James Cracknell

Stopping the obesity juggernaut will be a real legacy for our children

Rather ironically, the best analogy I can summon to describe my appointment and role with Policy Exchange as senior research fellow on Obesity and Physical Activity is an enormous buffet made up of your favourite food. The problem would be deciding where to start and then knowing when to stop. Sadly, the obesity and inactivity pandemic heading our way is larger and more intimidating than the dream buffet.

It was while reading the October 2007 Foresight report, ‘Tackling Obesities: future choices‘, that I became acutely aware of the juggernaut heading in our direction. The paper predicted that by 2050 three in five adult men, half of all adult women and a quarter of our children under 16 could be obese. The attributable costs to the NHS would be in the region of £10bn a year; the wider costs to society almost £50bn.

Today’s children are the first generation to have lower life expectancy than their parents, as childhood obesity worldwide has nearly doubled since 1980. According to World Health Organisation data:-

‘No country has recorded a significant fall in obesity since 1980. The most rapid rises are in rich, developed countries.’

I find it distressing that the pandemic of physical inactivity, high fat, salt and sugar diet has led to obesity and excess weight becoming the ‘new norm’ throughout Europe.

Preventing obesity is a societal challenge, similar to climate change. It requires partnership between government, science, business and civil society. I’m as guilty as the next person of using the tried and trusted ‘ostrich technique’ when confronting a problem. But burying our heads in the sand isn’t going to effect the change we need as a society.

My favourite quote is one by Abraham Lincoln who said, ‘If I had five hours in which to chop down a tree I’d spend three sharpening the axe.’

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