The focus on the drive to tackle obesity should be more about health, not weight, according to Dr Oli Williams.
Dr Oli Williams, a leading sociologist from the East Midlands, believes there should be an overhaul of current health campaigns, which he claims focus too heavily on weight loss and not enough on physical activity. Williams challenges some of the most fundamental assumptions about what it means to be overweight. He has been involved in in producing a comic that visualises his research into the stigma associated with bodyweight and which has been praised for its engaging communication skills.
The Weight of Expectation, illustrated by Jade Sarson, is based on the experiences of people who attended NHS-subsidised weight-loss groups in one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in England. Williams says, “I would argue that at the moment the most common ways that people think about and act upon obesity are inaccurate and unhelpful. I think people are obsessed with weight loss, and that’s a big part of the problem. We know that the BMI scale – which is what your GP uses to categorise you as obese or not – is a very crude health measure. We know that physical activity is a much better predictor of health. For instance, there is good evidence showing that people who are categorised as obese or overweight – but who are also physically active – can experience the same levels of health as active people who have a so-called ‘healthy’ BMI. The focus should be on health, not weight. We should be doing more to make the healthy choice the easy choice for all, by addressing the social factors that largely determine people’s health and behaviour.”
Obesity on the rise in England with 58% of women and 68% of men classed as overweight or obese in 2015, according to official statistics from NHS Digital. Government body Public Health England welcomed the tax on sugary drinks when it was announced in 2016 and Williams believes that taxes which generate money should be invested in reducing the social inequalities that he says determine people’s health. “Most people know that eating well and doing exercise is good for them,” says Williams. “The problem isn’t a lack of knowledge; it’s a lack of capacity to act on that knowledge, and that’s largely socially determined. If you’re at the lower end of the socio-economic scale, your capacity to choose healthy options is limited or compromised. We need to approach the problem socially.”
Dr Oli Williams is a researcher for the The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) East Midlands and a research associate at the University of Leicester. CLAHRC East Midlands is a partnership of regional health services, universities and industry which turns research into cost-saving and high-quality care through cutting-edge innovation.
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