WE are a nation in crisis. While there may be a return to some form of normality in sight, an equally serious killer lurks in our midst, claiming more lives per year than smoking.

Current figures show that over two thirds of the UK population are overweight or obese and that one in three children leaving primary school has a weight issue.

The problem is, I can’t stand on high and proclaim that it represents a shocking lack of self-discipline, because when I stood on the scales this morning, I realised that my weight puts me firmly in the overweight category, and dangerously close to that awful word “obese”.

I don’t have an underactive thyroid, I’ve got the full use of my arms and legs, and indeed personally own many pieces of fitness equipment, with ready access to all of the tools to make healthy and nutritious meals. But like many, I’ve managed to get my priorities wrong, and this is the result.

Such is the scale of the problem that the government is now looking to invest £100 million in several schemes not only addressing obesity, yet also providing individuals with the tools, understanding and hopefully motivation to keep the weight off, once it is lost. Such behaviour may even be incentivised, in a similar manner as certain companies reward brand loyalty, or car insurers reduce premiums for careful driving.

A lifelong commitment to maintaining a healthy weight yields results

A lifelong commitment to maintaining a healthy weight yields results

A poster campaign in the not-too-distant past advertised the fact that obesity is linked with 13 different types of cancer. In addition, it is a major risk factor for the umbrella term cardiovascular disease, which includes ischaemic heart disease (IHD) and stroke. Type 2 diabetes is more prevalent in the overweight.

These diseases are associated with an increased risk of significant illness and premature death, yet overweight/obesity affects our daily lives much before this. It puts strain on joints leading to bad backs and painful knees and is a significant cause of fatigue (imagine how you would feel permanently carrying a heavy rucksack as an analogy). Contrary to popular myth, overweight people are not always happy and it is large contributory factor to low mood and lack of confidence, potentially reducing achievements in our professional and personal lives.

No current article would be complete without a reflection on the link between overweight/obesity and Covid 19. Initial data showed that age was the greatest risk factor to succumbing after infection, hence the drive to immunise the elderly first. Yet it seems obesity runs a very close second, prompting the World Obesity Federation to advise that obese individuals be made a priority for inoculation. Of the 2.5 million deaths from coronavirus so far, a staggering 2.2 million have been in countries where the majority of the population, that being greater than fifty percent, are overweight. Countries with very low levels of obesity have had the lowest rates of death, irrespective of high levels of poverty and poorly developed healthcare systems. Vietnam is a prime example.

Healthy living needs to be incentivised in a way that it is seen as the norm

Healthy living needs to be incentivised in a way that it is seen as the norm

So, what can we do? It’s a long road to freedom, but the psychological aspects of overweight and obesity are as important as the physical health complaints it brings with it. There is no quick fix, so miracle diets, magical waters that “boost your metabolism” and “12 weeks to the perfect you” fitness programmes can easily be discounted. The majority of individuals can’t eat what they want without a care in the world and then burn it off in the gym, only the very few. Consider also, that recognised and accepted treatment including weight loss surgery may not represent a permanent solution. Long term studies show that a significant number of individuals had put the weight back on ten years after gastric bypass procedures. One of the reasons cited for this is that the person’s psychological relationship with food was not adequately explored.

To say it is as simple as less in, more out may seem cavalier, but it is a lifelong commitment to maintaining a healthy weight that yields results. Many of us underestimate our calorific intake and overestimate the number of calories consumed in exercise. Portion sizes have grown, convenience food has become the norm, and our understanding of what is healthy has become skewed such that many now consider individuals with a BMI of 25 (that being the boundary between a healthy weight and overweight) to be normal or even underweight.

Healthy living needs to be incentivised in a way that it is seen as the norm, rather than in a carrot-and-stick manner, becomes achievable for all, with the recognition that there is no shortcut to success.