Posted by: The Probe 20th September 2020
In July, the government launched another bid to tackle the obesity problem; this wasn’t the first government-backed plan to help people lose weight and it won’t be the last. Over the last decade, across the UK, rates of obesity have been on the rise – data now classes two-thirds of adults in England as overweight and one quarter as obese, with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland having “nearly identical” levels.[i] This compares poorly with most other countries in Europe and it’s not just the grown-ups; a strategy to reduce levels of childhood obesity was set out in 2016.[ii]
Of course, the reason that obesity is back in the spotlight is due to the evidence that links being overweight with serious complications, or death, from COVID-19.[iii] The UK’s weight problem has repeatedly been called a timebomb, and a threat to public health by practitioners from all disciplines. This latest drive, in the middle of a pandemic that has touched all our lives, now has a greater sense of urgency.
It’s a complex issue that is linked with social deprivation. Children and adults from deprived backgrounds are more likely to be overweight and in poorer areas there are more hospital admissions related to obesity.[iv] But wherever you live in the UK, you will see how our relationship with food has changed. Snacking, rather than stopping for three meals a day, is ingrained in modern food culture. All of us can relate to quickly grabbing something delicious and made from pastry in a break, rather than sitting down to a more balanced lunch. Time is a precious commodity when it comes to exercise too and good intentions to walk to work are scuppered if we’re running late and forced to take the car instead.
The government’s latest drive, named Better Health, isn’t just about educating people to make informed choices by displaying calorie counts on menus. It also wants to end ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ deals on unhealthy foods and ban TV/online ads for the same, before 9pm (presumably so they’re out of sight, out of mind for younger viewers). But how will this work, with the season for eating, drinking and making merry on the horizon? We’re all crossing everything for a peaceful festive period – a happy Christmas is the least 2020 owes us – while acknowledging that preparations for a worst-case winter scenario have been underway since the summer. Prevention and mitigation are essential to the challenges ahead and Better Health is a key component of the government’s forward planning.[v]
Previous attempts tell us that there are always problems with implementing a plan like Better Health. This goes back to the complexity of the obesity issue. Low-cost supermarkets are full of fresh fruit, veg, fish and lean meat but you can also pick up high-fat, high-sugar options, plus fizzy drinks and alcohol very cheaply too. You can’t turn a corner in most towns without encountering a fast-food outlet – for one of the biggest chains, its TV campaign to announce its restaurants were reopening featured relieved customers tucking in. Will the lack of pre-watershed advertising really put anyone off?
It’s a careful line to tread. For dental practitioners, we know the ongoing controversy around the Sugar Tax, including whether or not it has actually changed behaviours. Will your patients who need to lose weight respond positively if they feel that they are being lectured at, yet again? Doubtful. Will they respond if they are given pragmatic, sensible advice which, if they act on it, will help them feel better about themselves? Hopefully, yes. Staying in good health can reduce the risk of developing many serious, life-limiting diseases and everyone has long known this. Coronavirus could be the trigger for patients to now want to lose weight (the Prime Minister said it was for him), but for new habits to stick, they have to be achievable. For example, a healthy eating plan can often mean eating more, which is a message that you might feel is easier to deliver. If they never eat breakfast, challenge them to a week of eating something quick, yet nutritious in the morning, like peanut butter on wholemeal toast. It’ll fill them up and prevent mid-morning snacking. Small changes, big impact. Ask them to move a bit more, have a few less “treats” (or swap treats for a non-edible one, like a long bath) and to enjoy taking good care of themselves. This includes effective daily tooth brushing with quality tools, such as the TANDEX range – the feeling of a really clean mouth can be a revelation.
This has been a tough year, and self-care and kindness will be essential to get us through the next chapter, whatever it may be. Being in better health is the best preventive strategy there is. Support your patients to make whatever changes they need to, so they really want to improve their quality of life.
Author Kimberley Lloyd- Rees on behalf of Tandex
Kimberley graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2010, where she now works as a clinical tutor in Dental Hygiene and Therapy as well as working in practice. She has spent her career working across a variety of specialist private and mixed dental practices, for the MOD and volunteering her time to a dental charity in Nepal.
[ii] Childhood obesity: a plan for action. Gov.uk, published 18 August 2016. Link: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/childhood-obesity-a-plan-for-action (accessed July 2020).
[iii] New obesity strategy unveiled as country urged to lose weight to beat coronavirus (COVID-19) and protect the NHS. Press release from Gov.uk, published 27 July 2020. Link: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-obesity-strategy-unveiled-as-country-urged-to-lose-weight-to-beat-coronavirus-covid-19-and-protect-the-nhs (accessed July 2020)
[iv] BBC, 25 July 2020.
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