The British Food Environment of the 1950s

Systematic Failures in Dealing with Obesity

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. Henry Louis Mencken wrote this in 1920, well before the the health challenge of obesity flummoxed us. But he described our systematic failures with obesity almost perfectly.

Obesity is a problem of complex systems that conspire to harm our health. Simple, linear solutions – e.g., “let’s inspire everyone to lose weight” – are hopelessly naive.

Yet again, we see this failure playing out in a simplistic plan from Boris Johnson’s UK government to inspire the British people to lose weight. For a thorough understanding of the challenge, we commend the following thread to you from Professor Harry Rutter at the University of Bath.

The British Food Environment of the 1950s, photograph © Paul Townsend / flickr

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July 28, 2020

5 Responses to “Systematic Failures in Dealing with Obesity”

  1. July 28, 2020 at 8:21 am, Allen Browne said:

    I prefer a sanitary bombaliff myself.

  2. July 28, 2020 at 12:47 pm, Ted said:

    I like it! Thanks for helping me learn something new.

  3. July 28, 2020 at 1:46 pm, Angela Golden said:

    This is so disheartening. I had such high hopes that the UK would move the world forward in obesity treatment, not backwards.

  4. July 28, 2020 at 1:54 pm, Ted said:

    I wouldn’t call this a backward move exactly, but I agree that it’s disappointing.

  5. July 29, 2020 at 1:58 am, Chester Draws said:

    We face a huge and growing epidemic,

    Not really — it’s leveling off. (What very slight growth there is occurs because we are getting taller, and BMI exaggerates for the tall, and older.)

    What we are now being told is that it isn’t a lack of willpower, but in order to stop us eating so much we will be forced to change diets and other habits. To me that is a worse outcome — I don’t want to live in a society where what I eat, when I eat and where I eat is decided by the government.

    We know exactly what will happen. HFSS foods are banned from child watching hours. Since children don’t buy their own food, it will have no effect. The result won’t be to say “it had no effect, it was useless” but will be to double down. HFSS will be banned at all hours.

    Of course that won’t have any effect either — because advertising doesn’t change habits, it only changes brands bought. So the ratchet will be moved up another notch.

    Advertising bans are the worst possible policies. They don’t work and they are costly (as the TV channels who pushed them are finding to their horror). Bad policies are not “moving in the right direction” because they seem virtuous. They are just bad policies.