The real reason we're not beating obesity

By Judith Wills , Friday 4 January 2013

Being obese is not a disease, writes Judith Wills, and we need to come up with a workable solution to avoid it in the first place
Judith WillsJudith Wills

So we've had the fun and the food. Now, with classic timing (just as we're trying very hard not to feel at all guilty for the calorie intake but hardly succeeding), we hear from the men in suits that for the first time in history, a quarter of us UK adults are obese.

Not, you understand, just a little tubby, or even overweight – but clinically obese. The Government seems to be blaming the NHS, saying it doesn't do enough to help obese people or treat the disease.

Excuse me, but whichever way you look at it, being the wrong side of fat – with a Body Mass Index over 30, which is the official definition of obesity – is not, actually, a disease. It is a symptom, in the vast majority of cases, of taking in more food and drink than we can (or do) burn up in living, resulting in the surplus being converted to fat and laid down in the body.

That is a physical, natural, biological process, not a disease. No, the diseases come afterwards, when the body often protests at all those surplus stones it is being asked to carry around, and then, as a consequence, it often gets high blood pressure, heart disease, blocked arteries (due as much to the type of diet as the quantity of food ingested along with the lack of exercise), diabetes type 2, some types of cancer, joint problems, and all the rest of the health problems associated with being huge.

And yet, I've often said to obese people - “It's not your fault you're fat!” And I've meant it, and I still do. And I'm not saying the NHS shouldn't try its best within its budget to deal with obesity – as if it doesn't, there will be ever more and more people knocking at its door needing to be treated for the consequences.

But I am saying that trying to deal with the health consequences of a nationally - no internationally – self-inflicted problem is a bit like sticking a larger plaster over a nasty cut. It would have been much better to avoid cutting oneself in the first place.

No, what HM Government needs to try to do is to think of workable ways to help us avoid getting obese in the first place. I say 'try to' as the various governments over the past three decades have all not only failed to meet their obesity-reduction targets every single time a goal has been set, but also have seen obesity levels simply soar. Back in the day when I was writing my first diet books around 30 years ago, the percentage of obese adults in the UK was nearer 10% than 25%.

Unfortunately, 'workable ways' will mean HM Government annoying the commercial hands that feed it – the big boys with few morals who get rich on pumping up our artificial and ever-increasing need (not hunger, for when did we last experience that?) for calories and new, often lab-produced flavours and factory foods.

Cheap food (and yes, it IS still relatively cheap even today), the greed of the food production companies and the supermarkets, the immense choice of food on offer for all, the persuasiveness of modern marketing and PR, the lack of incentive to take any regular exercise when the car or the internet will take us where we want to go.... we are just not strong enough to fight these true reasons for our obesity. There is no way that the fat nations of the world will ever turn into slim nations unless we can find a way back to how we used to live – more simply, more frugally, more actively, more naturally - before the modern world really began after the second world war. That's unlikely to happen, until we run out of the wealth of resources that made modern 'progress' possible in the first place, or until enough of us, and our governments, realise that we're killing our planet with our over-consumption, as well as killing ourselves, and that doing something about it is not just something to talk about but to actually do.

So meanwhile the scenario is that half of the population will be clinically obese by 2050. And I honestly don't know the short or even medium-term answer for the population as a whole.

All I know is that individuals can fight the system, can stay slim – or slimmish, and keep fit and healthy well into old age. I know people who do. But it's no longer easy, as it entails constantly fighting against the tide of food and inactivity that our governments conspire with us to encourage. To buck the system – and, Mr Cameron, that is what it is, your endorsed system for as long as you sit back and watch the profit-driven food manufacturers cram food into our faces that we don't need – takes determination, courage, focus and ferocious self-preservation instincts.

Happy New Year, one and all. It's not your fault you're fat – but you can, nevertheless, make a stand. I will be trying to fight for a healthy body – and help you to fight – throughout 2013. But I await the government's list of solutions for eradicating the root causes of this needless epidemic with interest. Maybe this year, for the first time in 30 years, I won't be disappointed.

Follow Judith's progress from the beginning in the Diet Challenge archive.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

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  • Dave

    Posted: Wednesday 16 January 2013

    Excellent article. It is all about fighting the temptations and keeping one eye on your weight (or waistline). Not that difficult really.

  • Jean Reynolds

    Posted: Friday 11 January 2013

    Yes it's hard and you have to work on it. I find weighing myself once a week is no good. I weight myself every morning so that when I see that my weight has gone up I know I have to have an easy eating day. I like cakes but this being so I often choose the scone or the cake INSTEAD OF the rest of the lunch not AS WELL AS Currently I am working on the one day fast which works well.

  • Janice Reynolds

    Posted: Thursday 10 January 2013

    I heartily agree with your comments. I think fast food has made eating on the hoof too easy but getting big is eating too much! I speak from experience as I have had to watch my weight all my life and only in the last few years have I realised that you eat smaller meals and not too many snacks or fizzy drinks.

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Diet and wellbeing blog

Judith Wills has been one of the UK’s best-known experts on diet, nutrition and health for 25 years and is the author of over 30 books. However, she describes her own body as ‘the result of years of healthy lifestyle triumphs and disasters in equal measure’. Follow her progress as she gets back into shape.

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