The Situationist

The Situation of Fatness = Our “Obesogenic” Society

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 18, 2007

Body Mass Index

The BBC published a story this week about a massive study in the UK regarding the underlying causes of the obesity epidemic. One of the key messages of the report is that obesity is not the consequence of a sudden explosion of lazy overeaters, but dramatic shift in our environments and other factors situational. We excerpt portions of that below.

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Individuals can no longer be held responsible for obesity so government must act to stop Britain “sleepwalking” into a crisis, a report has concluded. The largest ever UK study into obesity, backed by government and compiled by 250 experts, said excess weight was now the norm in our “obesogenic” society.

Dramatic and comprehensive action was required to stop the majority of us becoming obese by 2050, they said.

But the authors admitted proof that any anti-obesity policy works “was scant.”

Rising Incidence of ObesityNonetheless every level of society, from individual to the upper echelons of government, must become involved in the campaign against a condition which carries such great social and economic consequences, they said.

In 2002, those who were overweight or obese cost nearly £7bn in treatment and state benefits and in indirect costs such as loss of earnings and reduced productivity.

In 40 years time, that figure could reach nearly £46bn, as health services struggle to cope with the ill health such as diabetes, cancer and stroke which can be associated with excess weight.

“There is a danger that the moment to act radically and dramatically will be missed,” said Sir David King, the government’s chief scientific advisor and head of the Foresight Programme which drew up the report.

“It is a problem that is getting worse every year.”

So hard

Obesity, the authors concluded, was an inevitable consequence of a society in which energy-dense, cheap foods, labour-saving devices, motorised transport and sedentary work were rife.

In this environment it was surprising that anyone was able to remain thin, Dr Susan Jebb of the Medical Research Council said, and so the notion of obesity simply being a product of personal over-indulgence had to be abandoned for good.

“The stress has been on the individual choosing a healthier lifestyle, but that simply isn’t enough,” she said.

From planning our towns to encourage more physical activity to placing more pressure on mothers to breast feed – believed to slow down infant weight gain – the report highlighted a range of policy options without making any concrete recommendations.

Industry was already working to put healthier products on the shelf, the report noted, while work was advanced in transforming the very make-up of food so it was digested more slowly and proved satisfying for longer.

But it was clear that government needed to involve itself, as on this occasion, the market was failing to do the job, Sir David said.

Shock tactics?

uk-shock-warning.jpgPublic Health Minister Dawn Primarolo said the government would be holding further consultations to decide how to proceed.

She said it was too early to say whether the same “shock” approach seen in public health warnings against smoking would be adopted with obesity, or whether a tax on fatty foods, highlighted in the report but widely dismissed as unworkable, would be considered.

“The most important thing is there has to be public consent and understanding of the issues you’re trying to challenge,” she said.

“A mandate for change will be difficult because it has to be preceded by an understanding of the dangers of obesity.”

The Royal College of Physicians said the report was “encouraging.”

“The emphasis on cross-governmental initiatives is particularly welcome, as is the importance of addressing issues across society whilst avoiding blame,” said its president, Professor Ian Gilmore.

The Food and Drink Federation said it understood its role in tackling the problem.

“Our industry is now widely recognised as leading the world when it comes to reformulating products; extending consumer choice; and introducing improved nutrition labelling,” a spokesperson said.

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For a listing of numerous Situaitonist posts on the situational sources of obesity, click here.

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3 Responses to “The Situation of Fatness = Our “Obesogenic” Society”

  1. I have toyed with an idea that would could be put in place by governments and is based on facts.

    It’s quite simple: since obesity is a social cost, tie tax deductions to maintaining a healthy weight (naturally, people would be exempt from this scheme if they are beyond the normal boundaries for reasons other than their lifestyles).

    The tricky task is making it acceptable as a policy for the general public.

  2. By the way, just as a clarification: I am 1.70m high and 95kg. That puts me in the obese area (interstingly, I just discovered it now… I tought about myself as overweight, but not obese… self-deception?).

    I think that taxes are private enough that they wouldn’t be cause social biases and hit us on the right place, our wallets, that make it hard to ignore. I generally despise taxes, but it makes sense in this area… at least in European socialized healthcare.

  3. aelo said

    er.. rather than introduce a tax that punishes people for being the ‘wrong weight’, and therefore encouraging discrimination, wouldn’t it be smarter to discourage car use by improving public transport and taxing cars, getting rid of escalators, putting in lifts only as ‘conveyances for disabled’??? – all of these would have two advantages – saving energy and encouraging more incidental movement.

    a tax for companies like macdonalds, KFC and coke based on the amount they spend on advertising to be put straight into the health service – a kind of corresponding fee to compensate for the damage caused by what they are selling
    which may also work to limit their advertising.

    – how about for a really out there suggestion – you go to gyms and instead of paying to exercise, you use either a treadmill or exercise bike to charge batteries for use in public facilities… therefore its either free or it comes with a voucher for a free meal. A yearly award for those people who contribute the greatest amount of ‘electricity hours’ to their community every year.

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