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Solving the obesity crisis - To shock or not to shock?

Posted in General Health 11 Mar, 2015

We live in an age of perpetual warnings about the long-term health complications of obesity. However, for all the public money spent on endless awareness campaigns, no real change has been achieved.

Recent studies show that almost 62% of adults in the UK are overweight or obese, with that figure expected to rise dramatically over the coming years. What is truly worrying is the rise of obesity in children, with almost 10% of 4-5 year olds arriving at nursery school clinically obese.

To combat the threat of fat, the NHS has just announced a new tool that calculates your 'heart age' and will tell you how long you have left before the bad habits displayed in your lifestyle finally catch up with you.

Users are taken through a range of personal and lifestyle questions, which then provides a comparison between a person's real age and their 'heart age'. In essence, this gives people a date at which they will begin to display serious heart problems if they continue with the current lifestyle that they have.

So, the NHS has decided that subtle advice and information is no longer sufficient to put the brakes on the obesity crisis, and that what is actually needed is the shock factor. You can see the logic in this approach. Obesity has been rising unchecked for many years, and no amount of public health warnings about the risk of excessive weight has managed to bring it control.

We have seen this approach work in other areas. The targeted campaign to shock smokers into quitting the habit for good is a key factor behind the declining numbers of smokers in the UK, with this number projected to continue falling year on year.

However, some experts have raised concerns on what they describe as a 'crude tool' that warns people that they will suffer from early heart attack or stroke when this may actually never happen. In fact, some research has stated that the risk of early heart attacks and strokes caused by excessive weight or obesity has been overestimated. These studies have been used to criticise the NHS approach of shocking people into action rather than continue providing fact-based advice.

However, as the soft approach displayed by public health bodies in the UK has done little to slow down the obesity crisis, maybe a more direct approach is needed. You can find out your 'heart age' by clicking here.

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