Britain is grappling with an obesity crisis that is inflicting a staggering economic toll of nearly £100 billion annually, as per a comprehensive report by the Tony Blair Institute. This figure, highlighted in a report published by The Times, indicates that the impact of obesity on national productivity is far more severe than previously estimated, being ninefold higher.
The financial implications are forecasted to escalate by an additional £10 billion over the coming 15 years. This total cost, inclusive of the £63 billion attributed to shorter life spans and compromised health due to obesity, equates to roughly 4% of the nation’s GDP.
Henry Dimbleby, the former government advisor on food, is advocating for stringent measures akin to those applied to tobacco, targeting junk food. He warns that without decisive action, Britain risks becoming a nation burdened by illness and economic decline. Dimbleby is poised to highlight these concerns in a speech at a Royal Society conference, stressing the potential strain on the NHS and consequent economic stagnation.
Amid these warnings, the government has postponed initiatives like the 9pm junk food advertising watershed and restrictions on promotional deals for unhealthy food products until 2025. Health Secretary Victoria Atkins has expressed a desire to offer health guidance in a non-patronising manner.
A Department of Health spokesperson reiterated the government’s commitment to tackling obesity, pointing to initiatives like food-labelling standards, investment in school sports, and healthy food vouchers for underprivileged families.
Hermione Dace from the Tony Blair Institute underscored the critical link between the nation’s health and its economic prosperity, calling for a revamped approach to promote healthier food options and discourage the profitability of ultra-processed and junk food.
The obesity epidemic has intensified, with two-thirds of British adults now classified as having overweight or obesity, a significant rise from half a generation ago. Notably, the average weights of British men and women have increased by 6kg and 5kg, respectively, since 1993.Read More
Obesity continues to extend its grasp across an increasing number of states in the US, as recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) underscores. According to the fresh batch of information, as of 2022, a minimum of 35% of the adult population in 22 states was categorised as having obesity. This signifies a growth from the 19 states documented in 2021.
Drawing a comparison to a decade prior, the CDC highlighted that no state had reported an adult obesity prevalence of 35% or above, underlining a troubling upward trajectory.
This data has been gleaned from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a meticulously conducted interview survey collaboratively administered by the CDC along with state health departments. The criteria for obesity was a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or above, as ascertained through the survey.
Three states bore the brunt of obesity with more than 40% of their adult populace having obesity—Louisiana, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. The list further includes Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin, all having an obesity prevalence of at least 35% among adults.
An in-depth examination of the 2022 Adult Obesity Prevalence Maps divulges certain demographic groups being disproportionately affected by obesity, with discernible discrepancies across racial and ethnic lines.
The data revealed that a minimum of 35% of American Indian or Alaska Native adults had obesity in 33 states, alongside black adults in 38 states, Hispanic adults in 32 states, while the corresponding figure for white adults stood at 14 states. Notably, the obesity rates among Asian adults did not cross the 35% threshold in any state.
Karen Hacker, MD, MPH, who helms the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, articulated the dire need for enhanced support directed towards obesity prevention and treatment, terming it an “urgent priority”. She elaborated on the multifaceted nature of obesity, being influenced by a gamut of factors including dietary habits, physical activity levels, sleep patterns, genetic factors, and certain medications.
Dr. Hacker emphasised that the solution doesn’t adhere to a one-size-fits-all approach, but acknowledged the effectiveness of certain key strategies like addressing core social determinants of health. These include better access to healthcare, the availability of healthy and affordable food, and safe venues for engaging in physical activity.
The CDC’s 2022 maps accentuate the necessity for population-centric interventions to ensure universal access to healthy foods, safe exercising environments, stigma-free obesity prevention and treatment initiatives, alongside evidence-backed healthcare services encompassing medication and surgery.
The repercussions of obesity extend beyond the societal stigma, with individuals suffering from obesity being at an escalated risk for severe health conditions like heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, deteriorated mental health, and aggravated repercussions from COVID-19, as per CDC’s observations.
In a bid to combat this escalating obesity epidemic, the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity is propelling a slew of proven strategies at the state and local levels. These strategies encompass making physical activity safer and more accessible, facilitating healthier food choices, promoting breastfeeding, fortifying obesity prevention standards in early care and education settings, and augmenting the availability and access to family healthy weight programs.
The CDC has been vociferous in endorsing supportive environments for healthy eating and active lifestyles across various settings. Among the suggested preventative strategies are increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, encouraging breastfeeding, embracing physical activity, averting sedentary lifestyles, and minimising screen time, all of which are projected to play a vital role in reversing the obesity trend sweeping the nation.Read More
Recent research emerging from UBC Okanagan delivers a stern warning: the unhealthy eating habits fostered during one’s university tenure could set the stage for a lifetime mired in significant health challenges, including obesity, respiratory ailments, and depression.
The caution comes from Dr. Joan Bottorff, a distinguished Professor affiliated with UBCO’s School of Nursing, who is part of a global team of investigators delving into the dietary habits of university attendees. The extensive study encapsulated the dietary patterns of nearly 12,000 medical scholars from a total of 31 universities located in China, striving to decipher the correlation between dietary behaviours, obesity, and a gamut of diseases.
Dr. Bottorff emphasised the crucial fact that the foundations for many unhealthy eating patterns are laid during the university phase and could persist for a substantial duration of an individual’s life.
“There’s a considerable amount of data that outlines how the consumption of high-calorie meals and sugar-laden foods and beverages by many students during this period can be a precursor to obesity,” Dr. Bottorff stated. While she acknowledged that these aren’t the sole contributing factors to obesity, they are significant and warrant attention.
The groundbreaking study, which recently graced the pages of Preventive Medicine Reports, was spearheaded by Dr. Shihui Peng from the School of Medicine at Jinan University in China. Although prior research robustly associates unhealthy diets with numerous chronic diseases, this particular inquiry aimed to unveil the link between poor dietary habits and infectious diseases, including common colds and diarrhoea.
Dr. Bottorff highlighted that while the structure of the study didn’t allow for a cause-effect demonstration, the association between unsound eating habits, obesity, and respiratory diseases was robustly substantiated.
She further brought to light the biomedical research backing the nexus between obesity and infectious diseases, a linkage further spotlighted amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Bottorff explained, “Recent studies concerning COVID-19 reveal a tendency of individuals with obesity experiencing severe symptoms and outcomes, with explanations pointing towards compromised breathing due to excess weight and subpar inflammatory and immune responses.”
The quintessence of the problem, as per Dr. Bottorff, is rooted in the high-sugar, high-calorie dietary routine embraced by many students, which potentially morphs into a long-term plight, as these habits could segue into obesity. Moreover, she noted a vicious cycle where stress and anxiety could trigger overeating, which in turn could lead to further stress and depression.
She underscores the importance of not overlooking this perilous trend among university-goers, where a substantial fraction is known to indulge in unhealthy diets. “The nutritional quality of the food they consume is directly tied to obesity, which opens the gates to a host of other health issues extending beyond chronic diseases to infectious diseases,” she reiterated.
Dr. Bottorff recommends a university-wide initiative where students are educated on the principles of healthy eating. Additionally, she stresses the imperative for institutions to shoulder the responsibility of offering healthy and affordable food alternatives to the entire student body.
Reflecting on the matter, Dr. Bottorff advocated for a thorough examination of the food environment presented to students, ensuring that cafeterias and vending machines are stocked with healthy food choices. The collaborative effort between UBC Student Wellness and Food Services is a move in the right direction, addressing food security and literacy to mitigate the adverse impact of unaffordable food options and university-induced stress on students’ dietary choices.
Students facing food insecurity now have the recourse of a low-barrier food bank and a meal share program. Concurrently, the culinary team at UBCO Food Services, working in tandem with a registered dietitian, has been prioritising locally sourced, organic, and sustainably produced ingredients to diversify the food options available.
Encouraged by the progress, especially with healthier choices being more accessible in cafeterias and the reorganisation of vending machine items to place healthier options at eye level, Dr. Bottorff acknowledges the strides taken by many post-secondary institutions in addressing these issues. “The momentum gathered over the last four or five years is heartening,” she remarked, “It’s a positive deviation from the past, although there’s still a long journey ahead to fully tackle this issue.”Read More
A recent study has established a concerning connection between long-term intake of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and saccharin, as well as diet sodas, and an augmented risk of obesity. The findings were featured in the International Journal of Obesity, following an extensive examination of the relationships between the consumption of these substances and a variety of health parameters.
Undertaken as part of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) initiative, the research embraced a diverse participant group of 5,115 individuals, comprising both black and white men and women. The focal point of the study was to dissect the potential relationships between artificial sweetener and diet beverage consumption and the volumes of visceral adipose tissue (AT), intermuscular AT, and subcutaneous AT, while accounting for demographic factors and lifestyle elements such as total caloric intake and adherence to healthy eating guidelines.
Over a span of 25 years, 3,088 individuals — including 869 black women, 867 white women, 590 black men, and 762 white men aged between 18 and 30 at the onset — were rigorously examined, with their dietary intakes tracked at intervals of the inception, the 7th year, and the 20th year. This meticulous approach allowed for a nuanced breakdown of aspartame and saccharin consumption patterns across quintiles and tertiles, respectively.
Drawing a strong parallel between heightened artificial sweetener intake and expanded volumes of all three types of AT assessed — visceral, subcutaneous, and intermuscular — the study spotlighted worrying trends. Individuals in the uppermost quintile of aspartame consumption demonstrated greater AT volumes in comparison to those in the lowest quintile. Furthermore, higher aspartame intake was associated with pronounced increases in body mass index (BMI), weight, and waist circumference throughout the quarter-century follow-up period.
Similar trends were observed in saccharin consumption, with the highest tertile group reporting up to 14% higher subcutaneous AT alongside substantial augmentations in BMI, weight, and waist circumference. The consumption of diet beverages mirrored these patterns, revealing significant escalations in AT volumes and BMI in those indulging more frequently in these drinks.
Although sucralose intake depicted an upward trajectory in BMI and weight, it remained distinct by not showing a noticeable impact on AT volumes or anthropometric changes over the long-term period studied.
This seminal study foregrounded the alarming implications of prolonged artificial sweetener intake, connecting higher consumption levels with a substantial upswing in obesity risks — with the upper quintiles exhibiting up to a 78% greater propensity for obesity compared to their lower quintile counterparts.
Despite offering unprecedented insights, the research is cognisant of potential limitations including self-reporting biases and the possible influence of altered microbiomes on adipogenesis.
In light of these potent revelations, the researchers advocate a reevaluation of prevailing national advisories encouraging the substitution of added sugars with artificial sweeteners. Highlighting the potential adverse health repercussions of both options, the study calls for a more nuanced approach to fostering healthier dietary choices.Read More
A concerning trend has emerged, revealing that an increasing number of overweight teenagers do not perceive themselves as being too heavy. This phenomenon raises alarms as it may lead to detrimental lifestyle choices, warn scientists. The trend of underestimating body weight was found to be particularly prevalent among girls, according to a peer-reviewed study.
The study suggests that the rising prevalence of obesity and the emergence of body trends idealising an athletic, muscular physique may contribute to teenagers underestimating their weight and becoming resistant to adopting healthy diet and exercise habits. However, the researchers acknowledge that other factors, including body image, dieting, changing eating patterns, and migration, may also play a role in these shifting perceptions over time.
Conducted by the International Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children, the study surveyed 11 to 15-year-olds between 2002 and 2018, analysing trends in body weight perception while considering age, gender, and family socioeconomic status. The survey encompassed over 745,000 adolescents from 41 countries across Europe and the United States. These findings are particularly significant for the UK, where more than a third of teenagers have either overweight or obesity.
Lead author of the study, Dr. Anouk Geraets from the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Luxembourg, emphasised the potential impact of body weight perception during this impressionable age on teenagers’ lifestyle choices, including their food consumption and exercise habits. Dr. Geraets expressed concern regarding the trend of fewer adolescents perceiving themselves as overweight, as this could undermine efforts to address the escalating obesity levels among this age group. Teenagers who underestimate their weight may not recognize the need to lose excess weight and may consequently make unhealthy lifestyle choices.
The study revealed an increase in underestimation of weight status and a decrease in overestimation over time, with girls being more susceptible to these perceptions than boys. Scientists worry that shifting trends in perception could diminish the effectiveness of public health interventions targeting young people.
Dr. Geraets emphasised the clinical and public health implications of the study. While the increase in accurate weight perception and the decrease in overestimation may have a positive impact by reducing unnecessary and unhealthy weight loss behaviours among adolescents, the rise in underestimation highlights the need for interventions to strengthen accurate weight perception. Further research is necessary to understand the underlying factors driving these trends and to develop effective public health interventions.
The study’s findings were published in the journal Child and Adolescent Obesity, shedding light on the urgent need to address teenagers’ misperceptions of their weight in order to promote healthier lifestyles and combat the growing obesity crisis among this age group.
Leading scientists are urging the government to establish standard portion sizes for young children as part of efforts to combat the obesity epidemic. In a damning report, government scientific advisers have revealed that young children are consuming excessive amounts of salt and sugar while falling short on fruit, fibre, and vegetable intake.
Official data indicates that one in ten reception-age children in the UK now has obesity, with experts projecting that the obesity crisis will cost the NHS £10 billion annually by 2050. The report from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) highlights the absence of formal guidance on appropriate portion sizes for young children and emphasises the need for policymakers to address this issue. Oversized servings are contributing to the rapid consumption of excessive calories.
According to the report’s authors, the current diet of young children in the UK fails to meet the recommended dietary guidelines for several nutrients. They note that larger portion sizes of snacks and meals provided in preschool settings are associated with higher food and energy intake in the short term. To address these concerns, the authors recommend that the government consider developing age-appropriate portion sizes for food and beverages, including vegetables, fruit, fruit juice, and milk, targeting children aged 1 to 5 years.
The SACN, known for its advocacy of the forthcoming ban on fast-food advertising before 9 pm from 2025 and the fortification of bread with folic acid, has identified excessive sugar consumption as a widespread issue, leading to dental problems that pose long-term health risks for individuals and place a persistent burden on the NHS.
The report reveals that nutritional imbalances are prevalent in the average diet, with children from disadvantaged backgrounds experiencing even worse dietary quality. Commissioned by the Department for Health and Social Care, the report provides the first update on recommended food and beverage consumption for children aged one to five in nearly two decades. Based on a comprehensive review of two decades of studies and data, the panel of nutrition experts and paediatricians who form the SACN made several recommendations, highlighting the urgency of addressing the “high prevalence” of overweight and obesity in children in the UK.
Official figures indicate that approximately 3% of reception-age children have severe obesity, and one in ten children at this age meet the threshold for obesity.
The report authors also suggest that repeated exposure to initially disliked vegetables can help children develop a preference for them. They recommend that parents persistently offer the vegetable to their child eight to ten times to increase acceptance.
Additional recommendations from the report include avoiding fizzy drinks for children under the age of five, consuming unsweetened yoghurt products, and making milk and water the primary beverage choices. Semi-skimmed cow’s milk is acceptable, but fully skimmed milk should be avoided until age 5.
Bridget Benelam, a Nutrition Scientist from the British Nutrition Foundation, highlighted the report’s findings, stating that the diets of 1-5-year-olds were inadequate, characterised by excessive sugar, salt, and unhealthy energy-dense foods, and insufficient fibre, fruit, and vegetables.
The report also emphasises the importance of early childhood nutrition, not only for growth and development but also for establishing healthy habits that will benefit children later in life.
The report suggests several strategies for the government to consider, including promoting continued breastfeeding into the second year of life, ensuring children receive daily vitamin D and A supplements, and providing adequate vitamins and minerals for vegan families who may lack these nutrients commonly found in animal products.
A government spokesperson acknowledged that the report’s recommendations are being noted and considered. They highlighted the Start for Life resources, which provide expert NHS advice, helpful videos, and simple recipe ideas to support families in providing healthy meals for babies and young children.Read More
In a determined effort to address the growing obesity problem, Wales is set to implement strict measures aimed at curbing the promotion and accessibility of unhealthy meal deals and temporary price reductions on foods high in fat, sugar, or salt. With almost two-thirds of adults in Wales classified as having either overweight or obesity, the Labour-led government intends to go beyond the initiatives taken in England by enacting legislation to tackle the promotion of ultra-processed foods.
The Welsh government plans to mirror the UK government’s approach in England to restrict volume promotions, such as buy one get one free deals. Additionally, Wales will introduce proposals targeting meal deals and temporary price reductions, acknowledging the urgency of the crisis and the need for more comprehensive actions.
Lynne Neagle, the Welsh Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing, emphasised the pressing nature of the situation, stating, “Rising levels of obesity are causing a significant burden of preventable illness in Wales. We must act immediately.” Neagle clarified that the government does not intend to ban meal deals altogether but aims to shift the focus towards healthier, more nutritionally balanced options. Many meal deals currently include large bags of crisps and snacks that are high in fat and sugar. The objective is to ensure that affordable meal deals are available, which are lower in calories, fat, and sugar.
Research conducted by Public Health Wales revealed that three-quarters of lunchtime meal deals exceed recommended calorie and salt levels for a meal. The unhealthiest lunch options provide two-thirds of the daily calorie intake, over 122% of the daily fat intake, 149% of the recommended sugar intake, and 112% of the daily salt intake. The majority of dinnertime meal combinations exceed average energy requirements.
The researchers concluded that if an individual purchased an average meal deal for lunch five days a week, they could gain more than 6 pounds (2.8 kg) in a year. If they opted for a high-calorie meal deal five days a week, the weight gain could reach 47 pounds (21 kg) within a year.
Neagle clarified that temporary price reductions would not be banned either, stating, “Our aim is to rebalance our food environments so that the healthy choice becomes the easy choice.”
The UK government recently delayed the planned ban on buy one get one free deals for junk food by two years, citing concerns over the cost of living crisis. However, the Welsh government is committed to implementing its restrictions by 2025 and intends to proceed even if the UK government does not follow suit.
Neagle expressed hope for alignment across the UK, stating, “It would be great if England moved forward with these plans. We believe that consistency throughout the UK is beneficial, but we have a responsibility to address the crisis we are currently facing in Wales.”
Neagle dismissed the notion that these measures amount to a “nanny state” intervention, highlighting that tackling obesity extends beyond individual responsibility and encompasses the unhealthy food environment people are exposed to on a daily basis.
The regulations will apply to major food retailers, and the government will also explore measures to curb the purchase of unhealthy food online and offers associated with loyalty cards.
According to the Welsh government, 62% of individuals aged 16 and over in Wales either have overweight or obesity.
James Evans, the Welsh Conservatives’ Shadow Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing, stressed the need for clear assurances from the Welsh Labour government that meal deals will not be banned and that any new regulations will not increase the average weekly cost for shoppers.Read More
Obesity has been a significant contributor to various health issues, including cancer. A recent cross-sectional study published in JAMA Oncology highlights the role of food environments in obesity-related cancer mortality. Communities with easy access to fast food were found to be 77% more likely to have high levels of obesity-related cancer mortality.
Researchers led by Dr. Malcolm Seth Bevel from the Medical College of Georgia analysed food access and cancer mortality data from over 3,000 counties in the United States. The study aimed to understand the association between food deserts (areas with limited access to grocery stores and healthy food options) and food swamps (areas with easy access to convenience stores and fast food) and obesity-related cancer mortality rates.
Using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Environment Atlas and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the researchers calculated food desert and food swamp scores for each county. A higher score indicated fewer healthy food resources in the area.
The primary outcome of the study was obesity-related cancer mortality, defined as either high or low (71.8 or higher per 100,000 individuals and less than 71.8 per 100,000 individuals, respectively). The results showed that counties with high food swamp scores (easy access to fast food) were 77% more likely to have high rates of obesity-related cancer mortality.
Further analysis revealed a positive dose-response relationship between food desert scores, food swamp scores, and obesity-related cancer mortality rates. Counties with high rates of obesity-related cancer mortality also had a higher percentage of non-Hispanic Black residents, higher percentage of adults older than 65 years, higher rates of adult obesity, and higher rates of adult diabetes.
The study demonstrates the significant impact of food environments on obesity-related cancer mortality rates. Communities with easy access to fast food have a considerably higher risk of obesity-related cancer deaths. The findings emphasise the importance of promoting healthier food environments and improving access to nutritious food options in order to reduce obesity and its associated health risks, including cancer.Read More
The neighbourhoods we live in influence how we behave and ultimately shape our health outcomes. Regardless of how much money an individual earns, if they live in a less-affluent neighbourhood evidence would tell us that they will have poorer health outcomes than if they lived in a more affluent neighbourhood. This effect is particularly strong when looking at obesity and diabetes.
While this has been long understood, little is known about when risk factors emerge in childhood and adulthood in individuals living in socioeconomically different neighbourhoods, and the cumulative effect of disadvantage over childhood. Researchers from Finland set out to answer this question through a population cohort, where participants were measured at repeated intervals for adiposity and behavioural risk factors. By linking postal codes to neighbourhood deprivation scores, researchers assessed the impact of living conditions on diabetes outcomes.
They found that detrimental lifestyle factors by neighbourhood living conditions are present right from childhood and worsen into adulthood. These risk factors accumulate over time to accelerate increased rates of obesity, hypertension and fatty liver by middle age.Read More