17 October 2007

Our Obesogenic Society

The reporting on obesity does annoy me. First we're told it's an epidemic, when quite clearly nobody can catch the condition from anybody else. Then we're warned it's a threat "deadlier than smoking" and "worse than climate change" (which is not necessarily saying very much, of course). Now we're informed that it's "an inevitable consequence of a society in which energy-dense, cheap foods, labour-saving devices, motorised transport and sedentary work are rife" and that "individuals can no longer be held responsible for obesity."

Despite admitting there is absolutely no proof that any anti-obesity policy works, the Government-commissioned "Foresight" report claims that dramatic and comprehensive action is required to stop the majority of us becoming obese by 2050 — no doubt at a substantial cost to us tax-payers. What next from this interfering, predeterministic Government? That criminals are genetically predisposed to commit their crimes so should be locked up before they offend but absolved after the event? Oh yes, we have already had that line from them (here and here).

% Obese adults by gender 1993-2005 [Credit: BBC]No, as we learnt earlier this year, the issue of obesity is linked to others such as race and class that have got worse over the past decade: just 9% of Indian children are overweight or obese compared with 23% of White and 33% of Black Caribbean children, while children in more advantaged areas of England and Scotland are less likely to be overweight or obese than those living in less advantaged areas. While there clearly is a wider cultural question to address in the West — namely, why we overfeed and underexercise ourselves and our children, despite knowing the obvious health risks — it is clear from the above graph that the problem has become increasingly serious as the nanny-state has grown increasingly strong. Therefore part of the remedy must surely involve returning a sense of personal and social responsibility to individuals and their communities.