Obesity events

The intention of these meetings was to produce some policy proposals either for national government to go to the Labour Party policy process, or for local government, traders etc. to take forward.

A plate of Cakes

Liverpool Saturday 11th September, 10.30am to 1.30 pm

with Andy Burnham MP

and Robin Ireland, Programme Director, Heart of Mersey,

Friends Meeting House

65 Paradise Street, Liverpool, L1 3BP

Cambridge Saturday 6th November, supported by the Co-operative Party, Co-perative Group (CWS) Ltd and Cambridge Cycling Campaign 10.30 am to 3.30pm

with Dr Tony Jewell, Director of Public Health Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire

Anne Campbell MP

Professor Nick Finer of the University of Cambridge and Addenbrookes Hospital

Dr David Pencheon Director Eastern Region Public Health Observatory

and Jim Chisholm Cambridge Cycling Campaign

at Alex Wood Hall, Norfolk Street.

Notes from the Liverpool meeting

15 members of the public including researchers, public health workers, GP, Councillor, Patient Forum members

The meeting agreed (at Andy’s request) 10 points for action:

1. Obesity is an important factor in health inequalities, affecting poor and deprived communities more than people who are better off. Most of the health problems arise from weight gain, rather than obesity per se. Although it is easy for anyone to see that people need to eat less and be more active it is very difficult to understand why this is not happening, and more research is needed.

2. Food has cultural and psychological significance quite apart from its nutritional function. The social norms which underlie our eating behaviour are very deeply rooted. There are important considerations of ethnic diversity as eating and exercise patterns very between different cultures. These are problems of affluence. Traditional guidance on the importance of people getting enough of various nutrients is now largely superfluous.

3. Demonisation or blame of people who are overweight (or their parents) is not helpful.

4. Supplies of healthy food at affordable prices are not available everywhere. Some sort of subsidy in food deserts may be necessary at least temporarily, although experience in areas with many immigrants demonstrates that it is possible for small independent suppliers of fresh food to flourish in areas with deprived populations if there is sufficient demand. If there is to be subsidy then it may have to operate at EU level, and certainly needs to take into account the need for sustainable local food production.

5. The new Government emphasis on competitive sport is welcome, but not sufficient, because those with the biggest problems (in every sense) are least likely to take advantage of it. We need to see a new and widespread emphasis on physical activity – walking, dancing and swimming and other activities which people who are unfit can enjoy. We cannot permit a sedentary life to become accepted as normal.

6. Children need to be permitted and encouraged in active play. Great publicity is given to the very small risk of children being abducted from public areas. Much less is given to the much greater risk of being killed or injured by cars, and almost no publicity is given to the huge risk of developing diabetes and many other diseases as a result of inactivity in the longer term. Parks and public areas must be perceived as safe if parents are to be persuaded to let their children loose in them.

7. Transport policy has a very significant role in the onset of obesity. There must be a substantial shift away from the dominant position of the car so that people can walk and cycle safely. Regular activity in the course of daily life is more likely to have a sustained beneficial effect than expensive trips to the gym.

8. Schools have a very significant part to play in teaching children to cook, to eat sensibly, to manage a budget and to understand the problems of obesity. School dinners should be a free and important part of the curriculum. We cannot afford to let children choose a diet of unhealthy food. School dinners could be much healthier. Both teaching of physical skills for the many and the fostering of competitive sport for the few have an important role to play, and it is clear that we cannot expect teachers to do this important work in their spare time without payment. Primary school teachers will need support and training, and schools need to be protected from the culture of litigation if they are to protect children from the dangers of obesity.

Trends in children’s obesity

9. Obesity is a major threat to health care services and to the economic well-being of the country. The cost in terms of increased diabetes and other problems associated with obesity in terms of lost economic activity, increased health care and benefits paid to people incapable of work over the medium term exceed the cost of the measures proposed by an order of magnitude. In addition these measures make a substantial contribution to reducing other health inequalities and improving social cohesion.

10. The government has a part to play in regulating the labelling and advertising of food and drink. Weight gain is clearly related to market forces. There are many unscrupulous companies which do their best to confuse and mislead consumers. Labelling has to be simple and clear. The more complicated the message is the harder it is for those most at risk to understand what they need to know. Consideration should be given to the regulation of food ready to eat, which could be monitored by Environmental Health Officers. We accept that bans are unpopular and sometimes counter productive. People need to be enabled to make healthy choices. There is no shortage of healthy food, often at high prices. What is required is a reduction in the prevalence of unhealthy food.