Wednesday, August 23, 2006

That Obesity Debate

Today Programme has been trying to "debate" obesity. I respond:

Dear John Humphrys.

First, the complaint of e-mailers that "we do not know what obesity is" is just a symptom of denial. Of all health indicators, obesity is the simplest - just measure weight and height, then match the results to the charts. Sure, abdominal girth is a useful added indicator, and muscle mass is important (which can be separately measured) but nothing is perfect, and "proof" does not exist in science (not a lot of people realise that). In the end, if it looks like a duck, and it waddles like a duck, it probably needs to lose weight. Good enough for the poor old NHS. Except that treating obesity in the surgery is time-consuming and unrewarding work. Many of us GPs just say "Go to weight watchers" which is effective, and if they have not enough motivation to do that, they do not have enough motivation for us to have any lasting effect.

Which leads on to the role of Government. The compulsion of Ministers to prattle about lifestyle choices is ludicrous. The role of Government should be to create an economic framework where the factors which make for obesity are discouraged, and healthy practices encouraged. This means a tax on fat and sugar, and tax on cars to be hypothecated to cycle lanes on roads, cycle tracks, walking areas, subsidies for (?renationalisation of?) public transport (since we have to walk to the bus and train).

However, calling for those measures is like howling for the moon. It will not happen, because the oil and car industries will lobby against it. But you should be asking questions designed to bring out the fact that government ought to be changing the economic framework that leads to obesity.


Richard Lawson
(Past Green Party Health Speaker)

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