In the UK, our government have unveiled a new ‘anti-obesity’ campaign. In a nutshell, they propose to do the following:
- Ban TV and Online Ads for foods high in fat, salt and sugar before 9pm initially, before looking at banning them completely.
- End deals such as ‘buy one got one free’ on ‘unhealthy’ foods.
- Make it the law for calorie information to be shown in all restaurant, cafe and takeaway menus, with drinks soon to list calories too.
I am repeatedly hearing on the news and seeing online the following statistic- ‘ 2 in 3 adults are above a healthy weight.’ Note the word ‘healthy’ weight, not overweight, not obese. How do we define a ‘healthy weight?’ The government define it as a BMI over 24.9. The issue is, this measurement tool does not take into consideration a persons lifestyle, activities, body structure etc. You wouldn’t look at a rugby player and declare them to be ‘overweight’ or ‘unhealthy’, but using a BMI scale would put them in the overweight category. For people who don’t know, muscle weighs more than fat. Therefore, a very healthy individual who lives an extremely active lifestyle might be considered overweight, when in fact they are just muscular. Take my Dad for example. My Dad and I eat pretty much the same food. We both exercise regularly. So, why is my Dad considered to be ‘overweight’ and I am not. He doesn’t look overweight, he looks, and is, healthy. The government will be targeting hundreds of thousands of people with their new ‘tackling obesity’ campaign who do not need to loose weight.
The new campaign, amongst many other things, outlines that ‘obesity prevalance is highest amongst the most deprived groups in society.’ Have the government not stopped to wonder why this is? Its not because they’re ‘eating more’ than their peers with higher income, that just doesn’t make sense. If they’re poorer, they won’t be able to afford to buy more food than the richer. What it does prove is that the price of ‘healthy’ food is too high compared to the price of ‘unhealthy’ food. Take something as simple as a loaf of bread. A loaf of white bread (Hovis) is 99p, whereas a loaf of brown bread (also Hovis) is £1.15. Therefore instead of investing millions, if not billions of pounds producing ‘healthy living apps’, why doesn’t the government make it compulsory for ‘healthy’ food to be marketed at the same price as ‘unhealthy’ food. I write ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ in this way because in my view no food is healthy or unhealthy, it is all fine in moderation.
Making it compulsory for all restaurants, cafes and takeaways to list the calorie content of everything on their menus, from food to drinks, is in my opinion an extremely thoughtless move from our government. People know that eating a salad would be a ‘healthier’ choice than eating a chocolate bar, they don’t need the calorie content printed everywhere for them to recognise that. Its just common sense. All displaying calories in this way will do is effect the people who don’t need to loose weight, the people with disordered relationships with food. I am disappointed in the government who seem to have disregarded the impact that their new measures will have on vulnerable people. I myself am recovering from Anorexia Nervosa after being sectioned in 2018 and spending 7 months in hospital. Thankfully I am doing very well now and I classify myself as something like 90% recovered. I worry that these new measures will potentially negatively impact me, as well as thousands of others who are trying to live with food freedom. What the government are proposing will deny everyone the chance to do that, because they will always have the voice in the back of their mind telling them to choose the food with the lowest calories. It would therefore take all enjoyment out of food and would, in my opinion, cause a large volume of peope, particularly those who have or have had a difficult relationship with food in the past to just stop eating out.
Another issue with displaying calories on menus under the name of ‘obesity control’ is that the number of calories in food doesn’t determine its health benefits. For example, a large bar of sharing chocolate might have somewhere in the region of 500 calories. A bowl of pasta salad with avocado and nuts, might have upwards of 700 calories. Obviously the ‘healthier’ choice would be the salad, right? Well according to the government who are emphasising the importance of reviewing calories to make our food decisions, it would be better to have a large bar of chocolate because it has 200 calories fewer than the salad. I’m sure you must realise how ridiculous this is. It is completley the wrong thing to do, and they are going about it in a very harmful way.
Now, I understand the importance of tackling obesity. I am not disputing the health concerns being obese can bring. What I am disputing is the measures the government are promoting which I worry will in fact do more harm than good. Yes, obesity puts pressure on the NHS, but so do eating disorders. With an estimated 1.25 million Brits suffering from eating disorders, there is a fine line that cannot be crossed. As such, I propose the government reconsider their approach, and consider the points I have raised.
How can we positively move forward?
- Reduce the price of food considered ‘healthy’ to make it accessible to all, therefore helping to reduce the pattern of poorer people being significantly more likely to be overweight compared to people from a more financially comfortable background.
- Instead of introducing calorie apps and fitness trackers, introduce services to help people who genuinley need help loosing weight in a postive empowering way. In my opinion the best way to tackle obesity is to understand what is causing the person to struggle with their weight, ie. understand their mental health. Are they eating as a coping mechanism? Unless we can properly understand peoples attitudes to food no changes will be sustainable. Causes of obesity are complex and the government seem to be completley oblivious to this. Have they not considered that obesity can often infact be a symptom of some types of eating disorders?
- As someone with a lived experience of Anorexia, the government must make it clear that the measures are not applicable to everyone. Anorexia is the most fatal mental illness. Instead of addressing the whole country, address the people who the new measures would benefit.
I really do hope that the government will take notice of the many petitions that are going on right now. They only have to look at the BEAT website to see why people feel so strongly about this subject.
I urge you too to write an open letter to the government. Write a blog post, send an email, tag them in a social media post. The more people campaigning against these new measures, the more likely they will take notice before even more damage is done.