Evaluate the view that present day lifestyle is largely responsible for increasing levels of obesity in the UK: How and to what extent is diet a contributing factor?
Obesity is a problem in contemporary society because of the rising numbers of people that are classed as being obese. If a person’s Body Mass Index (BMI) is between 30-40 this is classed as being obese (National Health Service [NHS], 2012). 23.9% of women and 22.1% of the men in the UK are obese (Hall, 2012). Obesity can cause many physical and mental health problems, thereby incurring costs to the NHS. This essay will address how and to what extent diet is a contributing factor to increasing levels of obesity in the UK. Other factors to be considered will include physical exercise and genetics.
Nutrition plays a big role when it comes to being obese. There are many factors affecting why society do not eat a healthy diet. Current government guidance recommends the consumption of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day (Food Standards Agency, 2006) However, in 2011 only 24% of men and 29% of women consumed the recommended five a day (27% of adults aged 16 and over). 15% of 5 to 15 year old boys and 20% of girls of the same age consumed five or more daily portions (NHS A, 2013).
Although education is very important in helping people to understand what a healthy diet is, it is much more complicated than that. The availability and cost of ‘fast food’ has made it very easy for people to choose less healthy options. ‘Fast food’ is cheap and readily available and there are often promotions which make buying it more appealing than home cooking. Many of these promotions are directly aimed at children, therefore contributing to the obesity problem. Offering toys alongside the meal is going to make the child want to eat that food.
A famous television chef lead a campaign to educate families in healthy eating. Working with communities and schools across the UK, he looked at the meals that were being served in schools and found that much of it was processed, high in fat, sugar and salt. His campaign was very well publicised, resulting in nutritional guidelines being changed (Harrison, 2011).
However the current Mayor of London was quoted as saying “I say let people eat what they like. Why shouldn’t they push pies through the railings?” (Biography Online, n.d.). This possibly illustrated a wider conflict found nationwide.
Home Economics is not currently part of the National Curriculum (Hall, 2012). 11 to 14 year olds are taught as part of Design and Technology at Key Stage 3. School leavers may therefore be unable to plan and produce a healthy meal because they have not been taught how. Prominent television chefs have approached the Government regarding an increase in cooking lessons for children from a much younger age. If children can be taught cookery from the moment they start school then healthy eating habits may become more deeply ingrained.
In the past people generally ate more calories but were mainly slimmer. On average an adult today weighs up to 14kg more than 30 years ago despite a drop in calorie intake (Dixon, 2013). This may largely be due to being less active. More jobs nowadays involve little or no physical activity. 50 years ago men worked physically harder and women took on more of an active role in the home. Housework took longer and was classed as a full time job. Today there are many labour saving devices making life easier and also removing the need for physical activity, for example washing machines, dishwashers, food processors and cars. 50 years ago a woman was more likely to wash clothes by hand, use a mangle, sweep and scrub floors and prepare home cooked meals (Hall, 2003) She might not necessarily use a car to go shopping.
She would walk.
Public transport is much more efficient nowadays and the number of private vehicles owned in Great Britain has increased by approximately 30 million since 1950 (Department for Transport, 2011). Working in an office is regarded as being quite a sedentary job and working hours are longer. Society is lacking motivation to get up and get active. Lack of activity is a contributory factor to poor health and the rising levels of obesity in the UK.
Food may be consumed more for pleasure than need nowadays. People have a tendency to comfort eat. In the past there was not so much processed food available. A recent study has shown that an area of the brain which is related to addiction and reward, lights up when shown fatty, calorie rich foods compared to healthy food (Demos et al., 2012) Some people may well be more prone to obesity than others. Further studies have shown that there is a variation of the FTO gene. Those found to have the high risk variant were found to be unable to suppress their hunger and after eating had lower levels of the appetite stimulating hormone. However, just because this gene variant is present, does not mean that people are predisposed to being obese (NHS B, 2013). The FTO gene does not make people overeat. People are now living in an obesogenic environment where the heritability of body weight is high. (Ramachandrappa and Farooqi, 2011). Genetics are one of many factors that influence weight and obesity
In conclusion, weight is determined by a combination of factors. These may include nutrition, physical exercise and genetics. Research shows that society is more obese now than it was 50 years ago. This may largely be due to poor education in healthy eating, less time to prepare fresh home cooked food and the greater availability of unhealthy ‘fast food’. The rise in sedentary jobs and lack of motivation to engage in physical activity has also contributed the rising levels of obesity. Additionally, a person’s genetic makeup can predispose them to an increasing risk of obesity. Diet is therefore one of a range of factors contributing to obesity in the UK.
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Demos, K., Heatherton, T., & Kelley, W., 2012. Individual Differences in Nucleus Accumbens Activity to Food and Sexual Images Predict Weight Gain and Sexual Behavior, The Journal of Neuroscience, 32 (16), p.5549 –5552.
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Dixon, H., 2013. Britons getting fatter despite consuming fewer calories. Telegraph.co.uk, 17 June 2013 [Online]. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/dietandfitness/10126042/Britons-getting-fatter-despite-consuming-fewer-calories.html [Accessed 04 October 2013].
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Hall, J., 2012. Bake Off judges call for home economics classes in schools. Telegraph.co.uk, 18 November 2012 [Online]. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/9686362/Bake-Off-judges-call-for-home-economics-classes-in-schools.html [Accessed 04 October 2013].
Harrison, A., 2011. Jamie Oliver says healthy school food standards ‘eroded’ . [Online]. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-15888966 [Accessed 03 October 2013].
NHS, 2012. Obesity. [Online]. Available from: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Obesity/Pages/Introduction.aspx [Accessed 03 October 2013].