Sunday, 25 January 2009

Health inequalities and obesity

I have just been reading this article in the Guardian:
A more effective way of combating child obesity

The article claims that "health inequalities are inextricably tied up with obesity in children". The "evidence" is the WHO report, I suppose, which tells us that a boy born in Calton in Glasgow has a life expectancy of just 53.

I'm not sure where the connection to obesity comes in there. Are they suggesting that the men of Calton tend to die of obesity? Of obesity-related illness? We're not given the causes of death. We're not even told how obese the men of Calton are in comparism to men from other areas.

I keep mentioning the men of Calton, because the Calton life expectancy figures have been much reported, but only for the men. Apparently the life expectancy for women is 20 years higher, at 73. Surely that discrepancy is worth looking into, along with the causes of death, rather than just assuming it's the result of a diet of deep fried pizza?

I'm not denying that poverty seems to be linked to health outcomes. But I'm questioning the automatic assumption that the cause of death in poorer areas is obesity.

The article goes on to say that "a quarter of children and the majority of the adult population will be obese by 2050".

"It is not simply a question of getting children, and their parents, to eat less. Compared to the late 1970s, seven- to 12-year-olds are consuming fewer calories, not more. It's about getting them to be more active."

So the increase in obesity is not caused by extra calorie intake. (And a commenter helpfully points out that it doesn't seem to be caused by lack of exercise either, because exercise doesn't prevent childhood obesity).

But as the article points out, government interventions don't make much difference to obesity either. Despite that, the aim seems to be to keep increasing government intervention, at increasing expense.

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