Chewing the facts: what's the truth of the obesity crisis?

Sunday 20 October, 5.15pm until 6.15pm, Frobisher Auditorium 2 Battle over Scientific Information

According to ‘Reducing Obesity and Improving Diet’, a policy document produced by the Department of Health in March 2013, most people in England are overweight or obese - 61.3% of adults and 30% of children aged between 2 and 15. The associated health problems are costing the NHS more than £5 billion every year. The reasons given for people ‘going large’ are not always clear, and numerous reasons have been suggested: that the modern Western diet is too high in carbohydrates / fat / sugar [delete as appropriate], that we no longer sit down together for a home-cooked family meal, but graze all day or eat ready-meals in front of the TV, that we don’t cook anymore so our understanding of nutrition and seasonality is lacking, that we drink too many fizzy drinks, that processed food is as addictive and we have become food junkies. To tackle the problem, there have been numerous government health initiatives, and doctors and health organisations have called for a wide array of health interventions, including sugar and fat taxes. While these make headlines, it seems they’ve failed to affect our waistlines, with some predicting that obesity will continue to rise and place further strain on the NHS.

On the other hand, studies show the number of people who are overweight or obese has not risen for over a decade, and there are concerns that school health campaigns are making our children unhealthily weight-obsessed. Some studies even suggest those labelled ‘category 1 obese’ are likely to be just as healthy as those deemed ‘normal’. So what’s the truth behind the obesity epidemic - are we right to be worried about becoming a nation of fatties? Is being fat necessarily a harbinger of ill health and early death? Just what is making us more obese? And do we all need a nudge to make sure we fill up our plates with carrots and stick with the gym?

Henry Dimbleby
co-founder, Leon Restaurants; co-author, School Food Plan

Rob Lyons
science and technology director, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Economy Forum

Dr Angelica Michelis
senior lecturer, Department of English, Manchester Metropolitan University; author, Eating Theory: the theory of eating (forthcoming)

Jane Ogden
professor in health psychology, University of Surrey; author, The Good Parenting Food Guide' (forthcoming)

Jason Smith
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas

Produced by
Jason Smith associate fellow, Academy of Ideas
Recommended readings
Nick Clegg is spot on over free school meals

Well done Nick! Free school meals for infant school children may cost the government our well earned cash but this initiative could bring so many more benefits than just healthier lunches.

Jane Ogden, The Conversation, 18 September 2013

Exploding the myth of the obesity timebomb

Children are healthier and happier than ever before, whatever well-paid scaremongers might claim.

Rob Lyons, spiked, 13 August 2013

Was I right to slag off Henry Dimbleby's school dinners scheme?

I've just had an email from Henry Dimbleby gently upbraiding me for my disobliging blogpost about his plans for school dinners. He makes a reasonable point.

James Delingpole, Telegraph, 15 July 2013

Let's Get Our Children Cooking

We live in a country where 30% of children leave school obese or overweight and where we spend £6billion on treating diet related diseases every year. We have a generational skills gap - 60% of 18 to 25 year olds leave home without being able to cook five basic dishes. And it is making us unhealthy and unhappy.

Henry Dimbleby, Huffington Post, 12 March 2013

Reducing obesity and improving diet

In England, most people are overweight or obese. This includes 61.3% of adults and 30% of children aged between 2 and 15. People who are overweight have a higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Excess weight can also make it more difficult for people to find and keep work, and it can affect self-esteem and mental health.

Department of Health, March 2013

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