Sir George and Dr. Gruer create list of what we should "reasonably do"
This Times Online story about a new report from health leaders in the UK detailing their proposed list of actions for dealing with the ever-increasing obesity problem proves yet again that the people making these decisions about our weight and health are completely clueless about why obesity even exists in the first place and what to actually do about it.
Professor Sir George Alberti, the national director for emergency care in the UK and emeritus professor of medicine at Newcastle University, as well as Dr. Laurence Gruer, director of public health science at NHS Health Scotland, led a team of health experts who sought to come up with their own solutions to the obesity epidemic that were published in a report called "Obesity—can we turn the tide?" in the December 16, 2006 issue of the British Medical Journal.
This panel of so-called health experts came up with what they think are realistic ways to help people deal with obesity. As I was reading through these suggestions from supposedly intelligent people involved in the education and promotion of health in Great Britain, I couldn't help but shake my head at how ridiculous and unrealistic most of these ideas actually were.
Here is what these health officials came up with to fight obesity:
IDEA #1: Call 1-800-HELP-IM-FAT emblazed on all "big" clothes
Look out big & tall stores! You're the target of this proposal to print an obesity-assistance telephone number on all clothes sold with a waist size of 40+ inches for men, 37+ inches for boys, 35+ inches or size 16 for women, and 31+ inches for girls. As humiliating as shopping at a specialty clothes shop or the "big" section of your favorite garment store already is, I do not see what the benefit of rubbing more salt into that wound would create with this idea.
If I'm overweight or obese, then seeing a hotline number to help me with my obesity is NOT going to make me feel better about my weight or get me to do something about it. In fact, just the opposite will happen because it would likely make me even angrier! Those clothes already cost TWICE as much money as regular clothes, so don't tell me about what I don't want to hear. Trust me, if I saw that on my clothes when I weighed 410 pounds, I would have been highly offended and it would not have done a thing to help me lose weight.
When I was ready to finally lose weight, then I made the decision on my own to start the plan of my choice--as you know, I'm livin' la vida low-carb! So, exactly what are these people on the other end of the hotline number going to tell people they need to do to lose weight? Can you say low-fat, low-calorie, portion-controlled diets? UGH! Hoo boy, now we're back to the drawing board again!
IDEA #1 gets a big fat NO WAY from me!
IDEA #2: No more sugary or fatty snacks by the front registers
Under this proposal, the marketing and placement of any snack containing sugar or fat by the front register would be prohibited. Additionally, these products would not be permitted to be placed on a shelf where children can see them so as to avoid the temptation for the young shoppers to pick that product up and take it to mommy to purchase. Again, this is a VERY BAD idea.
While I personally do not like all the candy bars, potato chips, and other junk food that just about every store places by their front register, what right does a health entity have to tell a business owner how to run his business? The answer is he DOESN'T and should mind his own business.
If a parent doesn't want their kid to have that bag of M&M's, then he or she has the final say about whether they buy it for little Johnny or not. At the same time, nobody is forcing an adult to succumb to the temptation to pick up these "impulse" items as they are checking out. That's PRECISELY why they are placed there at the point of sale to provide quick, inexpensive add-ons that increase the profitability of the business. That's just brilliant marketing and should not be forced to cease.
IDEA #2 gets a NO from me, too!
IDEA #3: Higher sales tax on high-sugar, high-saturated fat foods
In what many have called the "fat tax" or the "sin tax," this proposed solution to the obesity problem would require additional taxation be added to foods that contain what these health experts believe is too much sugar or too much saturated fat--in other words, the ones that supposedly MAKE YOU FAT! I have mixed emotions about this one, but again hold firm in my belief that businesses and companies that promote high-sugar or high-saturated fat food should not be penalized for the products they create and sell to the public. If they weren't meeting consumer demand, then they would go out of business.
My concern is who gets to decide the limits on these things? How much sugar is considered "high?" 5g? 20g? And what about saturated fat which is not as unhealthy as these health experts believe it is? What limits are we going to have placed on them to reach the maximum threshold? 2g? 10g? NOBODY KNOWS and that's the problem! Plus, who gets to make that decision which will directly impact the companies that create those products. Questions abound regarding this proposal.
IDEA #3 seems too intrusive to me!
IDEA #4: Health check-ups given to students upon leaving school
Before a 5th grader is sent up to junior high, that child would be required to complete a thorough health examination. The same goes for a high school student about to graduate. Before that student even receives his high school diploma, a health physical would be provided with a full report provided to the student and parents.
I can remember receiving periodic health check-ups at school when I was growing up, but I don't recall anything ever coming of them besides the "you really need to lose some weight" advice that virtually went in one ear and out the other. It sounds like a good idea to show students and parents where they stand healthwise, but what good is that information if nothing is done about it? Is it worth the cost of providing this data if it is simply ignored?
Also, what about regular check-ups with a family doctor using the health insurance of the parents? I understand there are some people who don't have health insurance to cover the cost of a physical for their child and I am not opposed to these children receiving the examination at school. But without any meaningful follow-up about what to do with the information, what's the point of it all?
IDEA #4 is a good start, but we need so much more!
IDEA #5: New roads will be required to include bicycle lanes
All new road construction must include a lane for bicycles to go with the flow of traffic. Okay, that's great and all, but how does this help with obesity exactly? Do you think the reason why fat people don't exercise is the lack of facilities for doing so? Yeah right!
In this day and age of countless numbers of gyms, parks, walking trails, and other recreational facilities, the pathway to fitness is as close as a stone's throw for most people. The problem isn't the need for MORE bicycle lanes, but for people to actually use what's already there for them. The "if you build it they will come" mentality does not apply in this situation.
Before I lost my weight, thinking about doing ANY kind of physical fitness activity was not at all on my mind. I wanted to know when my favorite television show was coming on, what high-carb meal I was going to eat for dinner, how close I could park to the front door at Wal-mart, and when to go out and buy the next size up in my pants and shirts. Exercise was what "other" people did because they have the energy to do it. Of course, I changed my mind about that when I started livin' la vida low-carb and the rest, as they say, is history.
Building bike routes on new roads? IDEA #5 takes a dive!
IDEA #6: Creating a Department of Obesity in the federal government
Oh great, just what we need is MORE government bureaucracy! This final proposal is to create another Cabinet position in the executive branch of the federal government whose sole purpose is to study and evaluate the subject of obesity and come up with ways to tackle it that will bring the rates down. As much as I despise the creation of any new government agency, I think something like this COULD be positive.
But the people who would comprise this group would need to be representatives of all nutritional factions, not just the ones like we have see in the Food & Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture who protect the economic interests of their corporate buddies in the food industry. Big sugar, big corn, and other strong lobby groups in Washington, DC would need to be ignored while REAL solutions are hammered out by people who genuinely care about the overweight and obese.
Representatives from vegetarian, low-fat, low-carb, diabetic, and other dietary factions should be allowed to voice their input into what can be done to educate people who need to lose weight on the various options available to them without the monopoly that currently exists with outdated food recommendations by our government. If this Department of Obesity is truly objective and open to input from all sides, then it could potentially be a GREAT idea.
IDEA #6 could possibly be a part of the fix.
The report says these ideas are just the beginning of the "inadequate reponse to obesity" for people to simply "pull yourself together, eat less and exercise more.” AMEN! I've been saying that ever since I started this blog and will continue to say it until the message is finally heard. People need more concrete instructions about what they need to be doing, not a generalized "eat better" or "eat a healthy, balanced diet." What the heck is that anyway?
Sir George and Dr. Gruer believe overweight people need to be given help, advice and sympathy for them to overcome their poor eating habits and weight problem.
That's partially true. They do need help if they are willing to receive it and they also need advice if it is tailored to their specific situation, not just another "diet" that will fail them. But sympathy isn't needed as much as hope, inspiration and motivation from people who have been where they are at and eventually overcome it. The power of an example can go a long way towards changing how people think and feel about their own situation. I see it all the time.
While I'm sure these medical experts are all fine men in their field of study, I highly doubt any of them truly understands what it feels like to be morbidly obese. Unless you've walked a mile in the shoes of someone who has struggled with the agony of constantly ripping the seat of his pants, dealt with the stares and finger-pointing of people amazed by how big you are, or even felt the pain of being an outcast even among your family and people who claim to be your friend, you have no idea how to help someone cope with the physical and emotional scars that never really leave you. NEVER EVER leave you!
People who are ready to make that decision to lose weight and seriously want to make it happen for themselves once and for all should seek out someone that has already overcome their weight problem. It really doesn't matter who that person is, but find a confidant who will provide you with encouragement and positive vibes as you go through this process. That accountability along with setting an acheivable goal will have you well on your way to success better than any of these proposed ideas for dealing with obesity from the experts could possibly have.
Even scarier than those proposed ideas is their conclusion that obesity-fighting prescription drugs and even risky weight loss survey is needed to reduce obesity. ARGH! NO, NO, NO! That is NOT the answer. Not now, not ever!
Also, they put the onus on those in the medical profession to lead the way in this battle.
“Medical practice must adapt to the current epidemic of obesity and nutrition-related diseases," the report concluded. "The profession must unite the forces of public health and acute services to generate sustainable changes in food and lifestyles: matters at the heart of our cultural identities. Furthermore, training in public health medicine should urge all doctors to contribute towards bringing changes in the food industry and in the environment that will lead to a more physically active, healthier and happier population."
HA! As much as doctors would love to play a role in dealing with obesity, the sad fact is many of them are not adequately educated themselves in the latest nutritional research and studies supporting what a healthy diet is. To most of them, eating healthy means cutting out the fat, trimming down the calories, and exercising regularly. There's no concept of things like cutting out sugar, reducing carbohydrate intake, and eating adequate amounts of healthy fats. Are doctors REALLY the best means for getting the message out to the obese?
One final thought from the panel of experts was regarding the monetary impact of allowing obesity to keep going up and up.
“As the prevalence and costs of obesity escalate, the economic argument for giving high priority to obesity and weight management through a designated coordinating agency will ultimately become overwhelming," the report showed. "The only question is, will action be taken before it is too late?”
Action should DEFINITELY be taken, but what action? Do we go with these meaningless solutions that are outlined in this report and others by well-meaning, but misguided government and health leaders or do we FINALLY get serious about obesity and allow the public to receive a muliplicity of nutritional choices to help them make the best decision about what to do about their own personal situation?
That is the real question of the moment and it will take a lot more courage for health experts and doctors to embrace than anything else that's been presented to combat obesity. It's a realistic solution that we should "reasonably do" if we ever want to "turn the tide" of obesity around "before it is too late."
You can e-mail Dr. Laurence Gruer at Laurence.Gruer@health.scot.nhs.uk.