The number of people in the UK who are either overweight or obese is rising. More of us than ever as classed as overweight and the number is expected to keep rising into the coming decades. So why has there been this surge over the past few decades, and what are the reasons behind our unhealthy lifestyles?
Let’s look at several things that have grown over time and could explain why more of us are putting on unwanted body fat.
1. The rise of takeaways
Takeaways have been popping up everywhere over the last few decades. Let’s face it, they are tasty, cheap, full of variety and are extremely convenient. However they promote an unhealthy diet as they are full of bad fats and high calorie.
In 2015 there were 36,855 takeaway restaurants in the UK, up from 29,330 in 2010. They are projected to keep growing, especially in more economically deprived areas where residents are likely to consume unhealthy diets. It is also expected that the sector will hit £11.2 billion by 2021, up from £9.4 billion in 2017.
In recent years, the rise of app such as Just Eat, hungryhouse and Deliveroo all make ordering takeaways that much easier – you can have food delivered to your door without having to leave your house. This further promotes an unhealthier lifestyle with less movement and eating more calories. The result – you’re going to get fatter!
I’m just going to put it out there. Sugar can cause addition. It can cause side effects similar to those of drug abuse – bingeing, withdrawal and craving symptoms. It is a something that we crave and yet has no nutritional benefits to us. Companies put it in almost all of their foods either for taste or preservation.
As neuroscientist Jordan Gaines Lewis explains:
“Repeated access to sugar over time leads to prolonged dopamine signalling, greater excitation of the brain's reward pathways and a need for even more sugar to activate all of the midbrain dopamine receptors like before.”
In other words, the more sugar we eat, the more of it we crave, yet it is high in empty calories and can lead to many different health issues.
3. Slick marketing
When we think of sugars and marketing, there's one company that rises above all others: Coca Cola.
Over the years their marketing campaigns have made them one of the most well known companies in the world. Their marketing promotes values of happiness, friendship and well being. But what exactly are they selling? In a nutshell - Bottles of sugar.
One of their most memorable campaigns has been during their Christmas adverts. Santa drinking a bottle of coke, and of course there is the hype surrounding their coca cola lorry which makes an appearance every year. This entices both adults and kids to buy their products, which are fattening, highly calorific and full of that addictive substance - sugar. Examples of their other successful campaigns can be found here.
Other brands such as Ferrero and Cadbury have also created successful campaigns aimed at adults and children alike. For instance, Cadbury’s “Free the joy” campaign uses James Corden to reach a worldwide audience.
This is another example of a company that is using notions such as joy and happiness to appeal to their audiences, whilst selling products that are in no way beneficial to us and add to the confectionery market addiction. Their products may provide you with short stints of feeling good (due to the dopamine like effect on the brain), but cause sugar spikes and then crashes soon after, leaving you unfulfilled and wanting to have more.
Unfortunately it is these companies with forward thinking marketing strategies that are helping to create more obesity and health risks for all of us who indulge in these so called treats.
Alcohol is another form of empty calories. Those drinks you have during the weekend all add up to more calories. Alcohol is a toxic substance that puts additional stress on your liver and has many mental and health risks from sleep deprivation to heart disease.
According alcoholconcern.org our drinking habits cost the NHS £3.5 billion each year. Generally we consume alcohol with mixers such as Coke or Lemonade, or in the form of sugar filled cocktails. So we're massively increasing the amount of toxic substances going into our bodies.
Often these extra calories appear in the form of beer bellies, putting more stress on our internal organs and leading to further health risks. Just limiting yourself to a couple of drinks a week, or better yet cutting it out completely will lead to fewer alcohol related illnesses and better weight control.
In a 2016 study across 170 countries it was found that sugar availability and meat availability both play a 50% role in obesity. This is because when meat and carbohydrates are eaten together, it can take up to 13 hours for the food to digest. We already get enough energy from fats and carbohydrates in our diets, so this just adds to the fat stores.
In addition, there are several reasons why you should completely stop eating red meat. There are a number of health risks associated with eating red meat, and the World Health Organisation also recently labelled red and processed meats as carcinogenic.
Meat consumption per person in the UK is almost double the world average. 84kg per capita in the UK compared to the world average at 48kg per capita. And most of the excess protein that we eat becomes stored as fat, which is contributing to the increasing obesity.
The rise of capitalism since World War 2 has paved the way for the desk jobs, which require very little to no movement. In 1960s USA jobs requiring moderate physical activity covered 50% of the labour market. However this has since changed, and at least 80% of jobs are sedentary or require light activity at most.
What this means is that we all move less during the day and therefore burn less energy. We are much less active now than we ever have been in our history.
Due to the modern labour market, many of us end up sitting at our desks all day. We're told that in order to progress and get pay rises we need to put in the extra work, be committed and put in extra hours. These types of attitudes cause stress, which can lead to bad behaviours and more serious conditions.
Computing and machinery may have made our lives easier but they have also taken away much of the daily movement we require to maintain an active lifestyle.
No one really loves doing household chores but it is a good way to get that extra movement into your day. Activities such as cleaning dishes, washing clothing and hoovering all burn calories and promote healthy living.
From the 1950s washing machines started becoming common in households. The 1970s saw a boom in dishwashers. And just after the turn of the millennium we saw robot vacuum cleaners introduced into the market.
Together all these inventions have taken over household chores promoting lazy lifestyles, especially in Western countries. Being active around the house can you lose weight, but unfortunately we've started becoming accustomed to being less active at home.
What you can do about it
Now that you are aware of some of the causes of weight gain and obesity, you can take steps to reduce or avoid them entirely.
Because we are getting busier in our daily lives, time saving is something that most of us try to do as much as we can – it’s certainly something I am guilty of. You may have long working hours, do early or late shifts, have busy social lives and families to look after. One very easy way to save time is when you travel. You may drive to work, take the bus, train, or a combination. If the commute is not too far, why don’t you try walking instead? If your walk to the station is under 20 minutes, you may only be saving yourself several minutes by taking the bus. Replace the bus by leaving slightly earlier and walking instead, and do the same thing on your return. That could add an extra 30 minutes of walking to your day.
If, like many, you have a habit of regularly ordering takeaways, try cutting down. You don’t have to completely cut out straight away, but even reducing your weekly takeaways from 3 times to twice, and then eventually once a week could help you see benefits. Not to mention your wallet will thank you!
Sugar is a slightly trickier one – take a look at the foods you buy in a supermarket and you’ll be shocked and just how much there is, especially in pre prepared foods. Now you don’t need to cut sugars out completely (at least not natural sugars) and you don’t need to start avoiding carbs. Instead do your best to cut out processed foods as this will help to get rid of processed sugars from your diet.
If you have a habit (like I used to) of snacking on biscuits, chocolates or crisps try replacing that with a small amount of dark chocolate (at least 70%). You’ll be able to satisfy your chocolate cravings, and dark chocolate can make you feel full so you’re less likely to binge. You can find many dark chocolate bars that use a natural sweetener such as Stevia, so you’ll still have a sweet taste.
Do you like going out for drinks on the weekends? Try reducing the amount you drink on a night out, or limiting yourself to just a couple of drinks over the course of the week. Even replacing some of your drinks with water has huge benefits – reducing the risk of a hangover and making you drink less.
Jobs is another issue, and unfortunately not one most of us can take into our own hands. So if your job is making you inactive, what can you do about it? Well for a start do your best to be more active elsewhere during the day. Walk instead of taking transport. If you bring a packed lunch go for a walk during your lunch break. After work be more active around the house. Do the dishes, hoovering and dusting regularly. It will give you fulfilment instead of machines doing the work for you, make your home more comfortable and healthy, and it’s a great way to burn more calories.
And instead of watching TV shows and movies, use that time to get out of the house and be more active. Walk around, go for a run, or go to the gym. It’s easy to become lazy after work, so go in the morning if that suits you. Or don’t give yourself a chance to rest – go straight to the gym from work or go as soon as you can before you get too relaxed!
So there you have it, some reasons why we in the Western world are getting fatter, and how you can change your mind set to become more active and burn off those extra calories throughout the day.