(Great) Obese Britain

Do you want extra fries with that?
Do you want extra fries with that?

I make a general effort to avoid the news. Since my illness last year I tend to find that there are so many potential triggers that affect me, it’s safer to avoid it.

And to be fair, receiving the news from the internet, papers etc is one journalist’s  spin on what they perceive the issue to be. Not that everything is biased intentionally, however by the time it reaches our homes, what we actually have is a collection of opinions, mostly of people we never see and definitely don’t know who they are or what their agenda is. As such, not consuming news in my mind, isn’t as bigger loss as it sounds.

Obese Britain

However, one theme that gets me fired up for what I feel are the right reasons is that of national health. Over many years we’ve made so many big strides in understanding what makes the human body work and how to fix many aspects which get in the way of this.

And that has been apparent from my life in the pensions industry when I first left education and joined the big bad world of work. It was a standard situation at the point of every triennial actuarial valuation of a pension scheme that the assumption was that people were living ever longer than we thought they would previously. Indeed it was one of the many drivers which priced the traditional final salary pension schemes above what companies were able to justify.

Yet with all of this good news, as a species we seem to be trying to kill ourselves off by other means.

Do you want extra fries with that?

Do you want extra fries with that?

Yesterday, in the Telegraph, they published an article highlighting a number of studies suggesting the rapid rise of obesity in the UK. Now whilst the article needs to be considered objectively in the light of the fact it is cherry-picking information from a whole host of studies to prove the point the journalist wants to make (and not necessarily what the unbiased views might be) it is painfully noticeable that this increase in obesity is true and happening.

There are many reasons why this has happened. For example over the last 30 years more family units have all adults working, the availability of fast food in many different forms has exploded, various health fads have had an impact and I think to an extent, it has become more socially accepted that people come in all shapes and sizes.

And whilst this latter point is good from an anti-discrimination point of view, I do worry that it’s made it seem more acceptable to be less weight conscious and health conscious. We live in a world where parents are too worried about the kids kicking a ball around a park that instead everyone plays virtual sport, sat down in front of a screen, snacking while they go. If a comment is made that someone has put on weight, it’s considered a slight of that person, even if it’s the doctor telling their patient that they need to do something otherwise they’ll face a list of health risks.

Again, according to the telegraph article, up to 50% of the NHS budget goes towards obesity-related issues. I’ve not seen the numbers and would anticipate there is a bit of manipulation of them to prove a point, however the take-home issue is clearly a large amount of money is being spent on obesity-related healthcare. i.e. something that, for most part, can be controlled by the patient themselves.

In many ways it has become acceptable to shrug off the personal responsibility of keeping yourself and your family fit and well. No right-minded parent would go out of their way to harm their family, yet it seems as a national we’re feeding ourselves to an early death, preceded by a host of unpleasant illnesses due to our lifestyle choices.

What's your poison?

What’s your poison?

I remember another programme on the TV a few years back where they interviewed people on nights out about binge-drinking and it was clear from those cases that were left in the final programme that there is a culture to drink alcohol for the purpose of getting drunk. These were people who stated they worked hard all week and that was their reward.  A reward of poisoning their liver (otherwise known as a hangover the following day) and a significant increase in the risk of several forms of cancer. Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that, but by that stage it’s too late to turn back the clock.

My own food & exercise journey

Now, you may look at the photos on here and point out that I’m a skinny person and it’s easy to say all of this.

10 years ago, that wasn’t the case. Although I never considered that I was grossly overweight, I was about 2 stone heavier than I should be (which as a % of someone small like me is a lot), my blood pressure was constantly high to the point where medication was suggested, and running the three-quarters of a mile to the train station if I was running late nearly finished me off.

Me in 2003

Me in 2003

Actually it was a rude awakening when I was told to lose weight and I felt the indignance that I suspect many people who’s weight is mentioned to feels. HOW DARE THEY SAY THAT? etc. But like the fact or not, the truth hurts and for me it was a spur to actually address my lifestyle.

I’d been living on a lot of processed meals and not thinking about what was in them. I was working long hours and it was simple to get one out of the freezer, shove into the oven, get changed, and eat it accompanied by a pint of beer.

Me in 2005

Me in 2005

In many ways looking back it is no surprise that my weight and my waistline both explored larger expanses but I didn’t see it at the time.

I hated gyms as I’d always been labelled as rubbish at sport at school and associated them with those who were good at sport. It’s true that when it comes to football, I’m no good, and it was never a surprised to be one of the last two to be picked for a team every week. But unfortunately that’s the way school PE worked in the 1980s (no idea what it’s like now) and it scarred me for years.

However I’d always enjoyed walking and when a friend talked me into training for the Manchester 10k in 2006 it acted as a focus for me. Ten years ago, there weren’t so many options open as there is now, but this worked for me. These days with apps on smartphones such as Couch to 5k, and the regular parkruns around the country there are many options.

It was hard work to begin with. Training your body to do something new is always going to take effort but for me the driving force was that after each time I felt exhausted and wondered how I would ever run 10k, the next time I went out and I did a bit better. Running it as a race was harder than I thought, but doing it with all that support made it worthwhile and actually quite good fun (in a way I couldn’t understand back then!!!).

My weight and waistline both shrank over this time. The exercise, which I had been doing very little of before was a great way of sweeping up the excess calories however cutting out the ready-meals had as much if not a bigger influence.

Me in 2016

Me in 2016

Barriers are there to be broken through

Now I do realise that some people are caught in the middle of wanting to get exercise but don’t want other people to see them. It’s a difficult one, but probably the best approach is to try to exercise and lose weight with a friend. Focus on each other and on what you’re doing and learn to forget about everyone else. Do not care what they think; Those who have a negative opinion probably can’t do what you’re learning to do.

And as for the gear, just wear something you feel comfortable in. I remember when I started training again in 2012 and went to my first parkrun. It was the first one after the New Year and as such was filled with the extra group of people who have just made a resolution to get fit. And they turn up in all the fancy gear. I remember some of them looking at my scruffy t-shirt and shorts as we started off as if they couldn’t believe I’d left the house like that. I felt obliged to cheer and wave them on as I’m walking back to the car park afterwards whilst they’ve still got almost a quarter of the course still to do! Good that they’re still getting around, but a reminder to all not to judge anyone by their appearance.

Is processed actually cheaper?

Whilst people seem to talk of the ‘cheaper’ processed food, I must say this confuses me. Yes it’s definitely a quick option, but I don’t think it’s cheaper at all. These days I prepare most things from ingredients. In part this is due to a food allergy which can be triggered off by some additives which I’ve discovered inside ready meals having eaten them as there was nothing to warn me on the packaging!

But primarily for me it works out cheaper. Yes, me preparing meals cheaper than buying ready meals. You see when I make a chilli or a curry, I’ll take the shelf based sauces and add extras to the mix and bulk out the meals. They’re tastier and more interesting and I can get perhaps 8 portions out of one cooking session, which can be frozen and dog out when I need a quick meal. So my home-made chilli portion will generally cost about 80p, which I think is good value.

Similarly, get a whole chicken to roast and I can get normally at least 4 meals off that before I stew up the carcass as a base for chicken and vegetable soup, often getting 10 portions out of it. So that’s 10 soups for the price of some veggies I’ve added to the mix. Let’s call it 20p per portion. Good value?

Ultimately I feel that by not taking this seriously it’s our own lives we ruin, and set our kids up for a future of health problems as well.

That was a longer rant than planned. Can you tell I feel strongly about this matter?

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