As a nation we’ve never been as overweight as we are now. In total 60% of the UK adult population are either overweight or living with obesity and based on current trends, more and more people in the next generation are likely to experience significant issues with their weight.
Being a healthy weight is central to being healthy generally. It’s about protection from heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and many other conditions.
We believe that maintaining a healthy weight is the ‘Biggest Issue’ that UK healthcare faces today. This is why, over the last couple of months, the NHS in South West London ran its Biggest Issue survey to find out more about peoples’ thoughts and attitudes towards weight.
We asked people to speak frankly about their weight and what support they need to maintain a healthy weight. Working with community partners and faith organisations, we asked a range of questions about weight.
We wanted to get to the core of why people struggle to maintain a healthy weight.Dr Mohan Sekeram
We wanted to get to the core of why people struggle to maintain a healthy weight, whether that’s to do with shortage of money, medical conditions or being too busy to prepare meals. We also wanted to find out what people are doing to manage their weight at present.
Significant weight gain rarely happens over a short period of time. It’s a slow and steady process and is shaped by our long-term day-to-day habits. A surprisingly small number of excess calories each day can lead to significant weight gain over the years.
We know that in a cost of living crisis, some people feel they have no option but to buy the cheapest food they can afford. But eating healthier nourishing food can actually be an important part of living on a budget.
The survey is just the first part of the ‘Biggest Issue’ campaign. In the next stage, we hope to discuss our findings in focus groups, which will be run with community partners in centres including churches and mosques.
Our findings will be used to shape health plans across South West London.
Our findings will be used to shape health plans across South West London and may also influence weight management strategies on an international level. This is because the project was developed following studies at the Yale Leadership Programme involving health leaders from across the NHS. Our interim findings from our South West London team, Dr Annie Murphy and Iona Lidington, Director of Public Health in Kingston, generated a lot of interest when they were presented at a conference at Yale in July.
Because obesity has been increasing year-on-year in the UK for so long, some people are pessimistic about the chances of slowing this ‘silent pandemic’, not least because it has so many causes.
We point out that fifty years ago the majority of British people smoked and the habit was deeply embedded in everyday life. Now, with only 15% of British people smoking we live in a relatively smoke free country.
People were encouraged to stop smoking through a whole range of approaches including legislation and societal change. Tackling obesity effectively will require a similar multi-pronged approach and we believe that the ‘Biggest Issue’ has an important role to play in this.
Dr Mohan Sekeram, Wide Way Medical Centre, Merton