Three in ten children are overweight. Time for concerted government actionby Richard Murray / April 26, 2018 / Leave a comment
In the 1980’s fewer than one in ten British adults were obese (people with a BMI of 30 or more). By 2016, this had risen to over a quarter, thereby leaving the UK as the “heaviest” country in Europe. For children aged between 2-15 years, three in ten are overweight or obese. As we know overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults, this means a whole new generation is growing up facing a lifetime of problems with their weight.
Does it matter? Well, the evidence suggests it does. Obesityraises the risk of type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease and some of these risks are substantial: an obese woman is about 13 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than a woman of healthy weight and an obese man is three times more likely to develop cancer of the colon.
How has this happened? Firstly, though we may have risen up the European obesity league, increasing numbers of people across high-income countries are becoming obese. To some extent we can blame our genes: humans evolved in a world where food was not plentiful and one where a lot of effort had to be expended to get what food there was. The odd feast on sweet, high-fat food was no bad thing and for many of us, our bodies are programmed to eat when we can and store the fat we create, getting us ready for the shortage (or famine) that was waiting around the corner.
However, clearly this does not explain why obesity has risen so much since the 1980s given most people in England have had access to enough food for generations and that much of the traditional British grub of fish and chips or a fry-up would scarcely qualify as low-cal. Nor does it explain why financial deprivation seems to worsen obesity, especially amongst children.
Other factors are clearly playing a part. Firstly, we have become an increasingly sedentary population and for many both their job and lifestyles no longer burn many calories, whether this is because they spend time in front of a PC, the TV or a tablet. This is combined with the abundance of highly processed food, often both cheap and convenient that provides the kick of sugars and fat we are pre-programmed to enjoy. Out of this comes the rise in obesity and as the same factors apply across much…