Friday, October 17, 2008

Weighty matters

I read in the paper this morning about a new Commonwealth Government intervention aimed at tackling obesity. I don’t watch TV so maybe its been around for a while. The program is called MeasureUp. Australia is the second fattest country in the world only beaten by the US. According to the website:

In 2005, 7.4 million Australian adults or 1 in 2 was overweight or obese2, and, irrespective of your height or build, if your waistline is getting bigger it could mean you are at increased risk of developing a chronic disease such as some cancers, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
MeasureUp encourages people to measure their waistline, not check there overall weight because it focuses on measuring what is called intra-abdominal fat that is particularly problematic in terms of many preventable lifestyle diseases. The website even has a cutout tape measure which you can print on an A4 page if you are feeling very crafty.

Obesity is such a simple thing to understand yet surprisingly it is one of the most difficult things to beat. To loose weight you just have to eat better (more fruit and vegies) and exercise more. The massive weight loss industry promotes personal motivation as the key to weight loss, however I’ve always believed that it is much more about structuring habits within daily life. If you work long hours, drive a lot, and are time poor, your opportunities for regular exercise radically diminish and you'll put on weight. Add personal stress with comfort eating and obesity will be knocking at the door. As a twenty-one year old, I bulked up to a massive 115kg before deciding on a path of drastic action. I joined a soccer team and started swimming at least 5km a week and totally cut out rich foods. I lost 35kg in a year and have never gone back although I can fluctuate at times. For the last few years, cycling has been my main way of incorporating exercise into my life. I love it because I don’t have to think about being physically active, its just part of how I get around.

One of the most fascinating dimensions of obesity is its relationship with transportation systems and cultures, yet few people are aware of this. Human beings have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years and for almost all of this time have been walking and physically active throughout their lives. It’s only been in the last 50 odd years that a large proportion of the population in some wealthy countries have spent their lives moving around in cars and behind PCs. Then we then wonder why there is an obesity epidemic. The relationship between levels of trasnport and obesity is so clear as this diagram points out:(Source: Pucher & Dijkstra, 2003 taken from Vote For Cycling)

The MeasureUp campaign may provoke a few people to take action, but is this really sustainable health promotion? As almost any cycling advocate will prostheletise, obesity can only be reduced by making broader cultural changes in ways most people get around and the urban forms and transport policies which make such movement viable. American's spend 35 billion dollars a year on diet products, yet they would appear to have very little to show for it.

1 comment:

Holger said...

Hi Adrian,

I'm a writer for a childrens' game-show on German public television. In one of our next shows we plan to report on the Penny Farthing Championships.

I found one of your videos on youtube and was wondering, if you could provide me with some footage of the race.

I would be very pleased if you could help me with my request. Please don't hesitate to e-mail me: fritsche.h@zdf.de.

Thank you very much and all the best.
Holger