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Michael TorchiaOperation Fitness
Michael Torchia

Americans are losing the war on obesity

Politicians need to rethink their so-called 'War On Obesity', there is little evidence that harsh policies designed to increase exercise and improve diet actually work. Rather than "heckling, blaming and shaming" fat people, governments should focus on improving the general wellbeing of children and the population at large. Politicians need to pause before introducing more extreme measures designed to cut down on obesity, particularly for children. Wider social measures, such as ensuring easy access to recreational spaces and making people feel safer about their local area, are more likely to improve American peoples’ health than further crackdowns.

There is an "anti-anti-obesity" backlash, as the public grows tired of ever more intrusive policies. Currently we are seeing a proliferation of unfortunate school-based anti-obesity policies throughout America. These include fitness testing, lunch box inspections by teachers, mandatory weighing of students, banning of particular kinds of food at school celebrations and remedial physical activity for students who do not meet prescribed fitness or weight standards. It certainly does appear to be an empirical case for delivering high-quality health, nutrition and physical activity programs in schools. However, no such case exists for such punitive and mean-spirited, reactions that simply serve to take some of the pleasure out of life.

The main concern is that the intensity of talk about childhood obesity and the zeal of some physical activity advocates mean that many children will experience physical activity as, at best, medicine and, at worst, punishment. There is growing evidence in developed countries that the focus on obesity has sidelined good-quality PE lessons, with teachers instead putting children through overly strenuous 'huff and puff' fitness classes. The number of obese children in the United States is running at double the average, according to studies performed at Universities across the country, with more than a third of 12-year-olds deemed overweight. Drastic measures are therefore necessary and we can't get away from the fact that we are likely to see the first cut in life expectancy for 200 years as a result of the growth in obese children.

A holistic approach is more realistic and sensible for combating the epidemic of obesity. The best way of tackling this is to measure children from birth onwards so that you can pick up deviations from the normal and then take remedial action. Amongst evidence of increasing prevalence of obesity, a proliferation of policies aimed at tackling obesity has not achieved the expected desired outcomes. We need to promote more physical activity and insist that all pupils get two hours of PE a week. We must make combating obesity, particularly early in life, a high priority. Many factors contribute to obesity, including diet, exercise, psychology, culture and environment, and we recognize they must all be taken into account in the prevention and treatment of this problem.

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