MONDAY 24 SEPTEMBER 2012 THE BRITISH CULTURE OF OBESITY
The British Culture of Obesity
Many studies have been done recently to explain why Britain has the highest proportion of overweight, economically underprivileged people in Europe. In England, for example, 29 per cent of poorly educated women on low incomes and 29 per cent of such men are clinically obese. We have twice as many overweight people in this demographic as Ireland, Italy, Spain or Portugal.
An expert series on obesity in the medical journal, The Lancet, found that Britain has some cultural differences with those countries that might explain the disparity. It boils down to our having a liking for fast food and the fact that, unlike the other countries mentioned, we have lost the custom of having daily family meals. This, and a poor diet in general, is especially common among Britons on lower incomes. This is at least one of the causes of the health inequalities, which we can only expect to get worse until the economic climate improves.
Professor Peter Goldblatt, of the Institute of Health Equity at University College, actually told the Daily Telegraph that “the worse off you are, the more likely you are to be obese. One in eight children entering school in the most deprived areas is obese, compared to one in 16 in the richest”.
We have to leave changing economic inequalities to the politicians we elect to deal with these matters. But there is a great deal we – chefs, food professionals, and especially those of us with access to the media – can do. We can fight the negative aspects of British food culture, chiefly by convincing parents to learn to cook, or to learn to cook more effectively and efficiently, and to restore family meals, when the entire family eats together – at least once a day. What better incentive can there be for this than fighting childhood obesity, and the adult bad health, heartache and added expense we now know it leads to?
I don’t want to pretend that bringing about a sea change like this will be easy. After all, it is not just our eating habits that we have to change – but also the menu.
As Professor Goldblatt said, when praising the food cultures healthier than our own: “In southern Europe, in particular, there is less fast food and more family dinners. They also have a generally healthy diet, containing a lot of fruit and vegetables”.
We’ve all heard the tired old arguments that people on lower incomes can’t afford to buy fruit and vegetables – that it’s cheaper to fill your family up on high-calorie processed foods. And we all know that these are just excuses for the lack of education about shopping for and cooking proper meals, and the unwillingness to take the trouble to learn. Any decent cook can make a filling, nutritious, delicious and cheap meal from dried pulses, root vegetables and scraps of meat. It’s just a matter of shopping skills and cooking skills, and these can be taught.
Why do so many parents either not know or ignore this? What do you think? What is the answer?
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