The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has uncovered or exacerbated many flaws in our twenty-first century living, none less than the propensity we have for overeating, causing overweight and obesity. As covered in our previous obesity series, we highlighted the effects of lockdown on the obesity in children, finding adverse results which could have tipped the crisis ‘over the edge’. As explored, a large proportion of variance in the percentage of childhood obesity is explained by parental obesity, something which should not be so surprising considering the sheer volume of behaviours we learn from our parents. Research also suggests a tenuous link in the heritability of obesity and adiposity related characteristics.
On the 27th July, the government released a press briefing to outline the areas included in their renewed obesity campaign, following calls from the deputy chief medical officer, Jenny Harries, for the nation to, “lose weight for the second wave”. In the briefing, the government has outlined the following initial measures;
Whilst not being definitive, this list does contain some obvious measures which could be taken immediately to make encouraging in-roads into the obesity crisis the country faces. It is thought that the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality may be responsible for convenience eating, and thus displaying calorific information on menus may allow people to make better choices. A calorific ‘watershed’ initiative outlined too also aims to reduce the exposure of such products to younger children and restrict to older viewers only. Initial kickback on the proposed measures from opposition groups surround the restriction of ‘buy one get one free’ deals which may unintentionally target those in poverty or low income families who need the most ‘bang for buck’, calorifically speaking, to sustain themselves.
As previously explored, almost two thirds of adults in the UK are overweight or obese, meaning this governmental proposal is not targeted at the minority, but perhaps more dauntingly, at the majority of work-age adults in the United Kingdom. But are the measures proposed conclusive enough to really change behaviour? Is it as simple as ‘out of sight out of mind’ and an issue of food convenience? Many believe obesity and eating behaviours to be linked more closely to satisfaction, happiness and quality of life, something which is echoed by WHO reports. In countries with a greater quality of life, measured by happiness or life satisfaction, there is often lower prevalence of obesity. Indeed, many articles have been written during the lockdown in the UK about individuals eating to cope, as food has become a powerful mechanism used by many to quell anxiety and entertain.
It is thought that greater happiness and fulfilment may lead to better food choices, greater empowerment over one’s body and the choice of better coping mechanisms. A compounding issue in the UK is the love of alcohol, something factored in to the governmental strategy. One should not fault the government for attempting to change behaviour, especially amongst a pandemic, yet one can be concerned at the lack of mention of physical activity or exercise schemes in the proposal. As physical activity has further protective benefits to health and longevity alongside better eating habits, it is more parsimonious to consider a multi-factored approach to tackling the crisis. Though many have reconsidered their lifestyles and habits during the lockdown, many are sceptical about how long this behaviour can and will last, especially upon the eventual return to workplaces. Still, a start has been made into tackling this issue, albeit merely a foundation.