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Are Boris’s new anti-obesity policies really going to help fight a winter covid-19 spike?

Boris's new anti obesity policies

The government have just announced new anti-obesity measures. These measures will not make a difference in time for a possible winter second wave of covid-19. They seem ill thought out and don’t fully consider the real issues.

Here are the shocking statistics: Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet, England, 2020

67% of men and 60% of women in the UK are overweight and 26% of men and 29% of women are obese.

Some of the new measures:

  • introducing legislation to require restaurants, cafes and takeaways with more than 250 employees, to add calorie labels to the food they sell
  • calorie labelling on alcohol – many people don’t factor in the booze
  • ending BOGOF promotions of high calorie foods – I think BOGOF causes waste as well as overeating
  • banning the advertising of high calorie foods on TV and online before 9pm – some experts have said that this hasn’t worked in the past
  • GPs will be able to prescribe cycling and a 12-week cycling course. Decreasing reliance on drugs is good in my opinion.

I do feel this is too little too late, although support for overweight families is coming, but will it go far enough?

Are they really tackling the real HUGE issues around poverty and obesity? No! It took the footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to force a government U-turn to provide free school meals in the summer holidays in this year where unemployment is set to rise to 3.5 million. To put this into a local perspective, in Nottingham children receiving free school meals equal 25.7% and the UK average is 15.4%. Why not pay “key” workers a proper wage? Why not use a green recovery to boost our recovery? What about making the huge corporations pay more tax to pay for all this? The measures are so short sighted. Sorry, I am starting to rant!

Most people know what to do, why is it still not working?

Most people think that overeating is due to a lack of self-control. However, in my work with clients since the 80s, I would say that is rarely the case. If emotional eating were a simple issue of discipline, we could find a solution much more easily. People can manage many difficult aspects in their daily lives after all.

Most people already know “move more – eat less”. They are well versed with slimming clubs and calorie counting. This is one of my pet peeves.  Slimming clubs make money. They know that people will keep coming back because in general they don’t work in the long term. People know what they “should” be doing. Does this make them slim? No, it doesn’t.

For those who suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia increased prominence of calories may be harmful to their recovery. According to my nutritionist friend Susan Hart Nutrition Coach, calories are not the whole story to fight obesity. High calories which are easy to digest leave you wanting more food and high sugar foods can make you feel down in the dumps and again want more food. If you have a healthy meal which is fairly high in calories, it takes longer to eat and is more satisfying and so it fills you up for longer, so you don’t feel the urge to eat again so soon.

The reasons why we overeat are complex:

Stress-Related Causes of Weight Gain

Hormones

When your brain detects the presence of a threat, no matter if it is life threatening, a bullying boss, or a large bill, it triggers the release of hormones such as adrenaline, Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), and cortisol. Your brain and body prepare to handle the threat by making you feel alert, ready for action and able to withstand an injury.

In the short-term, you feel less hungry as your blood flows away from the internal organs and to your large muscles to prepare for “fight or flight.” However, once the effects of adrenaline wear off, cortisol, known as the “stress hormone,” starts telling the body to replenish your food supply. Over stimulation of this defence mechanism has been linked with numerous physical and mental health conditions, including chronic fatigue, metabolic disorders (e.g., diabetes, obesity), depression and immune disorders.

Belly Fat

Our bodies are designed to store fat supplies for times of need in the long term. This means nowadays that when we are chronically stressed by the demands on us, we are prone to getting an extra layer of “visceral fat” deep in our bellies which is unhealthy and difficult to get rid of. It can develop into heart disease or diabetes. Excess cortisol also slows down the metabolism, so a double whammy.

Anxiety

Anxiety can cause emotional eating. Eating unhealthy foods in response to stress or as a way to calm down is a very common response. A recent report in the US American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” survey, 40% of respondents reported dealing with stress in this way, while 42% reported watching television for more than 2 hours a day to deal with stress. Both are major factors in the rise of obesity.

Cravings and Fast Food

The same hormones we produce when we are stressed make us crave “comfort foods” such as crisps or ice cream. They are easily accessible, easy to eat, highly processed, and high in fat, sugar, or salt.

We also may have habits and memories from childhood such as receiving a sweet reward for an unpleasant experience. If we feel anxious, we are less likely to take the time to make a healthy meal.

Less Sleep

We don’t need research to tell us that worry is a major cause of sleeplessness. Stress causes decreased blood sugar, which leads to tiredness. If you make up for this with coffee or caffeinated soft drinks, or booze to get you to sleep, your sleep cycle will be even more disrupted. Lack of sleep may disrupt the functioning of ghrelin and leptin—chemicals that control appetite. An imbalance of these hormones can lead to gaining weight and eventually to obesity. We also crave carbs when we are tired or grumpy from lack of sleep.

Education on Nutrition

There is a need for more education for everyone, but especially our children around food, cooking and nutrition.  Many families hardly cook from scratch. I found a study in 2018 in a special issue of the journal Public Health Nutrition which showed that UK families buy more ultra-processed food than any others in Europe, amounting to 50.7% of the diet. Education authorities scrapped Home Economics and Food Technology GCSE replaced it. This is more geared to being able to mass produce food. We ask pupils to “design a food product”. Fay Schopen Guardian 4/6/2014

What we need are basic nutrition, budgeting, shopping, cooking and food waste prevention skills and we need them to be taught in school.

What can we do about all this?

Learn healthier ways of dealing with our emotions

Have you ever heard of “eating your emotions”? People comfort eat for all sorts of reasons from feeling fed up, cruel remarks made in childhood and even as a result of abuse. We need to change the stereotypes of overweight people being lazy, weak-willed, unsuccessful, unintelligent, lack self-discipline, have poor willpower, and can’t be helped with treatment. These stereotypes cause stigma, prejudice, and discrimination. By learning mindfulness, healthier ways to express ourselves like being creative, see Bello Mind and Soul.

Find activities we love

Being more active, doing something we love can build our endorphins and make us feel good as well as burning calories. Doing crafts or renovating and upcycling can be mindful and give us a sense of “mastery”.

Bring in a 4-day working week

Research shows that a 4-day week actually makes people more productive. Stress levels decrease, there is a healthier work life balance and people have more time with family and to organise their lives. This would help in our economic recovery we would create more jobs in customer facing areas.

I’d love to know what you think. Please leave a comment or you can email me at sam@livewellpractice.co.uk

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