If Coca Cola and the other soft drink manufacturers want to truly be considered as partners in the battle against obesity, then they need to show support for the Levy and work with it rather than against it. O
I hope that, in years to come, we don’t need to have a World Obesity Day, but for that to happen we need to take more action and we need to consider the alliances we have built and whether or not they are for the greater good.
Disclaimer. My fondness of Diet Coke is well documented and I am not suggesting that we ban soft drinks.