8 Jan 2014

Have government ministers had a happiness bypass?

Are cabinet ministers involved in a conspiracy to make us all miserable?

First George Osborne tells us 2014 is a year for “hard truths”, and now Jeremy Hunt calls for some “national soul-searching” about obesity.

British Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt geAs if the new year diet wasn’t hard enough without the skinny-as-a-whippet health secretary admonishing us all to get off our backsides and work off those Christmas puddings.

Mr Hunt’s contention is that America has started to get its act together on obesity, but we haven’t.

“America has an even bigger obesity problem than us, but they have actually started to turn the tide on obesity in the US: we haven’t started to do that here and I think we’ve got to do some real national soul-searching about whether or not we’re going to grip this problem,” he said.

A hard truth indeed. Except how true is it?

Well, the figures are on the face of it pretty alarming.

Sixty-four per cent of British adults are classed as overweight (that is, their body mass index is greater than 25). But America is starting from a higher base, with more than 70 per cent overweight.

And the latest figures for England at least suggests a bit of light at the end of the obesity tunnel. According to a study in the autumn based on the annual Health Survey for England, while obesity is still rising it’s doing so at a slower rate.

Yes, the proportion of people who are overweight or obese has been increasing for three decades now, but in recent times the rate of increase has been slowing. However the researchers also found that the very fattest are getting fatter.

So while the new year diet plan probably shouldn’t be abandoned, there’s perhaps less call for sinking into despair.

And though Mr Hunt urges us all to take individual responsibility to “grip” the problem, there’s something he and the chancellor could do too.

We’re all in it together after all.

Experts have been calling for a tax on sugary drinks for a while, with one piece of research just before Christmas suggesting a 20 per cent levy would reduce the number of obese adults in the UK by 180,000. The soft drinks manufacturers will no doubt be lobbying the government not to go down that road, but if we’re all being told to say no to a second chocolate, can’t the policy-makers do their bit as well?

Now back to the treadmill.

Follow @cathynewman on Twitter




Tweets by @cathynewman