Obese not personally responsible for weight, says study

By Laura Crowley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Obesity, Food, Food industry

Obesity is not an individual problem but a result of technological
progress that exceeds the pace of human evolution and changes in
food availability, according to a UK government-sponsored study
released today.

The Foresight report, 'Tackling Obesities: Future Choices', is an in-depth two-year study conducted by almost 250 experts and scientists to examine the causes of obesity and map future trends to help the government develop new health strategies. The results suggest today's society is suffering from 'passive obesity'. Although personal responsibility cannot be dismissed, the UK population on the whole is apparently no more gluttonous or biologically different to previous generations. Instead, major changes in work patterns, transport, food production and food sales has led to weight gain being inevitable for most people. Sir David King, the government's chief scientific adviser and head of the Foresight programme, said: "Foresight has for the first time drawn together complex evidence to show that we must fight the notion that the current obesity epidemic arises from individual over-indulgence or laziness alone. It is a wake-up call for the nation, showing that only change across many elements of our society will help us tackle obesity. "Stocking up on food was key to survival in prehistoric times, but now with energy dense, cheap foods, labour-saving devices, motorised transport and sedentary work, obesity is rapidly becoming a consequence of modern life." ​There has already been much debate on where to lay the blame for obesity. This study refocuses the attention on the food industry. In response to the report, Julian Hunt, director of communications for the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said: "There is no silver bullet that can be fired at the complex issue of obesity. However, we all have a responsibility in tackling this problem, and the food and drink industry has long been committed to playing a positive role in improving the health of the nation." ​A survey of FDF members carried out this summer showed that food industries have been contributing to the fight against obesity. The results showed that the recipes used for at least £15bn (€21.5bn) worth of foods have less fat, sugar and salt, compared with 2004. In addition, a further £11.5bn (€16.5bn) worth of products that are lower in these ingredients have been launched. FDF assisted in the production of the report, and has committed itself to working with Foresight in the future. Early next year, it will run a seminar in collaboration with the Foresight team to provide an opportunity for the industry to digest the findings of the research and to explore the implications for the sector. Obesity and the related health issues are ever-increasing problems in Europe. In 2006, 30 per cent of European children were estimated to be overweight. The prevalence of obesity in the UK has more than doubled in the last 25 years. The Foresight study showed that, at the current trend, nearly 60 per cent of the UK population could be obese by 2050. This would result in a seven-fold increase in the direct healthcare costs, with the wider costs to society and businesses reaching £45.5bn (€65.3bn). Last year, US paediatrician Robert Lustig, MD, from the University of California said that the "toxic environment" of Western diets causes hormonal imbalances that encourage overeating. This sparked a call for the food industry to display corporate social responsibility for the increased numbers of people suffering from obesity. However, a spokesperson from the Department of Health was reported to respond by urging adults to take personal responsibility for their weight, contrasting with the recent report, which says the problem is much more complicated. The Foresight study concluded that isolated initiatives to combat obesity are futile because of the complexity and interrelationships of the contributing factors. Instead, UK should take the lead in developing and implementing a long-term strategy that brings together different sectors. The emphasis should be on prevention, according to Foresight, as opposed to treatment. Dawn Primarolo, public health minister, said: "There is no single solution to tackle obesity and it cannot be tackled by government actions alone. We have made progress with improved physical activity levels at school, healthier school food for children, clearer labelling and tougher restrictions on advertising foods high in fat and sugar to children - but we know that we need to go further and faster. "With new resources from the CSR we are planning a long-term drive for action on obesity." ​The Department of Health will now take responsibility for the research and will follow this report with an update next year, which will outline the project's progress and document actions taken by other stakeholders.

Related topics: R&D

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