Rethinking how we tackle obesity

Tackle obesity

The radical writer and activist George Monbiot wrote recently about an ‘epistemic crisis’ – ‘epistemic’ means ‘relating to knowledge’. He quoted the journalist Gabriel Gatehouse lamenting the loss of a “common frame of reference” and a “shared sense of reality”. Monbiot’s argument was that we used to have a common frame of reference – but it was one built on lies not truth. He was making highly polemical and typically uncompromising points – the almost universal acceptance that economic growth can and should continue indefinitely on a finite planet, for example. Even if you think Monbiot carries his argument too far, his article was nevertheless a reminder that we need to be continually questioning and challenging even things that we take for granted. Our approach to long-term physical health and wellbeing is one such example. We need to rethink how we tackle obesity. We can’t just carry on as we are.

Yet more alarming statistics about obesity

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has just published its European Regional Obesity Report 2022. It says that:

  • obesity is at “epidemic proportions” in Europe
  • 59% of adults across Europe are overweight or obese
  • obesity is causing 200,000 cancer cases and 1.2 million deaths a year
  • no country is on track to meet the WHO’s target of halting the rise in obesity levels by 2025

This is the final part of a short series of blogs about obesity and physical health and wellbeing.

Our blog Helping children lead healthy lives cited shocking new figures released by the UK Office for National Statistics showing the massive gap in healthy life expectancy and in overall life expectancy between the wealthiest and the poorest areas of England. For example, someone born in a deprived part of the country may have almost 20 fewer years of healthy life than someone born in the wealthiest part.

Our blog Ensuring children lead active lives highlighted the finding of the latest Active Lives survey from Sport England that more than 12 million adults are currently classed as inactive and their comment that the overall activity figures “hide stark inequalities”.

Life-Based Learning and rethinking how we tackle obesity

These blogs were about adults, of course, but one of the foundations of Life-Based Learning is that we need to be thinking and planning long-term. LBL is an approach to education and development for children and young people in which the life challenges that we all face – now and in the future – become the focus of a fully rounded, life-based approach to learning.

The LBL approach aims to reorganise children’s learning and development around these immense challenges. One way of doing this is through an integrated approach to the curriculum in schools – at least for children up to the age of 11. This involves moving away from the rigid compartmentalisation of learning into individual subjects, with the ensuing risk that much of importance is lost in the interstices between one subject and the next. Instead, LBL reframes the curriculum around nine learning themes. Subject content is respected – all of it – but it is delivered through nine life themes that directly address the challenges we face.

Tackling obesity – and promoting children’s physical health and wellbeing more generally – is one such challenge. As the various statistics highlighted above demonstrate, we cannot continue as we are. Something more ambitious and radical is required. We need to rethink. We need to change our common frame of reference. We need to be proactive and long-term rather than reactive and short-term. And we need to be much more inclusive.

One life area – or strand – of LBL is Self, which includes focusing on physical health and wellbeing. We need to ensure that children are encouraged to be active, that they understand the importance of participating in regular physical activity and that they have regular opportunities to do so.

It means tackling whatever obstacles, attitudes and biases are directly causing or contributing to a reduction in participation levels.

It means being prepared to invest properly in tackling obesity and in promoting children’s health and wellbeing more generally.

Swim England, for example, have warned of the widespread closure of swimming pools – already under threat – because of rising energy prices. We need our swimming pools to be open, cheap to use and easily accessible – for children and for adults.

Meanwhile, Play England published research recently showing that at least 21 adventure playgrounds have been lost across England – roughly 15% of the total – in the last five years. Many more have suffered severe cuts in funding. Adventure playgrounds are all about activity. They provide stimulating experiences for children and families above and beyond what is offered by traditional ‘static’ playgrounds, not least the chance to interact with nature, something widely recognised as being good for mental wellbeing. They help children learn to assess and manage risk. “Once again,” we blogged, “the short-term need to save money is trumping important long-term, child-focused priorities.”

Physical activity is an essential element of any weight-management programme, of course, but so is diet. We argue that food education and healthy eating — knowledge, knowhow and practice — must also be at the heart of any long-term strategy for improving children’s physical wellbeing.

The government’s recent levelling up white paper made several promises about food and healthy eating in schools. The idea of a “school cooking revolution” sounded exciting; food information posted on school websites and an aspiration for every school-leaver to be able to cook six recipes less so. An accompanying official statement from the education secretary did not even refer to food education. This is not changing our common frame of reference.

In blogs such as Ready Steady Cook! Empowering children to eat healthily we have argued that food education and healthy eating must also be at the heart of any long-term strategy for improving children’s physical wellbeing.

Read More About Physical Health

Image at the head of this article by RoboMichalec from Pixabay.

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