Obesity - What's the Issue?

The worldwide prevalence of obesity has nearly trebled since 1975. In 2016 more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight, and of those, 650 million were obese. These figures equate to approximately 39% of the world’s adults being overweight and 13% obese. Overweight and obesity occur when there is an excessive or abnormal accumulation of fat, adversely affecting health (WHO, 2020). In the UK, the prevalence is also increasing each year. In 2019 the Health Survey for England found that 60% of women and 68% of men aged over 16 years were overweight or obese, and 29% of women and 27% of men were obese (NHS, 2020).

In 2019 18% of boys and 13% of girls of all ages were found to be obese (NHS 2020). However, the most recent National Child Measurement Programme has highlighted that the prevalence of obesity in children has risen since 2019. In reception aged children (aged 4-5 years) the prevalence of obesity has increased from 9.9% in 2019/2020 to 14.4% in 2020/21 and in Year 6 (aged 10-11 years) it has increased from 21.0% to 25.5%. In addition the prevalence of obesity was found to be higher for those children living in more deprived areas.  By the time a child reached year 6 the prevalence of obesity in the most deprived area was 33.8% compared to 14.3% in the least deprived areas (NHS 2021). Children who are overweight and obese are more likely to stay obese into adulthood and therefore will be more likely to develop diabetes and cardiovascular disease at a younger age (Sahoo et al 2015). Here at BOS, our mission is to help create a healthier environment and to change the narrative around obesity, to help support those living with the condition, prevent obesity, educate the public and work collaboratively with others that have the same vision.

 

The Obesogenic Environment

Obesity is a complex health condition resulting from many overlapping factors including genetics, diet and physical activity behaviour, social, cultural and environmental landscape (Butland 2007). Evidence is suggesting that this environmental landscape has a significant impact on our diet, physical activity and obesity. These obesity promoting or obesogenic environments are a significant driving force behind the rise in obesity levels seen in the UK and worldwide (Lake 2006, UK Parliament POST 2021).  Weight management has been found to be much easier when there are healthier options available and particularly challenging in social situations where eating HFSS (high in fat, salt and/or sugar) foods is the norm (Neve 2022).

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The Existing Narrative 

The general narrative around the causes and nature of obesity involves language that suggests that individuals are solely to blame, and here at BOS we are striving to shift the conversation. Unfortunately, almost everyone has conscious or unconscious biases that stigmatise those living with obesity, which is even prevalent in healthcare settings amongst those who are supposed to be helping and supporting the most! As a result, weight discrimination and weight stigma are issues that are actually linked with heightened mortality and other chronic diseases and conditions. We need to change how we talk about weight to reduce the stigma and shame experienced by people with obesity, by changing our language, messaging and imagery. Lets start having respectful conversations around weight and health.