In the UK 60% of men and 40% of women are overweight. 20% are said to be obese, which means that their Body Mass Index (BMI) is between 20% and 100% above ideal. Young people are increasingly overweight and this has been referred to by the World Health Organisation as an ‘epidemic’. Eating more food than we need and inactivity both contribute to weight gain.
Media aimed at young people, especially young women, tend to focus on the effects of obesity on appearance, but the effects on health are more worrying as they can contribute to chronic diseases such as diabetes mellitus, stroke and hypertension (high blood pressure) which is a contributor to cardiovascular disease. Obesity also places additional strain on the joints and leads to greater wear and tear.
On the other hand, popular images of young people in the media emphasise the attractiveness of being very thin, with many models appearing to have a BMI below normal. This has been associated with increased evidence of low self esteem among otherwise healthy young people. Low self esteem is associated with a range of risks to health including eating disorders and self harm.
To what extent should we as a society use education or legislation to tackle the complex issues surrounding diet and health?
For example, should we tax high fat and sugar foods just as we do alcohol and tobacco? Should we have controls on the use of images of extremely thin models in advertising campaigns?
Should we actively protect the rights of individuals to do exactly as they like, even when we know their choices will have consequences for their long term health?
Should government support information campaigns and let people make their own informed decisions?