Obesity has been in the news. Millennials have been declared the fattest generation ever and Cancer Research UK adverts have caused controversy for ‘fat shaming’ and ‘promoting eating disorders.’
Obesity seriously increases the risk of many diseases including breast cancer, bowel cancer, cancer of the womb, type 2 diabetes, strokes, heart disease, joint and muscle problems. Only a third of adults manage 30 minutes of exercise once a week. It seems that the British are now the fattest in Europe!
Childhood obesity is a major problem in the Western world. The vast majority of obese children become obese adults. About 60% of children in the USA and 50% in the UK are over weight or obese. These children will have major health issues and often psychological problems. They are not only deemed to be less attractive than their peers but less intelligent and lazy with poor will power. No wonder self esteem issues are the norm. Fat adults are likely to be less successful in their career and are passed over for promotion. However studies in the USA have shown that 75 % of parents of obese children do nothing about their child’s weight problem. The editorial of the journal of the Royal College of GPs quoted the UK National Child Measurement Programme which found that 79% of parents of overweight children do not recognise this fact and of those that do only 41% perceive this as a health risk. The state of Georgia in the USA has run a series of hard hitting adverts to try and change attitudes – see ads below.
Critics argue that this is further stigmatising fat children and adults and will increase bullying. As a GP I have had a number of difficult consultations with patients. As a doctor I feel I have a duty to tell them that their weight is probably contributing to their suffering and long term health. Last week I explained to an overweight patient with backache and knee pains that her joints and muscles were having difficulty trying to support twice the weight they were meant for; that it is like carrying a grown up person around all the time and she would feel so much better if she could lose weight. The patient reacted quite angrily and told me she had come to terms with her weight and she objected to me raising the issue. Commenting on weight has become an ethical and social mine field that reflects the stigma and psychological suffering as well as physical suffering that is a consequence of being overweight.