Huddersfield Daily Examiner
Why are we getting fatter as a nation and what can be done about it?
THE stresses and strains of modern life must bear some of the blame for the Western world’s obesity epidemic.
That’s the view of Dr Kiara Lewis, head of the division of health and wellbeing at Huddersfield University, who says: “The latest thinking is that it’s not enough to make individual lifestyle changes, we need to change the environment we live in.
There are so many cues to eat and options available; takeaways and fast food outlets. In the past we had to work hard for our food, today it’s easy to get and appetising. Calorie dense foods are satisfying. At the same time we are increasingly under a lot of pressure and stress; we eat to make us feel better about ourselves and we’re not thinking long-term.”
Kiara is a member of Everybody Active, A Kirklees organisation that has the aim of raising activity levels by 2020.
She says even children are vulnerable to stress-induced over-eating: “A lot of my research is with child obesity. If children are unhappy, stressed and worried then food can make them feel comforted. They have enormous pressures on them at school to reach targets and standards.
“Stress makes people want to eat, then they get fat and feel bad about it. It’s a vicious circle.
Schools could do more about tackling the whole welfare of the child, not just worrying about maths and English.”
Given that individuals don’t have the power to close down fast food outlets or change the way high-calorie foods are marketed and sold, what steps can those with weight worries take?
Kiara says there are a few simple, evidence -based measures: reduce portion sizes; set a target or goal; monitor what you eat; get feedback from a third party. But in order for these to work, an individual has to be motivated or ready to make changes.
Slimming clubs work on the principles of targetsetting, monitoring and feedback. But says Kiara: “There is evidence that this works in the short term, the problem is that what hasn’t changed is the environment around you. What we need is for the whole of society to change.”
Another difficulty for many slimmers is that their own body chemistry makes them more likely to over-eat. “Some people feel full up quickly, others don’t. There isn’t a fat gene per se but there are genes that make you want to eat. These people will find it more of a struggle,” she added.
And, while exercise can be hugely beneficial she accepts that for those already overweight it can also be uncomfortable: “Exercise can relieve stress but it’s not easy for some people to start. They think it’s going to be painful and horrible. We encourage inactive members of the community to get out walking and do small amounts of activity but get into a routine; to make a start. start.”