Tuesday 28 August 2007

Can we stop the fat lady singing?

We have stopped laughing at the Germans. They used to be the fattest people in Europe. Now we are.

23% of women and 22% of men in Britain are now defined as clinically obese, according to the European Union’s statistical office. Obesity is defined by a formula called the Body Mass Index (BMI) composed of two simple factors - height and weight.

The formula is:

Ideal weight in kilograms divided by height in metres squared = 20% to 25%.

You are regarded as overweight if the BMI score is in excess of 25% and obese if it exceeds 30%.

Very fit weight lifters will fail this test, so perhaps a simpler measure would be waist size and its relation with the chest measurement for men and hips for women. The waist should be at least 8 inches less than their chest for men and for women about 8 inches less than their hips.

The British Government’s figures suggest that two out of three men are overweight and the figure for women is only slightly less.

This is a very worrying situation, since it means a greater incidence of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, raised cholesterol levels and cancers of the prostate and womb.

One of the actions taken by the government body OFCOM is to ban the advertising of processed foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt in TV programmes where the majority of the audience is 14 years or younger. The reaction of the advertising industry has been less than considered. After all, we invented, or at least promoted, tasty products that were loaded with the most dangerous elements such as transfats, simple sugars and excessive salts.

And now it seems that some advertisers are trying to compensate from the absence from TV by using the internet to sell their unhealthy foods to children.

Skittles, the sweet brand has apparently spent more than £100,000 to set up a profile on the social networking site “Bebo” seeking young ambassadors for their brand. Other advertisers on the internet are McDonalds, Starburst and Haribo. They do this partly because the internet is outside OFCOM’s remit.

Obesity is linked with poverty and poor education. We cannot compel people to eat sensibly or exercise regularly, but neither should we give carte blanche to parts of the food industry who are concerned with the hitherto easy profits in unhealthy products.

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