This week at my gym, I witnessed an eleven year old boy in swimming shorts trying to cover his stomach in a moment of self consciousness at being overweight. On my way out of the gym I noticed what I pass every day. A multitude of vending machines offering chocolates, bags of sweets and calorie filled carbonated drinks.
I also saw an ice cream machine as well as ice cream freezers and ice machines with drinks full of E numbers and food colouring. I've never eaten at the restaurant so I looked at the menu and saw such things as all day cooked breakfast and six different types of burgers, all served with chips - onion rings available as a side order. I felt immersed in a pool of contradictions. Here I was in a place built for fitness, that wanted to feed me calories and fat by the plate.
The UK media of recent has been highlighting the UK's growing overweight population and claims that adult obesity rates have quadrupled in the last twenty five years. Some 23.1% of British people now being classed as obese. This figure is broken down further to show 67% are men and 57% are women.
screens now have the 'Change4Life' advert which encourages healthy eating; the campaign forming part of the Government Recommendations to fight obesity. However, how much more do we, the general public really understand about what costs the NHS £5 billion every year in weight related illness?
Obesity in the UK has increased from 1993 – 2011 for both men and women with BMI's that are considered above normal. With our children, 31% of boys and 28% girls between the ages of 2 and 15 were considered as either overweight or obese (Health and Social Care Information Centre). The NHS estimates that half of the UK will be obese by 2050 at a cost of £50 billion a year. Staggering figures in both health and wealth.
The World Health Organisation described the UK as 'Facing a public health time bomb' and that obesity rates in the UK are 'Just about the worst in Europe.' These statements are backed up by figures from the World Health Survey For England 2010 which suggested 26.1% of those 16 years old and over were considered obese.
With adult healthy BMI's falling to just 30.9% with men and 40.4% in women. Looking at the causes of this worrying trend the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed only 36% of adults participate in 30 minutes of exercise once a week. Far less than the five times a week that is recommended. Aside from exercise, food habits are also forming concerning trends. 29% of women and 24% of men are getting five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. More concerning is that only 20% of children meet the recommendation.
So what is being done to combat this expanding problem? Published are the Governments recommendations that include harder hitting campaigns, like those used to combat smoking. Such as more emphasis from GP's on weight management, more focus on hydration and healthy food choices and efforts to be concentrated on prevention strategies rather than just treating the problem. Equally as important is the re-introduction of physical education into schools and even creating PE outside of school time. Yet another thing to be put in to a packed schooling agenda.
All are sensible suggestions that on paper could challenge the growing weight of UK obesity. There are however some other statistics that don't bode so well. ResearchandMarkets.com show that there was a 4.1% growth between 2012-2013 in the confectionery industry. This is a year on year growth pattern looking at just chocolate and sugar confectionery. The growth continues in this market despite increasing cases of diabetes and sugar being compared to tobacco.
The negative press and inflation costs were handled by the larger brands through using new products to maintain customer loyalty. The industry is being supported by the government to improve public health by 2016 for the period of 2014 - 2018.
Having said that, figures show the UK as the 2nd biggest consumer of chocolate in Europe who consumes 23% of Europe's non chocolate confectionery.
So despite the health warnings we are still consuming an astonishing amount of unhealthy food. I guess the next question should be, as a nation how fit are we? Well the Database Industry Report states there are 6112 fitness centres across the country, 4671 swimming pools with 8.3 million members bringing in revenue of £4.08 million.
The 2013 State Of The UK Fitness reports that there has been a 1.5% growth to £3.92 billion between March 2012 - March 2013. It also sites a 2% rise in the number of facilities available and a significant 4.5% rise in the number of members. These figures certainly give the impression that the UK population is keeping fit. Look a little closer though and you'll see that £37 million is 'wasted' by members who sign up to gyms but don't attend, with 77% of people not sticking to a fitness regime (crunch.co.uk). The scales remain heavily weighted in the wrong direction.
What are the other options? In this day and age you can't discuss weight loss without looking at the diet culture. Diet companies are big business and offer weight loss at a fee. You can attend weekly weigh ins, have your calorie counted meals delivered to your door, try hypnosis or simply drink a milkshake. The variety is there to fit all types of lifestyle, personality and eater. What isn't advertised is that many of these 'diet companies' are owned by big brand confectionery companies.
Weight Watchers which has a revenue of £1.5 billion admits that 84% of clients don't keep the weight off. This creates repeat business to both the food industry, when they fall of the wagon, and the diet companies as they attempt to lose the weight again. Money going in both the left and right hand.
The facts are there to be seen. The UK has a NHS bursting at the seams. Weight related illness is significantly adding to the burden. We have been educated to a reasonable standard on what is healthy to eat. I think this needs more work and it needs to evolve at the same pace that other food industries move at. There appears to be an availability of fitness resources and figures show an increase in the uptake of these facilities. However there is still a massive disconnect in the numbers when stacked against each other.
If I take myself back to the boy at that swimming pool and I think of my gym I would say there are two problems:
1 The ease of availability - you finish your gym session and you're hungry, there isn't any fruit or seeds but there is a vending machine full of chocolate.
2. Greed - not from the person buying but from the company/venue selling. These machines and menus full of burgers bring in money at a good turn over, prising as much money out of footfall as possible.
So who wants us to lose weight? Not the £5.8 billion confectionery business, nor the £220 billion global diet business. The gyms are cashing in twice and for all the government advice, little seems to be happening.
Having digested all of the statistics I'm left with no answer to give the young self-conscious boy and I am concerned at the crippling prospect of half the UK's population being obese by 2050 at a cost of £50 billion. Our NHS simply cannot cope with such a crushing figure.