When we think of the future population in many western countries, we think of it as getting older, and if not declining, propped up by fairly large scale immigration. We may have to add getting fatter to that list. In the UK, a pressure group, the National Obesity Forum has released a report calling for greater action by the government to prevent the bleak, fleshy future for Britain’s population. In 2007, the Foresight report predicted that by 2050, 50% of England’s population could be obese. The Forum is no stating that this could be an underestimation of the scale of the obesity crisis. Recently, Public Health England estimated that by 2050, 60% of men, 50% of women and 25% of children could be obese.
So what is the Forum’s call for action entail? It wants hard-hitting public awareness campaigns similar to the ones used to curb people smoking. It also wants GPs to be trained and paid to initiate conversations with overweight patients about their weight – a delicate conversation that understandably many GPs are currently hesitant to begin. The Forum’s chair has also made noises about “government leadership and ensuring responsible food and drink manufacturing and retailing”. Presumably, something like this initiative in Mexico is something that the Forum would support.
There are a couple of thoughts that arise from this. First, it makes sense that governments are concerned about upcoming obesity crises – obesity on such a large scale would bring with it massive health, societal and economic costs. Second, despite that, I am uncomfortable with the idea of regulating food and the government getting involved with legislating for people’s poor choices. Individual responsibility surely has to be targeted doesn’t it? If we treat people like irresponsible children, can we expect them to act any differently to spoiled brats? (That’s a more general question of course!) Third, how can we ever say that there isn’t enough food in the world to feed our current billions of people when so many people in so many countries are drastically overweight? I release that that has to do with sedentary lifestyles as well as overeating, but there is something wrong with our world when we condemn hunger in Africa as a product of overpopulation while reports like this one in the UK can be made. As Shannon said last week, the global food system does seem broken.