The UK fitness market is estimated to be worth approximately £ 5 billion, with over 7000 gym locations catering for 1 in 7 members of the British public, yet we as a species are getting fatter and fatter. NHS statistics published April 2018 state that 26% of adults are classed as obese (up 15% from 1993, though worryingly stable since 2010), 1 in 5 year 6 children are classed obese, and with 36% overweight, we are officially the most overweight nation in western Europe with levels of obesity growing faster than in the US. In 2016/17, there were 617000 hospital admissions where obesity was a factor and experts predict that by 2020 one third of the UK population could be obese. This situation is not unique to our fair nation, but is now common within the developed world, but why is this?
With the advancement of technology the human race has become more and more sedentary and many of us now find ourselves living in a hypokinetic society (hypo – too little, kinetic – movement) where the majority of our time is spent in the seated position; we sit in our cars to drive to our office where we sit at a desk until it is time to go home when we sit in our car, drive home and spend the evening sat in front of the tv. Though obviously not true of everybody, the fact is that todays average working environment is far less dynamic than in years gone by, and our home comforts have made the need to move once home almost redundant. With the exception of fitness equipment, it is very difficult to think of a modern invention that hasn’t reduced our need to move, all created to make our lives easier and more comfortable. While this is all well and good, the human creature was not designed to sit all day, the mechanics of our bodies designed to run, jump, push, pull, bend and so on, and whilst these movements are no longer necessary for survival, it is the lack of this movement that is responsible for many of the ailments that are commonplace in modern society such as CHD and diabetes to name only two. It wasn’t that long ago that you had to get up to change the television station or answer the phone, and the closest we had to mobile phones were telephone boxes(!), and whilst this may not constitute exercise in its strictest form, the fact that movement has occurred means that calories are burned and these all add up. The changes in technology in the last 30 years alone, whilst incredible to behold, have reduced our need to be active and added to the factors that have created the obesity epidemic in which we now find ourselves.
Another huge factor which has contributed no end to our expanding waistbands is the availability of high caloric and nutritionally lacking foodstuffs. No longer do we need to hunt and gather, just pick up your mobile (while sitting down!) and calorie laden food is just minutes away…. 24 hours a day. In 2016 the UK spending on fast food equated to £ 9.9 billion, up 34% from 2009, and now equates to 12.1% of total spending on food. This spending is predicted to rise to £ 11.2 billion in the next 5 years; makes my arteries clog just thinking about it. Remember, that not only are these meals nutritionally unsound and high in calories, but also no calories have been expended in creating the meal with the exception of dialing the take away and answering the door. Now we all love a takeaway, and I am not suggesting that we boycott Just Eat in order to save the species, but with just 26% of adults and 16% of children getting their 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, you can see that maybe its time we took a long hard look at what we’re putting into our bodies on a weekly or even daily basis.
A persons weight, and fluctuations therein, is essentially determined by a simple equation, calories in verses calories out, and with our increased hypokinetic lifestyles (reduction in calories out) and consumption of easy to access fast food (increase in calories in), it can be seen that we are on a collision course to major obesity problems in the future and the resultant medical and economic issues that this condition brings with it.
We have all heard how our grandparents or parents grew up on bread and dripping, and how kids of the 70s grew up eating sugar laden sweets and cereals, and yet obesity is a fairly recent problem (at least in the high numbers of today). How can that be? Well, calories in may have been relatively high, but calories burned were that much higher too. People were much more active in days gone by, two car families were unheard of and people would walk to work, to shop or even to the launderette to get the laundry done. Kids didn’t have computers or x boxes, but instead were outside playing, kicking a ball around or climbing a tree, so society and the way we live has changed so much. Guess I’m starting to sound like an old man reminiscing about the ‘good old days’, but the fact is that we were generally healthier as a whole, and much of this is to do with our activity levels and lack of fast food. I don’t wish to sound too harsh either as many of the labour saving devices we have today are a godsend, and not everybody is obese and spending all day lounging on the couch, but something needs to be done to halt the rise of obesity (fast food tax?) before its effects are felt more and more.