Since the beginning of the year coronavirus, or COVID-19, has become a daily feature in all our lives placing a massive disruption on normal life. Whilst cases and deaths have reduced, COVID-19 is still a threat, especially to those who are more at risk. Carrying excess weight or being obese has been linked to an increased risk of COVID-19. Further research is warranted but it has been suggested that this is due to stored fat levels leading to high levels of inflammation which can reduce the effectiveness of the immune system, and its possible that fat stored around the middle of the body could make the lungs less efficient in the face of a viral infection.
Almost two-thirds (63%) of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity and 1 in 3 children leave primary school overweight or obese. Recently the government announced its new ‘Better Heath’ campaign and as part of this, its new anti-obesity strategy. This new campaign will call on people to embrace a healthy lifestyle and lose weight if they need to. Some of the new measures include:
• Ban on TV and online adverts for food high in fat, sugar and salt before 9pm
• End of deals like ‘buy one get one free/BOGOF’ on unhealthy food high in salt, sugar and fat, and their availability at check-outs
• Calories to be displayed on menus while alcoholic drinks could soon have to list hidden ‘liquid calories’
Whilst the overall campaign is certainly a step in the right direction, the anti-obesity strategy does have some shortcomings.
The Western diet is typically low in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, yet includes high levels of refined, processed and sugary foods. This creates a paradox where many people eat a high calorie diet but consume few essential nutrients. Whilst some of the measures address the availability and advertisement of these ultra-processed food and drink, it fails to provide education on how or what people should be eating instead. The focus should be on making fresh, wholesome, local food readily available to everyone in addition to educating people, especially children and teenagers, on how to prepare and cook them so budget-friendly and healthy meals can be made.
Placing the emphasis on calories fails to take into consideration the nutritional values of different foods and their relation to health. A food may be low in calories but provide no other nourishing factors whereas another food may be high in calories but provide a range of nutrients, healthy fats and fibre – an avocado is a prime example. This starts to place food into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ categories instead of looking at the wider picture. In addition, providing calories on menus may put pressure on people to start counting calories. Counting calories can cause people to become fixated on every morsel of food that crosses their lips which can have a severe impact on mental health and lead to eating disorders or restrictive eating.
Consumption of too many calories has a huge part to play in the development of obesity but it is important to realise that obesity is a multifactorial condition where a one-size fits all approach, as the government is suggesting, may not be effective. Stress, hormonal imbalances, the gut microbiome, toxic overload, thyroid function, sleep deprivation, lack of physical activity and chronic inflammation all play a role in the development of obesity, whilst also preventing weight loss. Placing emphasis on a pro-health, rather than an anti-obesity, campaign may have wider appeal so people don’t feel singled out because of the number on a scale.
In addition, the introduction of the governments ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ campaign is somewhat contradictory of their ‘Better Heath’ campaign especially considering certain, already cheap, fast-food restaurant chains have been included. Whilst we fully support helping to boost the economy that has taken a hit during the pandemic why not encourage people to support local independent cafes and restaurants or better yet encourage people to try out a new restaurant which places an emphasis on using fresh local produce cooked from scratch.
Here at Nutri Advanced we are all for leading a healthier lifestyle but, whilst incredibly important, it’s not just about the food you eat. A healthy lifestyle involves daily movement, mindful eating, prioritising sleep, spending time with family and friends, getting out in nature, building your community of like-minded people and relaxation to name a few which unfortunately none of the governments ‘Better Health’ campaign places any emphasis on. Equipping people with a toolkit on how to lead a healthier lifestyle is surely a better approach to take.
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