St Stephen's Hall

An Empty Political Approach to Obesity

It’s hard to watch. The UK is coming to grips with the notion that the country faces a growing problem with obesity. And so, policymakers are trotting out some unfortunate ideas for dealing with it. But somehow, Health Secretary Matt Hancock managed to pack up the worst of it into a tidy package. He’s urging people to choose a healthier lifestyle. Take responsibility for your own health. It sounds great, but means nothing. It’s an empty political approach to obesity that’s been failing us in the U.S. for years.

Choosing Less Adiposity?

If there’s any good news here it’s that the emptiness of this strategy was apparent to all. Public health professor Simon Capewell likes the emphasis on prevention. But he told the Guardian:

We must recognise the huge power of our lived environment, and avoid naively just focusing on “personal responsibility” and “individual choices.” People do not “choose” obesity or diabetes or cancer.

Obesity researcher Clare Llewellyn was even more direct:

No, Matt Hancock. You, as a government, need to take more responsibility for sorting out the environment. Research overwhelmingly points towards need for major environmental change for health improvement. Simplistic, individualistic views of behaviour is unhelpful.

Of course, they’re right. We might debate about the proper balance between access to obesity care and effective prevention strategies. In truth, we need both.

But the fact is that the personal responsibility trope is a recipe for failure. Just look at the results it’s delivered in the U.S. People have heard  the message they should “eat healthy” and move more. But obesity rates keep going up.

When Secretary Hancock tells the public to take responsibility for their own health, he’s shirking his.

Click here for more from the Guardian and here for a reality check from BBC on the effectiveness of UK prevention efforts.

St Stephen’s Hall, photograph © UK Parliament / flickr

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November 6, 2018

One Response to “An Empty Political Approach to Obesity”

  1. November 06, 2018 at 8:02 am, Allen Browne said:

    Excellent post on an appropriate day.

    Now, let the thinking begin,