How obesity reduces life expectanceRuth Mabhiza
Obesity means ‘generation of children may live shorter lives than their parents’.
The Welsh Government has launched a consultation on its first ever obesity strategy.
The Welsh Government has set out a national ambition to prevent and reduce obesity.
A generation of children could live shorter lives than their parents unless something is done to tackle Wales’ obesity crisis.
That’s according to chief medical officer Dr Frank Atherton who warns that obesity is the “greatest public health challenge facing Wales”.
He predicts that obesity will soon overtake smoking as the biggest risk to people’s health and says it will become the main cause of cancer in women in 25 years’ time.
This is the current scale of the obesity problem in Wales:
- Around six in 10 adults aged 16 and over are overweight or obese;
- Around 60,000 adults aged 16 and over are severely obese and are at risk of health complications;
- More than a quarter (27%) of children aged four and five are starting primary school overweight or obese, and;
- Around 10,000 more adults are becoming obese each year.
Latest figures show Wales has a worse obesity problem than any other part of the UK which has been put down to a myriad of different factors including deprivation, low exercise rates, and the availability of cheap convenience food.
And if current trends continue illnesses associated with obesity are projected to cost the Welsh NHS more than £465m per year by 2050, with a cost to society and the economy in the region of £2.4bn.
Health Secretary Vaughan Gething believes the “long-term sustainability of the NHS is at stake” unless Wales’ addresses its battle with the bulge.
Here are some of the main causes of obesity in Wales:
(Image: Anthony Devlin/PA)
- Three-quarters of adults do not eat five portions of fruit and vegetables each day;
- On average children and adults eat the equivalent 10-12 cubes or sugar a day – twice the recommended amount;
- Half of adults do not do the recommended amount of physical activity each week;
- One in five boys aged 11-16 does the minimum recommended level of 60 minutes exercise each day. That figure stands at just one 10 for girls the same age, and;
- Half of primary school children travel to school by car.
In a bid to reverse current trends the Welsh Government will launch its first ever obesity strategy called Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales later this year.
Proposals in the consultation document set out “action points” where changes need to be made to “drive and shape behavioural change” among the Welsh public.
Here is an outline of some of the key points in the consultation document:
1. Creating a more healthy environment
(Image: Peter Byrne/PA Wire)
This focuses on allowing people to make healthier food choices and be more active in daily life.
Ways of tackling this include supporting Welsh business to develop healthier food choices, working with the UK Government to limit the promotion of unhealthy foods on TV and online through a 9pm watershed, and using Welsh powers to limit the use of advertising of unhealthy food in public places.
In addition the Welsh Government says it’s vital to make healthy food a more affordable option by urging the food industry to regulate price promotion and discounting practices on unhealthy foods, and incentivising healthier food purchasing in Wales.
Similarly it wants to consult on improving calorie labelling of food eaten outside of the home such as restaurants and stimulate an increase in healthier food establishments in Wales by offering cheaper business rates.
And it wants to encourage healthier drinking habits by consulting on UK Government proposals to ban the sale of energy drinks to children under the age of 16 and restricting free refills in pubs and restaurants.
When it comes to improving people’s physical activity the consultation document calls for any new infrastructure projects – such as new schools, homes and hospitals – to improve access to play areas and community sport infratructure.
It also wants Wales to continue to invest in active travel by supporting walking and cycling routes across the country.
2. Creating more healthy settings
(Image: western mail)
This concentrates on ensuring that schools, workplaces, and leisure facilities are improving people’s health and wellbeing.
Action points in the document include using the new school curriculum to help children understand the impact of food and nutrition on their wellbeing as well as enhancing existing primary school programmes such as The Daily Mile.
The report also recognises that many young people start to put on weight after they leave secondary school, with sports participation declining from the age of 16. The Welsh Government says it wants to work more closely with universities and colleges to improve healthy eating and exercise across campuses.
It also wants health boards and trusts to support private businesses to have healthy and active workforces and develop a “hospital retail standard” to increase healthy food options in NHS buildings.
3. Motivating people to achieve a healthy body weight
(Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
This involves inspiring people to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
Some of the key points include making sure healthcare staff and those in schools are able to have frank and positive conversations with parents if their child is overweight and signposting them to the support available.
Similarly it calls on NHS staff to support expectant mothers who are obese and encourage them to breastfeed which reduces the newborn’s risk of obesity in childhood.
It also highlights the need to strengthen the 10 Steps to a Healthy Weight programme which provides practical support to parents.
And it calls for the creation of a clinical obesity pathway for patients and the NHS to ensure there is “explicit governance and accountability” for delivery.
4. Improving leadership and enabling change
(Image: Rob Browne)
The document emphasises the importance of a “whole-system approach” to addressing obesity, which means that ministers, health boards, and public health leaders are held accountable for this strategy.
Being overweight increases the risk of developing major health conditions including heart disease, type two diabetes, and some cancers.
It is also a risk to people’s mental health leading to low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety.
What do the authors of the report think?
Chief Medical Officer Dr Frank Atherton
Chief medical officer Dr Frank Atherton said he was “optimistic” an obesity strategy could improve the health of the nation.
“We need to worry about obesity because of the huge health consequences associated with it,” he said.
“Rates of type two diabetes in Wales are increasing still and that brings with it a whole range of other problems including heart disease, cancer, and strokes.
“All of these things are a danger if you don’t tackle obesity, leading to worse health outcomes. Every heart attack or stroke is a personal tragedy.
“We have seen over the past few years that increasing life expectancy is tapering off and that’s partly as a consequence of people who are obese.
“There is a very real risk that a generation of children could live a shorter amount of time than their parents.
“I am optimistic that we can do something about this. Wales is a small enough nation and is connected in enough places to become the first place in the world which can say ‘we have recognised obesity is a problem and we have all bought into this strategy and look what we have achieved’.
“I hope that’ll be the case in five or 10 years’ time.”
(Image: Mark Lewis)
Health Secretary Vaughan Gething said: “Too many people in Wales are overweight or obese.
“Our high rates of overweight four to five-year-olds is a matter of national concern. This government is not prepared to let a poor diet or physical inactivity be defining features in the lives of our children and young people.
“We know that many of us want to eat healthier or do more exercise. However, fitting this into our busy lives can appear to be an overwhelming challenge.
“Creating an environment where it is normal and easy for us all to eat well and be physically active can make a significant difference and nudge us to change our daily routines.
“We want to encourage people to manage their own health and wellbeing, to lose weight, and to be active. The long-term sustainability of the NHS is at stake.
“We want people in Wales to have long, healthy lives. Being a healthy weight is a central part of achieving that goal.
“Tackling the root cause of why people become overweight is complex – it will require intervention at every level.
“We are under no illusion – there is no quick fix or easy solution to this problem. This is an issue we simply cannot ignore – it is the greatest public health challenge facing our generation and I urge people to engage fully with this consultation.”
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