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Is obesity the new smoking?

Is obesity the new smoking? The healthcare PR team at Say communications analyses the question posed by NHS Chief executive Simon Stevens.
Not a week goes by when child nutrition and the rising obesity crisis does not appear in the news; this is not surprising given the latest shocking figures that one in 10 children is reportedly obese. Last week the Daily Mail reported on a warning from the NHS Chief executive Simon Stevens, who says that parents must stop ‘poisoning’ their children with sugar-laden drinks and snacks as this is fuelling the obesity crisis. He calls for a campaign to tackle obesity, or the alternative is a surge in killer diseases. He goes on to describes obesity as ‘the new smoking’ – the biggest cause of cancer.

Mr Steven’s warning is not new news and every week the media points the blame at somebody, whether it is the food industry, healthcare professionals or teachers. This week it is parents.

Mr Stevens – a father of two school-age children – said prevention begins at home and at school: ‘We’ve got to play our part as parents, we’ve got responsibilities’.He suggests the following advice to fellow parents to prevent their children from becoming overweight:
  • Fizzy drinks and fruit juice as well as other sugary snacks should be rationed to once a week to prevent children becoming overweight.
  • Give children water and cut up apples as snacks.
  • Tougher laws to cut the amount of sugar in processed foods.
Current campaigns such as Change4Life are great for illustrating how healthy eating can be made simple and fun, by pledging to make small changes such as the above, but are campaigns like this doing enough to warn parents about the detrimental effects of an unhealthy diet?

Just the other day I was talking to my friend about obesity, and was astonished when she responded ‘Really? Weight problems are linked to cancer?’  Working in healthcare PR, we are exposed to story after story about how ‘fat’ our nation is becoming, and the burden it will cause to the NHS. However, for those who do not necessarily play close attention to the media or health studies, I am not sure that the link between healthy eating and serious diseases such as cancer is fully understood or believed.

Working in health promotion, do we need to shout louder and the increase the noise so that the links between unhealthy eating/weight and putting your life at risk cannot be missed? For example, should we be employing more serious campaigns that shock and scare society into changing their behaviour?  Mr Stevens described obesity as the new smoking, so do we need to use some of the tactics/campaigns that were used against smoking such as these below:

anti smoking campaign

In the same way as the smoking ban, it has been suggested that junk food should be banned from shop tills and a limit put on the number of fast food outlets on a high street.  Some people will criticise this as a ‘nanny state’ by reducing free will, but I personally do not think these drastic measures are such a bad idea. Although I am fan of campaigns such as Change 4 Life, obesity figures show that is may not be enough and more needs to be done.

-Written by Leanne W.

2nd September 2015



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