by Finn Prosser
In 2007 a Foresight report gave a worst-case prediction that by 2025, 40% of Britons will be obese. Already the outlook is bleak; six in ten people are overweight, and one in four are obese. In 2016/2017, the NHS admitted over 600,000 patients with illnesses related to obesity, an 18% increase from 2015/2016. Additionally, the World Obesity Forum reported that NHS spending on treatment relating to obesity could rise from £14bn to £24bn by 2025 as the number of patients increases.
Wales has the lowest overweight population within the UK followed by Northern Ireland, England, then Scotland. However, the combined obesity rates are still among the highest in Europe.
The Welsh Government has now released a plan titled ‘Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales’ in which it outlines its goals and ideas for tackling obesity in Wales by 2030. This is all in the wider aim of making Wales one of the first countries to reverse the trend of rising obesity.
Some of the goals for 2030 include a ban on advertising foods high in sugar, saturated fat and salt in public spaces such as public transport, sports venues, schools, hospitals and leisure centres; applying age restrictions on energy drinks; applying limits on free refills; having fewer takeaway restaurants near schools; stopping deals and promotions on unhealthy foods in the supermarkets; and if necessary, imposing additional taxes on foods high in fat, sugar and salt.
Noting that “our current environment still supports the use of cars over walking or cycling” and that they hope to provide a “high-quality sport infrastructure promoting more exercise for families”. It is hoped these policies will help promote a healthy lifestyle from a young age.
As outlined in the Foresight report, one of the indicators of obesity rates is income. Generally, the less time and money people have, the harder it is to keep up a healthy and active lifestyle, something the government also aims to tackle. It announced that: “New housing developments will be designed and built to enable active travel, play and recreation. We will support planners to prioritise quick, safe, convenient and well-connected pedestrian and cycle routes to health and care appointments, school and work, to places of interest and our town centres. We will utilise 20mph speed limits to further encourage active travel.”
The government admits change can’t come from the establishment alone, stating that: “Gaining large scale change across the system will require multiple small-scale process changes by leaders and teams from within it.”
The new plans, which some say are reminiscent of Jamie Oliver’s campaigns to ensure children adopt healthy lifestyles, seem to have drawn widespread support thus far. Cancer Research has called the plan “fantastic” while Dr David Tuthill, Officer for Wales at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health told Wales online that “The strategy sets out a series of actions that could have a transformative impact on children’s health” but that “We must now see this delivered in full.”
The plan has newly been launched and is therefore difficult to measure its success, although it can be expected to see that at least some of the strategies cited, will be implemented in the foreseeable future. As is to be expected when implementing a long-term strategy, only time will tell whether these proposals will truly have a tangible impact.