Kevin Watkins from the Overseas Development Institute was today talking about the growing obesity problem on the BBC today, following a new report from the thing tank. He was joined by a slimmer, Carole Wright.
1 in 3 people are now overweight globally. Almost one billion people are now obese. Considering the amount of poverty there still is in the world this is a shocking figure. Places like Mexico and Egypt are experiencing serious problems as people are spending increasing disposable income on unhealthy food.
Kevin Watkins says that the rate of increase in obesity in emerging markets means that many poorer countries are developing the same problems as the UK. We are sleep walking towards a global epidemic.
“Higher growth and urbanisation is creating a convergence towards our pattern of overweight and obesity. And with that are coming all sorts of public health problems, personal problems, people being pushed into poverty. The central point of the report is that this is a problem that we can fix. It is a complicated problem, there are behavioural aspects, economic aspects, social aspects, but if we don’t act now fix it and if we don’t stop sleep walking our way through what is an epidemic, we are heading for a very bad place for the global community.” Kevin Watkins
2 in 3 UK people are now overweight or obese. The BBC asked if it was possible to get the message across to overweight people without stigmatising people about their weight problem.
“We need to see governments standing up for people who are trying to change their lives and preventing the problem. We need to see them regulating industry so that we don’t get kids addicted to high fat, high sugar foods. We need to see them looking at prices and providing the information and the evidence that people need to make informed choices.” Kevin Watkins
The think tanks suggest that there should be a tax on fatty and sugary foods. However, Carole disagreed, saying “that’s horrendous, at the end of the day it should be education, it should be choices”.
We need to see government regulation to control sugary food.
Carole Wright’s story
Kevin Watkins was joined by Carole Wright who is a successful slimmer – she lost 19 stone (126 pounds, 57 kg).
Carole Wright explained how she was always overweight and always had a problem with food. The solution is more complex than simply say to put the knife and fork down. Being overweight or obese is all about guilt, being big and feeling humiliated. Being overweight is an emotional problem as well as physical
Kevin said: “If only governments around the world had Carole’s level of ambition and resolve we would not be in this place”.
Carole suggests that it is more down to the supermarkets than the government. She used to eat “fat free” yogurt not knowing that it was full of sugar.
Kevin is also concerned about the advertising of breakfast cereals to children which contain three times more sugar than is healthy.
“I think it is extraordinary that we have our children who are being advertised at, every night, by food companies who are encouraging them to eat products that have three times the sugar content that is recommended by the NHS. I am talking about breakfast cereals, but exactly the same will apply to drinks. I think the point that Carole Makes is right one, that there is no substitute for empathy and compassion.” Kevin Watkins
Some of the unhealthiest foods are also the cheapest. Taxation on alcohol and tobacco has helped to reduce the amount that some people consume, so tax on unhealthy food could make a difference.
We have always argued that both education and government intervention is required and that they should form part of the same policy. Many people oppose the idea of taxing unhealthy good as it will affect businesses and mean that responsible eaters will also have to pay more. But something must be done. Food companies are dictating what we eat and how we eat it and they are using supermarkets to distribute these foods at much cheaper prices than healthy, fresh food can ever compete with.
The ODI Report: