Europe is heading for an unprecedented explosion in rates of obesity and excess weight. Researchers at the World Health Organization say the continent will face an obesity crisis of “enormous proportions” by 2030. We’re leading the way: Ireland top the projected poles, followed closely by the UK.
The forecast presents a bleak picture of an obese future for many European countries. Yet very little action has been taken. In fact, in the case of the Little Stoke Park Run in England, which was cancelled last week after the local council voted to charge the event
for use of parks facilities, negative action was put in place.
You will never see an obese wild animal: it is a purely human affliction, created by us, the most intelligent creatures on the planet.
Obesity is when someone is so overweight that it threatens their health, and typically results from over-eating and lack of exercise. We know this – know that over eating and obesity can kill us – yet as a society we haven’t stopped, we continue to eat more and more. Estimates show a big jump in obesity for Irish women, soaring from 23 per cent to 57 per cent, and Irish men, rising from 26% to 48 %.
You will never see an obese wild animal: it is a purely human affliction, created by us, the most intelligent creatures on the planet. Do wild animals know something we don’t, or have we lost all willpower? Well, studies suggest it's the society and environment we have created that is the problem. Environment has a major influence on the decisions people make about their lifestyle, and 'obesogenic environments', those which encourage people to eat unhealthily and under exercise, are all too common, providing easy access to fast food and doughnuts, and leave many of us with double chins and spare tyres.
So how do we solve the problem of the obesogenic environment? The reality is that government policies are urgently needed to reverse the trend. Unfortunately this hasn't been forthcoming: the Little Stoke decision is the perfect example. Their decision puts an already under-exercised society at further risk. In an ideal world, these same people would carry out the same run, jog or walk that they did on a Saturday morning at one stage or another during the week, but anyone that has seen their gym membership expire and taken all too long to renew it, will tell you that it’s not that simple. we depend on these events and the routine and comradery they provide to keep us going.
The local council has said it is unfair to expect non-runners to pay for path upkeep – but what upkeep? When we visit parks, it is to see a bit of nature. Within reason, how pristine do the paths need to be? Any council that worries more about the upkeep of the parks than the health and wellbeing of those using them isn't aware of the health risks at play. ‘Three hundred feet pounding the paths every Saturday morning does cause extra wear,’ the local council in question claimed; but if research is anything to go by, then three hundred feet is nowhere near enough, they should be encouraging more, not discouraging those there already.
Although there is no ‘silver bullet’ for tackling the epidemic, governments must do more. Ensuring the use and longevity of projects such at the Park Run
would be a start; with work also needed to restrict unhealthy food marketing, reduce the amount of sugar and preservatives in food, and making healthy food more affordable and regular unhealthy food less affordable. Once they do this, then just like local running paths, those who make the most of what's on offer should be applauded and seen as an example, and those that don’t only have themselves to blame.
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