Unhealthy diets, sedentary lives and an obesity crisis

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The Independent Online

There can be no simple solution to Britain's obesity crisis because no single factor is responsible; the problem is bound up with the way we live our lives. But that is not to say there is nothing we can do to combat the problem and, as the Commons Health Select Committee report today makes clear, the costs of allowing the nation's waistline to expand any further would be disastrous. Obesity is already costing the NHS around £3.5bn a year, and we will reap an undesirable harvest of rising levels of diabetes, cancer and heart disease in years to come.

There can be no simple solution to Britain's obesity crisis because no single factor is responsible; the problem is bound up with the way we live our lives. But that is not to say there is nothing we can do to combat the problem and, as the Commons Health Select Committee report today makes clear, the costs of allowing the nation's waistline to expand any further would be disastrous. Obesity is already costing the NHS around £3.5bn a year, and we will reap an undesirable harvest of rising levels of diabetes, cancer and heart disease in years to come.

The select committee's report focuses on our diet. We eat too many unhealthy foods - high in sugars, fat and salt - and there can be no doubt that this is harming our health. Especially worrying is the rise of obesity in children. Bad eating habits acquired early in life are difficult to shake off. It is vital that schools provide nutritious meals, and teach pupils the principles of healthy eating, leaving them in no doubt about the problems they will face in coming years if they exist on junk food.

But that is not enough in itself. Exercise is just as crucial. Physical education should be central to the school curriculum, rather than an optional extra. The selling-off of playing fields has done untold damage. Adults too should take more exercise; many gym memberships are unused, and a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to health problems.

Ultimately, there is a limit to what governments can achieve. Ensure there is honest food labelling, by all means, but curbing the advertising of unhealthy foods or placing warnings on packets would have little effect, merely contributing to the impressions of a nanny state. At heart, this is a problem for individuals to address, and the cure, for most people, is simple: eat sensibly and take some exercise.

We are all guilty of opting for processed convenience foods when it would be just as easy to eat something fresh. We all know when we call the lift that we could take the stairs. We know that faddish diets and quack weight-loss cures are unlikely to work in the long term. The key to losing weight and living a healthy life is no secret. The hard part is doing what is necessary to achieve it.

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