VitalSpark: Coalition Blog

Posted: 11 March 2010, in Blog

Obese, portly, chubby, flabby, overweight, plump, gross, Rubenesque. How many adjectives do we need for fat?

From deep fried pizza and chocolate to Haggis and the lack of a Michelin starred restaurant in Glasgow, Scots have an awkward, conflicted, contrary relationship with the lows and highs of food and drink. We celebrate “excess”, are physically inactive and can’t or won’t embrace personal responsibilities as part of the solution to our national ill health problems. It is an educational, cultural, supply and demand thing.

This isn’t funny, healthcare costs are soaring and we seem incapable of change. I blame government, schools, supermarkets, local authorities, feckless parents, sink estates, computer games, the fear of paedophiles, private transport, domestic freezers, microwave cookers, politicians, pubs, brewers, TV, food scientists, food manufacturers, celebrity chefs, advertising, the NHS, sedentary lifestyles, lack of sports facilities, NIMBYs, gluttony, addiction, poverty, the weather and us – I think.

Meanwhile our leaders are clamouring again. Why don’t they admit they are often obese and unhealthy too? Leaders should set a virtuous personal example to encourage others to take action.  Maybe Scotland should have a fasting month (February?). The Parliament could shut its bar and all politicians and public health professionals would be required to publish their pre and post fast BMI, blood alcohol content and cholesterol results.

Regarding policy, the logic of the anti-smoking lobby applies here. Supply and demand have to be tackled. This means higher taxes on “junk”, Trans Fats, additives and sugar. We should constrain the locations, marketing and commercial activities of unhealthy food/alcohol businesses. Rampant consumerism and unrestrained market forces are killing us. We need to be revolutionaries to change cultural attitudes, norms and behaviours. Will our tactically fixated politicians deliver a radical strategy? The minimum alcohol pricing debate hardly inspires.

Given the huge costs/sums being bandied about what are the opportunities for social entrepreneurs?

The nation is waddling to an early grave. We need to focus on markets and competing. There are two markets; private and public. The personal consumer market for anti – fat and pro health services and products is colossal. Why are we not competing? Is it beyond our ability to run spas, health clubs and fitness centres, produce fitness videos and magazines, run ethical/healthy restaurants, cafes and catering businesses or take on WeightWatchers?

The public sector health budget presents immense opportunities for innovative obesity/health/education/information products and services to people differentiated by age, ethnicity, gender, (dis)ability and income. We’ll find them in their own homes, care homes, schools, prisons, colleges, universities, hospitals, the workplace, community centres etc but we need to get out of the not for profit, project mindset.

We should develop partnerships between the private sector and social enterprises. We need to be promiscuous and recognise that market forces will be part of the solution. Social entrepreneurs ought to be at the heart of that revolution in education, care and changing our national paradigm on fat and health.

As Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.