Whether it’s children or adults, statistics are showing that people are increasingly having to grapple with this particular health concern – and the causes are diverse. From the decline in jobs that require people to be on their feet all day to a ready availability of fast food, there are many reasons why it has happened.
But what’s the solution? Should governments be doing more – or is it down to individuals to take action? This article will assess the arguments in favour of both a government-backed solution and one that prioritises the role of the individual.
The government’s role
To many people, governments aren’t doing enough to tackle the emerging obesity crisis. In an age when everything from climate change to unemployment can consume the news agenda, there’s often not enough tax revenue or time to tackle the issue. The problem is compounded by the fact that some governments are actually benefiting from obesity in some ways. In a political sense, parties and governments that emphasise self-reliance and responsibility can claim that their opponents are perpetuating a ‘nanny state’ by calling for sugar taxes and other policy options. In a financial sense, some politicians are even paid by lobbyists from the fast food industry and other industries to ensure that the law lets them continue to sell their products at a profit.
What more could governments do? A sugar tax, as mentioned above, is supported by many. This would see people pay a levy on certain foods deemed to require it, perhaps foods with high salt or sugar content – but it might also lead to a situation where people who are less well-off but who remain addicted to sugary foods are forced to pay more for them. This issue has raised its head several times before – with even UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson getting bogged down in it in his leadership campaign to head the UK Conservative Party. Education programs are also often proposed as options. By rolling out compulsory and comprehensive nutrition and cooking lessons to all British children, some say that there would be a much better chance of the next generation making healthy choices.
A personal solution
However, no debate on obesity would be complete without exploring whether or not individuals have a role to play in tackling the obesity crisis. At its most basic level, nobody denies that there is an obvious personal element to obesity. A person makes decisions about their consumption all the time: from deciding what to eat to deciding how much exercise to do, there are individual choices being made every day – and they all have an effect.
However, what’s harder to explore is why that person makes the health, dietary and eating choices that they do. For many people, this is something that the government can change. The government cannot force people to not eat a certain type of food, or mandate that they take a certain amount of exercise – perhaps other than insisting that school PE classes last for a certain amount of time – but it can ensure that clean, appealing and well-funded public sports centres exist, for example, while it’s also possible for them to create the conditions in which the right food choices are made – perhaps by insisting on clear labelling.
That’s not to say that there’s no success to be had with lifestyle changes. On the contrary, many people find that going on diets or increasing the amount of working out they do can be transformative. The diet found at https://www.one2onediet.com/ has long been popular, while events such as Parkrun show that people are willing to come together in the name of exercise. Perhaps, then, the solution to the obesity crisis is a hybrid of both government and individual choices: people sometimes need to be given ideas about the benefits of a healthy diet and exercise by the government, while also being left to their own devices to decide exactly what option works for them.
There’s no right or wrong answer to this thorny question, and there are many different schools of thought on whether or not it’s right to give governments or individuals more responsibility for solving problems. What seems to be the consensus, however, is that both sides can do more to fix the issues. If governments are willing to create the conditions for individuals to get fitter and healthier, it seems, individuals are often likely to do so.