Thursday, 9 July 2015

Setting resolutions or finding solutions?

Posted by Dr Joanne-Marie Cairns, Fuse Post-Doctoral Research Associate at Durham University

So it’s National Childhood Obesity week and yet again we are surrounded by plenty of public health campaigns promoting us to lead healthier lives – be more physically active, join the gym, lose weight, eat and cook more healthily as well as problematic media rhetoric such as ‘beat the bulge’ and de-moralising and stigmatising imagery typically of overweight or obese children on scales or eating junk food. How is this helpful? This will only serve to further exacerbate the situation rather than help to bring about effective and sustainable solutions to not only help those who wish to become more active and lose weight but promote healthier population health more widely.

I am heartened to hear that Head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, has called for a national conversation to be held and a joined-up approach which has started to think about regulating food and drink companies. In my opinion this is long overdue. We may have a degree of individual ‘choice’ but how much choice do we really have when we are surrounded by (and in some places bombarded with) advertisements, local take away shops, overly-priced fresh nutritious food compared to the tempting ‘bogof’ (buy one get one free) offers which typically tempts us into getting double the amount of unhealthy snacks, often at a fraction of the price it would cost to get healthier options?

I came across this image as I was searching through websites related to National Childhood Obesity week on with reference to National Obesity week earlier on this year.

While I am sympathetic to this message which encourages us to make these positive changes I am also sceptical about the effectiveness of doing these alone. Repeatedly research studies have shown that educational and behavioural interventions have limited and short-term effectiveness, so why do we continue to focus on the individual rather than looking at the environment within which the individual is placed?

So I urge you, instead of making yet another individualised ‘resolution’ this coming New Year (which will come around before you know it!) to lose weight or exercise more, why don’t we collectively put our efforts together by standing up and protesting about the lack of resources or opportunities within our localities to be able to lead healthier lives and be more physically active? For example, if you have children in schools ask yourself (or better yet ask the school directly) the question: what is the school doing to not only promote healthier food and physical activity but to actually enable this to happen by creating school environments that support children to do this? Or what are supermarkets doing to help us to afford to buy fresh and nutritious food and drink that isn’t going to cost a fortune? Or write to your local MP to ask the government to recognise the wider issues that can prevent even those of us with the best of intentions from eating more healthily and increasing our exercise. Childhood obesity is not the responsibility of the child/family, since ‘responsibility’ infers that we have ‘control’ over something. It is rather a societal consequence, and therefore society should bear the responsibility for finding a solution.

Jo Cairns and Professor Clare Bambra have produced a Fuse brief entitled: What is the most effective way to reduce inequalities in childhood obesity?

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1 comment:

  1. Well stated! Powerful critique of 'lifestyle drift' in the obesity discourse.