The publication this week of a major report into obesity by a coalition of medical royal colleges in the UK represents the beginning of a campaign aimed at bringing the fight against obesity to a new level. The report’s authors acknowledge the failure of policies to date to dent the inexorable rise in obesity. A quarter of adults in Britain are now obese while one in three children is either obese or overweight. Obesity-related illnesses are costing the NHS an estimated £5.1 billion a year.
Representing the views of more than 220,000 doctors across the UK, the report identifies problems and puts forward some remedial prescriptions. Importantly it does not seek to play the blame game, an approach that merely succeeds in marginalising already vulnerable people. “Obesity is not the fault of any one government, organisation or individual – instead it is a problem that has crept up on us and must now be tackled urgently through collective action,” the report states. Irish levels of obesity should be no cause for comfort. A great many of the same issues arise in the Republic.
Some of the group’s recommendations are aimed at tackling what it calls the obesogenic environment. It calls on local authorities to examine their licensing arrangements with a view to developing formal recommendations aimed at reducing the proximity of fast food outlets to schools, colleges and leisure centres; it recommends a ban on junk food advertising on television before a 9pm watershed, and calls for development of national nutritional standards for schools so that all students receive guidance on the cooking and growing of food.
To maximise the amount of green space in cities and to promote the development of “active travel” it wants planning decisions to be subject to a mandatory health impact assessment. The report has many sensible recommendations that should be considered here. There is no single, simple solution to obesity. Curbing the public health problem will require a subtle and nuanced approach that stretches well beyond the boundaries of medicine.