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Blog: National Obesity Awareness Week 2018

Marking the start of National Obesity Awareness Week 2018, Barry Kelly, Specialist Advisor - Physical Activity for Health, talks about tackling obesity in the modern day and how to make sure the next generation can be more active


“Choose life, choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram” mocks Mark Renton in last year’s T2: Trainspotting.

 

In an updated version of the Choose Life monologue from the original 1996 Trainspotting film. To this statement, Renton could probably have added the iPhone, Netflix, Now TV, Amazon Prime, Hive, and Deliveroo, not to mention the PS4 (As a child of the early 70s I had to ask someone with kids about this one).

For those that can afford them, such gadgets and technology are now an integral part of modern life. We live in an era where we can sit on the sofa and: watch a tv box set; keep in touch with friends and family via social media; turn the central heating up and order take-away food simultaneously – without as much as standing up. While this technology denotes progress, it is changing how we do things and ultimately contributing towards more sedentary lifestyles. We also face similar challenges outside of home, in work or at school. How much time do you sit at a desk writing e-mails each day? And how much of the school day do children spend sitting at their desks? Not so not so much choosing life, we are choosing a sedentary life (or perhaps more accurately, it is being chosen for us).

As outlined by Public Health England the current picture and ramifications of a sedentary lifestyle are all too clear. In simple terms people in the UK are not burning off enough of the calories that we consume. In the UK people are around 20% less active now than in the 1960s and if this current trend continues, we will be 35% less active by 2030. In terms of obesity, nearly two-thirds of adults (63%) in England are classed as being overweight (with a body mass index of over 25) or obese (a BMI of over 30). More worryingly, this problem is on the increase, with nearly a third of children aged 2 to 15 deemed to be overweight or obese. This is a particular issue in London which has the highest rate of obesity for 10-11 year olds in England.

Children at school hanging from monkey bars

As we also know tackling obesity is an incredibly complex issue, as highlighted in the Foresight report (2007) which identified over 100 variables that can impact on obesity either directly or indirectly. This report was published over 10 years ago now and amongst many of its key elements was the introduction of the “Whole Systems Approach’ to obesity and the importance of systems thinking. This approach has very much informed the work across London in recent years, where childhood obesity has been treated as a priority at both local and regional level. In the recently published London Health and Care Devolution deal (November 2017) there is a commitment across London to ensure that money raised through the sugar levy is utilised to best support childhood obesity; an agreement to look at restricting advertising and marketing of unhealthy food and drinks; and also to try and influence the built environment, looking in particular at the proliferation of fast food outlets.

Given the focus on obesity and childhood obesity in particular, London Sport has also been working in this area through our work with schools, in providing support to the Great Weight Debate and as members of the London Obesity Board. In recent months we have launched the School Sport Suppliers Hub which provides a simple online physical activity and sport tool to help schools better connect to physical activity suppliers (all of whom will meet a set of minimum standards). In addition, we have also partnered with Active Movement, an innovative programme aimed at to reducing young people’s excessive sedentary time. Active Movement integrates non-sedentary behaviour and low-level activity into everyday school routines and will initially be delivered in five London Primary schools over the next 12 months.


At London Sport we are really excited about the potential impact that both of these initiatives will have on getting young people more active and reducing sedentary behaviour, but it is just a start. To further transform these sedentary lifestyles and environments we have to do more, especially focusing on children and young people. Mark Renton has already warned us of the potential outcomes if we don’t “choose the same for your kids, only worse!”

 

 

 


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