Britain cooks up new action plan for rising obesity
In the wake of two reports, the government is proposing a host of measures, including sending letters to parents of obese schoolchildren.
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"We show them how to make smoothies," she says. "We do portion sizes, which is very important because a lot of young people are just eating too much."Skip to next paragraph
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But there is an educational battle to be fought as well, she says. Young people are steeped in a culture of junk, from the ads on TV to their leisure milieu. "There is lots of temptation there like fast-food outlets. Leisure facilities have vending machines full of high-fat foods. You go to the cinema and you are surrounded by food," says Ms. Sharman.
Some campaigners want more rigorous efforts to move "bad food" from the sightlines of young people or else clearly label it for what it is. Some suggest taxing bad foods and using the money to subsidize fresh fruit and vegetables which may look expensive to the poor.
Some countries, such as Denmark, have banned obesogenic "trans fats" from foods altogether, though efforts to secure international standards for reduced sugar, fat, and salt content in food have yet to amount to anything. Many countries still favor self-regulation, which has proven impotent against the might of the trillion-dollar global food industry.
Other countries, from Sweden and Norway to Brazil and Canada, have moved to limit advertising of junk to children. Britain has only restricted advertisers from targeting children's programs – that's not good enough, according to Josh Bayly of the British Heart Foundation.
"Most kids watch adult programming anyway," he says, calling for a ban on the advertising of junk foods before 9 p.m. He expresses disappointment at the failure to get more children to eat school meals.
A multimillion-pound program kick-started by a celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, has apparently faltered: meals got healthier, but the number of takers dwindled. "School lunches are definitely part of the answer, but it was entirely predictable that take-up would fall," says Mr. Bayly, adding that not enough was done to make children enthusiastic.
Making streets more walking-friendly
Some experts say that it's just as important to change the sedentary lifestyle, the mobility of man, the "walkability of streets," the way buildings, streets, towns are designed.
"People need to be active for an hour minimum every day to get some benefit," says Mr. Rigby. "But the evidence is that people will not be that active without opportunities to do so. The environment has to be conducive."
Some schools have tried to reward children with badges and stickers for walking to school. But faced with ever-busier roads, many parents would rather not take the risk.
As for adult exercise, Professor Julian Legrand, a former health adviser to Tony Blair, suggests that large companies should be required to provide an "exercise hour" for employees. And rather than making it voluntary, he suggests that everyone be automatically enrolled, but have the right to opt out, instead of vice versa. This idea, he says, could be used to help bring about the cultural shift needed to get people to make better choices.
"Research shows that if you're automatically enrolled into something you'll stay, but if you have to opt in to it you won't," he says. "The idea is that you can take an idea of this kind and apply it to the public health field."
Rates as a percentage of the total population:
Czech Republic 14.8
Source: Health Profile of England 2007, with data from the World Health Organization's June 2007 Health For All Database.