Blog by Graham Oatridge, Health and Wellbeing Contracts Manager at YMCA England, for National Obesity Week.
Now we are entering the third week of the New Year I am sat wondering ‘how many New Year’s resolutions are still going strong?’. I also wonder how many people promised themselves that they would ‘drop a dress size’ or ‘lose the spare tyre’ in 2016. Quite a few, I imagine!
Well, I have a sobering thought I am afraid … the vast majority of people who enter into a diet fail. In total, 70% of females and 30% of males have tried dieting at some point and yet 60% of us are still overweight. Despite my B-grade maths, I know something does not add up!
So, what is the answer? Perhaps, firstly, we can consider a change of attitude. Let us ask ourselves why we want to lose weight. It is because being overweight is bad for us, right? Well, yes, but there may be far more pressing issues that are affecting our health than just weight. A study by Blair 2009 (1) showed that poor cardiorespiratory fitness (essentially ‘endurance’ to you and me) accounts for roughly five times more deaths than obesity.
So, if you are looking to lose weight for health reasons perhaps you are better off increasing your fitness than shedding the pounds. Essentially, this echoes an element of YMCA’s Be Real campaign called Real Health, that says:
“We want healthy living and general wellbeing to be prioritised over just appearance and weight. We’re calling for the healthcare sector and those in the diet, health and fitness industries to promote long-term healthy living and wellbeing ahead of short-term, quick fixes. We want individuals to celebrate feeling good and being healthy.”
YMCA is a founding partner of this campaign and is advocating healthy living and general wellbeing to be prioritised over just appearance and weight. What good is it to look healthy if, in fact, you are putting your appearance before good, overall health?
In case you think I am non-plussed about obesity then let me put the record straight: I am a firm believer in maintaining a healthy weight. Carrying extra weight places extra stress on our joints, extra demands on our cardiovascular system and promotes inflammation that, in turn, contributes towards some cancers. In fact, it makes me fairly angry that we read all about the need to reduce the weight of the population and the financial stress it puts on the NHS, but then seemingly do so little about it.
Well, in my view, we pass it from pillar to post until it eventually settles back, predominantly, with the sport and physical activity industry that deals with the problem via programmes that impact on individuals. If the Government is serious about tackling the obesity crisis then it needs to consider cross sector policies and actions that impact on families, communities and society as a whole, not simply individuals.
That means encouraging physical activity through urban design, taking a tougher stance with the food industry and asking employers to do more to promote healthy living. In fact, this formed the basis of YMCA’s response to the recent Department for Culture, Media and Sport consultation and Public Health England’s Everyone Active, Every Day framework. If you are waiting for one sector alone to have a significant impact on obesity levels in this country, then you’ll be waiting a long time.
YMCA is the largest provider of sport and physical activity in the voluntary sector. We help more than 600,000 people get active in our fitness facilities every year. We also deliver healthy eating programmes for children and adults and we will continue to advocate the importance of sport and physical activity in the battle to beat the bulge. Nationally, we are calling on the Government to:
- Commit to protect and enhance investment in community sport initiatives, which engage young people in physical activity, particularly in areas of high deprivation and where, traditionally, communities have been most hard to reach.
- Consider simplifying the Chief Medical Officer guidelines on physical activity. While these guidelines may often be communicated to the public by professionals, they should be aimed and understood by everyone.
- As deliverers of commissioned health and wellbeing projects, including interventions to reduce inactivity, YMCA feels there should be better understanding and training across health professionals of the importance of physical activity.
So, my message to those who are trying to lose weight this year is ‘go for it.’ But just remember that there is no point reducing your weight if you are jeopardising your health. Focus on a healthy lifestyle that includes daily activity and a sensible diet, and you’ll not go far wrong.