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How The Government Perpetuates The Obesity Crisis

How BMI and conventional weight loss techniques have failed to tackle obesity and how to fix it

Obesity in the UK has turned into a crisis. According to an NHS report, the number of obese adults has risen from 52% to 64% of the population. Over the past decade, the UK government has implemented various obesity strategies that have done little to stop the growth of obesity because they were more focused on changing individual behaviour than transforming the environment that is causing obesity. If how we approach obesity does not change, the crisis will continue.

Although in 2020 the government began to change its obesity strategy to start tackling environmental issues more actively, such as prohibiting buy-one-get-one-free deals for high-fat, salty and sugary foods or banning junk-food adverts from being shown before 9 pm. However, the dates for the implementation of these ideas have been delayed multiple times, currently until 2025 due to criticism from businesses, leaving it unclear if they will ever be implemented.

One of the key factors perpetuating the obesity crisis is BMI and conventional weight-loss techniques, which can be counterproductive in tackling obesity because of how they impact body image, which is a significant issue. According to research by the Women and Equalities Parliamentary Select Committee, around 61% of adults and 66% of children feel negatively about their body image.

Individuals who are weighed for their BMI are those most in need of help with obesity; however, BMI is often counterproductive in this way because of how it encourages weight-based stigma and discourages people from receiving treatment for obesity. Many respondents told the Women and Equalities Parliamentary Select Committee that they had stopped seeing their GP because of the shame of having their BMI weighed or because their health complaints were automatically diagnosed as weight-related and not investigated because of their BMI.

Despite the issues with BMI, it is still widely used to calculate weight and then prescribe traditional weight loss techniques, such as dieting and calorie counting. Although traditional weight loss techniques can work for some, for many they have created physical and emotional pain without producing any noticeable effects, as people frequently do not fit into a socially constructed body size.

How we can approach obesity more effectively

If the obesity crisis is to be tackled, we need a government that is brave enough to do so. Firstly, that comes with listening to the health experts who recommend replacing BMI with Healthy at Every Size (HAES). HAES recognises that, to some extent, body types are determined by genetics and that it is far more effective to encourage healthy eating and engagement in enjoyable physical activity, which results in higher metabolic fitness. As researcher Linda Bacon argued,

Second, the government must immediately start putting its obesity strategy into action. For example, banning the showing of fast food before 9 pm would deal with the environmental conditions promoting obesity.

By adopting HAES and implementing an obesity strategy that tackles the environment promoting obesity, there can start to be a real difference made against negative body image and the obesity crisis; we just need a government that is bold enough to try.


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