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So there are two bits of research on Obesity that I have come across today that have given me something to think about, whilst at the same time given me an excuse to post this picture of me and my siblings (oh plus a random cousin) and my mum. I am the one in the green with the red visor…a trend setter even then. Its one of my favourite pictures despite the fact that we look like a traveller family, when in fact we are just on a horse and cart at Thorpe Park.

I digress.

The Mail on Sunday have run with a story today on how a US study on childhood obesity adds weight (excuse the pun) to UK researchers who warned four years ago youngsters from less affluent and educated households will find themselves caught in the obesity trap. The main points of this research focus on how the obesity rate has fallen in more well off children but continued to rise in their less privileged counterparts. It points to issues around education, access to recreational facilities and the ownership of a car.

UnknownThe second piece of research was sent directly to me this morning from Nuffield Health who have carried out research across the UK to investigate obesity perceptions and views. They have found that more than a third (39 per cent) of people in the UK – around 25 million – say they do not eat healthily because it is too expensive.   One in seven people (14 per cent) said they do not have time to prepare healthy food, and one in ten (10 per cent) said they do not know how to eat healthily.    

These figures provide a worrying snapshot of the UK’s views on obesity and healthy lifestyle choices and I agree with experts who say these findings are concerning, and show poor understanding about healthy living and an acceptance that obesity has become the norm in society. This may sound rich coming from someone who is herself in the “obese” category of the BMI scale, and who just now ate 3 chocolate digestives and a can of Diet Vimto…but I think it is important that we don’t just listen to these research reports in isolation from the peoples voices who are actually battling with the issue of being “Fat”…plus if I can’t be honest with you guys, who can I be honest with?

The figures back up research released this week by the National Obesity Forum which shows that current strategies (I suppose like Exercise on Referral and Change for Life campaigns) are failing to halt the rise in obesity, and a 2007 prediction that more than half of people in the UK will be obese by 2050 will in fact be exceeded.

Of the respondents in this research, a further 550 people who were measured as obese – with a Body Mass Index of more than 30* – were questioned about their views on weight management. This is a good start when trying to get to the bottom of the problem. When questioned about attitudes towards exercise, the figures showed:

•             40 per cent said they find exercise boring –  I reckon that means they are forcing themselves to do exercise which doesn’t suit their needs, and they should simply consider trying other types. Exercise does not mean going down the gym 3 times a week…one of the most challenging and physically exhausting thing I have ever done was rock climbing (when I weighed in excess of 17 stone too) and I loved it!!!

•             A quarter (25 per cent) do not have time to exercise – I don’t really have time to watch Eastenders either, but I somehow manage it. This in my opinion is a straight out excuse. Before I was a mum I held down a full-time job which saw me work many evenings and weekends, I was busy writing a novel and I was also training for a marathon. You have to set aside time and make exercise part of your daily routine, like brushing your teeth or going for a poo!!!

•             One in seven (14 per cent) would rather be overweight than have to exercise – This is the one that saddens me most as I know the general population would look at this and think “typical lazy fat f*****ers”, but to me this shouts out that at some point in their life they have had a real negative experience of exercise and do not have the support, confidence or information to get back involved in it again. This has to change.

While the majority of respondents (81 per cent) said obesity is the fault of the individual a sentiment that I whole heartedly support in the case of consenting adults, when questioned about contributing factors to the UK’s obesity epidemic, more than half (55 per cent) said the blame lies with the food industry. Where as I just think they (the food industry…including supermarkets) don’t help matters. The truth is you have to educate yourself about food and not be bamboozled into making bad choices. Its not easy. Especially if you are on a budget.

Dr Davina Deniszczyc, GP and Medical Director of Wellbeing at Nuffield Health, said:

“If you are struggling financially, a cut-price fast food offer might seem like the best value option, but it is disappointing to see so many people are falling for this myth.  There is clearly a huge amount of work to be done to persuade people that the cheapest food can actually be the healthiest food.

18So why the picture of my family? Well…we were what you might consider “Poor” growing up, coming from a working class family living in the East End of London. My mum in fact raised six of us on her own on a very low budget. So I know how difficult this can be. We ate ok I guess and I suppose it went through stages. I can remember eating healthy meals cooked from scratch, fresh salads in the summer and stews and curries in the winter, but I can also remember eating frozen foods like pies and chips, pizzas and the like. It did sometimes feel like it was feast or famine in our house though depending on how close to payday it was, and treats often appeared in the form of high sugar/fatty foods or trips to the chippy.


None of us were overweight though…not even me. My weight gain didn’t really occur until I was in charge of my own eating…in my teenage years when I started snacking, eating fast food and drinking alcohol. There is no two ways about it, I did pick up some bad eating habits from my childhood and perhaps we were not introduced to as many whole foods and exotic fruits and veg like more middle class families were, but part of that was the time that we were living in.

Also…I can remember very rarely having treats like Pizza Hut or McDonalds, mainly because it was quite expensive for 7 or us to eat out in those places so when I was earning my own money I would often sneak in this kind of food, simply because I could…as I felt I had been missing out. I now realise that I wasn’t missing ANYTHING!!!

The 80s were all about convenience foods…what with McDonalds and Burger Kings popping up all over the place and the introduction of the microwave to most household. There is a lot more information and support available these days so we really have no excuse, especially when it comes to feeding our kids.

I am much more educated about what constitutes a healthy balanced diet now, but that is because I have gone to the trouble of learning about it. Implementing this knowledge on a daily basis is more of a struggle for me…but at least I know where I am going wrong when I do overeat or chose the wrong foods. However, I think the argument that healthier foods are more expensive is rubbish…I think you just have to shop more carefully and think about what you are going to eat each week rather than just grabbing stuff out of convenience.

There is a weird concept that lots of overweigh people deploy when it comes to food and that is quantity over quality, why buy a bag of apples for £2 when I can get 8 packs of biscuits for that much. A Big Mac meal will set me back £4 (??) where else could I get dinner for that much? But the problem is that a Big Mac Meal with its thousand calories is likely not to be your only food for the evening, its likely to be topped up with biscuits, and crisps and fizzy drink, because everyone knows a McDonalds meal doesn’t fill you up for long.

When you are eating like that everyday and snacking in between too…you probably do spend more money more in the long run on food, you just haven’t done the maths properly.

Some of my “budget food” tricks include

  • Always having tinned and frozen fruit and veg at home. I do also buy fresh each week, but having a back up means that I get my 5 a day even if I haven’t yet been shopping. Having frozen berries in the freezer is a great trick as they can be added to smoothies and desserts and bring down the cost and wastage significantly of their unfrozen relatives.
  • Take advantage of the 3 for £10 offers on meat and fish in supermarkets, but steering clear of the fattier cuts. I often take half of the meat out of one pack and freeze the rest, this way it goes further. If you have one of those voucher things of £4 when you spend £30 why not stock up, thats 9 packs of meat/fish for £26…thats like 36 meals, less than 0.70p per portion.
  • I have stopped buying BOGOFS, as if you check it these tend to be on unhealthy items, and even if it is on something like salad…chances are you won’t eat both lots of it anyway. The same goes for multipacks of things. If I want a chocolate bar I walk down the shop and buy one, if I have a pack of 12 kitkats in the house I will eat 11 out of the pack in 3/4 days.
  • Soup – I love soup. I make soup every week. It is cheap, versatile, tasty, filling….I could go on.
  • Beans – We add beans to everything. Normally of the tinned (but not baked) variety for convenience, if you can be bothered with the whole soaking process then they work out even cheaper.
  • Stock up on healthier foods – Things like rice, pasta, couscous, quinoa, lentils, spices I buy in bulk where possible. this encourages me to eat it more often so it doesn’t go to waste and is generally cheaper than buying the smaller packs. A large bag of chilli flakes might cost you £1.99 in the ethnic isle of Tesco, but for a small glass jar where the rest of the herbs and spices are could set you back as much as £2.70 how does that make sense??

There has been some interesting debate today on my twitter feed regarding this issue and over on my facebook community with a range of views on the subject, a mum Fiona illustrated how easy it is to feed your kids healthily on a budget. She says

I am a stay at home mum with two children and a very hungry husband, i have a budget for food of £50 a week, we have fruit salad every day after dinner, and a healthy dinner with at least 2 veg. We all have veg soup for lunch husband takes his in a flask to work, and porridge for breakfast. Anything left from the £50 goes to make a picnic for a day out on Sunday. Takes planning and organisation, but my kids don’t eat junk.

I think us FAT people really need to start being honest with ourselves

  1. Do we really want to be FAT?
  2. Are we REALLY willing to do something about it?
  3. Do we need some help?
  4. Do we have access to the information and support we need?

And most importantly…

When are we going to hold ourselves accountable for what goes into our mouths and how much physical activity we do. It is really frustrating listening to overweight people say, “I have tried everything, I just can’t lose the weight” I don’t buy that. I would have more respect for you if you were to be honest and say “I want to lose weight, but I don’t like restricting my diet and i’m not that keen on exercise either, so none of those programs really work for me…I will take my chances with being overweight”

Jackie Donkin, Nutritional Therapist at Nuffield Health, agrees with the need for honesty when she says;

”People who are trapped in the rut that is obesity need to take a step back and really think about the food they are eating.   As a nation, if we continue in this way we are heading for not only an obese population of children and adults, but a chronically ill population.  The key to success is not just dieting, it is long-term lifestyle changes that people need to adopt and which will only work if taken in small steps over a long period of time.

Eating more fruit and vegetables, cutting down on takeaways, or eating food in its natural state, rather than covered in rich sauces, will drastically reduce the amount of fat and sugar we eat.  Increasing day-to-day activity; walking up the stairs instead of taking the lift; walking those short distances instead of taking the car; going for a walk around the block in the evening, will all contribute to a healthier lifestyle, which once adopted will become much easier to maintain over time.

What do you think of this research? Is poverty and social class responsible or at least contributing to the obesity epidemic across the world?

  1. January 16, 2014

    I spent years trying, and failing abysmally, to lose weight. There were some medical reasons behind it (I had poly cystic ovaries and undiagnosed endometriosis – both now cured by a hysterectomy), but there was also the belief in the fairy tale of miracle diets, quick weight loss gimmicks etc. I knew about nutrition and exercise but I really wanted to believe there was another way. The more I tried to lose the bigger I got because every time a diet ended I put on more than I’d lost. I even managed to convince myself that it was out of my control. You would not believe the effort I put in to all the fads and get thin quick schemes.

    When I finally stopped all that and admitted that losing weight doesn’t happen fast and is about eating healthily (and less) and moving more over a long, long time the weight came off. It came off very slowly, agonisingly, and there has been the odd bit of backsliding and emotional eating when things went badly in my life but it is off and has stayed that way more or less. Exercise was the key but school put me off that big time. Finding a love of walking was the final piece of the puzzle. As you say it has to be something you love doing.

    Sorry for rambling but one final thing, I’ve found my local butcher has better quality meat than the supermarket. Surprisingly it is also cheaper, especially when you consider the lack of waste and it’s all locally produced.. 🙂

  2. January 15, 2014

    Obesity isn’t about eating habits or self-control – it’s as much an emotional and psychological disease as it is a physical one. People who suffer from depression and don’t have healthy ways to process their emotions turn to food again and again. My doctor was the head of a weight loss clinic managed by Ohio State University – and she said her first question to obese patients is, “Who abused you.” As many as 25% of girls are abused sexually by the time they are 18 years old. Food is a natural protective device to stuff down uncomfortable emotions and extra weight is a means to protect women from an unsafe world. Obesity is about more than just access to healthy food. Consider our society and the struggles faced by the lower class – their lack or scarcity of resources can also manifest in the body’s natural instincts to hold onto excess weight. This is not about self control. And perhaps you should ask why you feel the need to withhold “respect” from an individual. Truly why is it that as a human race we can see the importance of respecting different cultures, different races, different sexual preferences – but when it comes to an overweight individual – we withdraw our respect. Do you judge someone who hits a bottle every night to get a buzz? Or a smoker? Does a person with emotional problems deserve less respect?

    • January 15, 2014

      My point was about respecting honesty. Many overweight people are in denial about their problems. And I agree for many this is an illness similar to drug, drink or smoking related. I stand by my point, if you want help and support you need to be honest with yourself.

  3. January 14, 2014

    Those statistics are very sad, and I completely agree that a lot of people haven’t found “their” exercise if they find it boring. Similarly, I grew up in quite a poor household and my mum didn’t cook from scratch very often. We made the best of what we had and neither my sister nor I were overweight until we started fending for ourselves and false economising.

    I will freely admit, an issue for my is time. There just aren’t enough hours in the day for me to achieve everything I want to, but being organised is key. Batch cooking is so helpful along with using the slow cooker for any tough cuts of meat for stews and casseroles.

  4. January 14, 2014

    I have to say, I popped in to the shop on the way to work to get myself some healthy food for work for 2 0r 3 days. It cost £12.00. Salad, fruit, tuna, caffeine free tea, plain yogurt and some berries. A packet of sausage rolls and a 12 pack of crisps would have been £3.50. There must be something wrong somewhere. What about VAT for any food with added sugar?

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