Theories abound as to why we're becoming a nation of 'fatties'. It would be easy to blame the obesity epidemic on laziness, too much time spent horizontal on the sofa, and instead of cycling or running around in fields, children today are staying indoors to play computer games or be transfixed to the TV screen. Some say it's an energy imbalance - we're taking in more energy (food) than we're using because we're not getting enough exercise to burn it off. Equally, not eating the right types of food, a lack of education about healthy food, or even limited healthy food selections in supermarkets or local shops are other possible factors, as is an over-reliance on cars and the closing down of school playing fields. It doesn't help of course that sugary and fatty foods are fast, cheap, and generally more accessible than fresh fruit and vegetables if you're running short of time.
There seems to be no black and white explanation for the obesity crisis and certainly any or all of the above factors are perfectly feasible. Equally, scientists have recently discovered that more than half of the population carries a variant of a gene called FTO, which makes them more susceptible to gain weight, and research in October 2007 from Foresight (the government's science-based think tank) suggests that the nation's problem with weight-gain could be entirely out of our control. In its report the company talks about the technological revolution of the 20th century being the cause of unavoidable weight gain because our bodies and biological make-up are out of synch with our surroundings.
Obesity thriving in UK
Regardless of the debate over cause, the obesity crisis continues to thrive - and statistics are very alarming. In a Health Survey of England in 2004 almost a quarter of adults were obese, in 2005 twenty two percent of English men and twenty four percent of women and nearly eighteen percent of boys and of girls aged between two and 15 in England were classified as obese. If current obesity growth rates continue experts believe that some 60 percent of men, 50 percent of women and 25 percent of children in Britain could be obese by 2050.
There are plenty of negatives associated with obesity. Firstly, you place yourself at a higher risk of serious conditions like cancer and heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Secondly, too much body fat means you might also develop osteoarthritis, a general wear and tear of your joints. If that isn't enough, the health risks will doubtless be coupled with some psychological and emotional problems like depression, lack of confidence, low self esteem, and potentially social discrimination and prejudice.
According to the Department of Health, obesity is responsible for 9,000 premature deaths each year in England and it reduces life expectancy on average by nine years. On an economic level, the estimated cost of obesity to the NHS is approximately £1billion per year, with an additional £2.3b - £2.6b per year to the economy as a whole. Unless things change, experts predict that by 2010 the cost to the economy could be £3.6b per year.