Disclaimer: Articles on this website are written from the perspectives of various Localists, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Local Matters. Our contributors come from a wide array of varying political backgrounds, and we believe that cooperation across the political spectrum is essential.

Obesity has been growing in prevalence for years, we all know this by now. We are regularly fed headlines and articles just like this one, but there is a reason for that.

The University of Glasgow published a study last month that showed obesity-related deaths overtook tobacco-related deaths in Scotland and England between 2003-2017 [1]. Yes, you read that correctly; over the last couple of decades, obesity-related deaths overtook tobacco-related deaths.

This change cannot be overstated, neither can the growing problem of obesity be overlooked. This study will serve as the diving point for the purpose of this article; a serious starting point to propel me and you into understanding how the obesity crisis is getting worse, and what we can do about it.

I used to be overweight for most of my life, and, in fact, I was obese for many years too. I experienced shortness of breath from walking or climbing stairs and was likely pushing my body towards developing diabetes. Not long after I began to make the necessary changes to my lifestyle and began to lose weight, my father developed Type 2 diabetes due to his diet. It is highly likely that he will have to deal with diabetes for the rest of his life. His development of diabetes due to his weight and diet is not an isolated case and neither was my inverse development away from it. However, the problem is that the former instance is far more prevalent than the latter.

A recent government study shows that 28% of the UK is obese, whilst 36% are overweight [2]. Admittedly, we cannot completely trust these numbers, especially the 36% for the overweight category. The Body Mass Index (BMI) calculation is usually used to determine someone’s weight category, however it does not differentiate fat and muscle – thus, if you are an individual with additional muscle mass, you can skew the calculator to a misleading reading. Nevertheless, I would argue it is safe to say at least half of adults are obese or overweight – and one must understand that many people do not just stay in one category or the other. They regularly spill over into the obesity category. This is especially true for younger people, however, and is where most people develop the deadly duo of both a sedentary lifestyle and bad eating habits. 

For example, 11–18-year-olds consume the most sugar-sweetened drinks out of any other age group – a staggering average of 142g of sugar per-day [3] – and one must bear in mind that the recommended sugar intake is no more than 30g of sugar, with younger people recommended even less [4]. Furthermore, a staggering 3/4 of 45–74-year-olds are overweight or obese [5], and we know that, for a multitude of reasons, obesity is far more dangerous on this age group than any others [6]. Whilst the bodies of young and middle-aged adults can handle obesity better than their older counterparts, there are two major problems here.

Firstly, as we know, obesity causes a plethora of health problems. It places an incredible stress on your body, leading to a higher risk of developing cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, with obesity coming in second after smoking as the largest contributor to the development of cancer. However, it also has a detrimental impact on neurological diseases too, such as Alzheimer’s. The link between obesity and Alzheimer’s is only a recent scientific finding, and I would highly advise checking out the Alzheimer’s Research UK for more information on this connection [7].

Secondly, it must be stated that obesity is not merely a result of poor nutrition choices, but also poor lifestyle choices. We know that being a healthy weight is important and we know that drinking our body weight in alcohol or smoking a packet of cigarettes a day is also detrimental to our health. The common rectification of this is to follow a balanced diet and perform cardiovascular activities, but that is simply not being done by the majority of the population. For example, the British Nutrition Foundation found that only 14% of boys and 8% of girls aged 13-15 meet the recommended 60 minutes of moderately intense daily activity [8]. However, I believe there is another component here that is just as important as diet and cardio, and that is strength and hypertrophy training.

When the body has developed strong muscles and ligaments – how our bodies would and should be naturally – it will benefit you tenfold, especially the older and, naturally, frailer you become [9]. Developing your muscles can help to mitigate these joint and bone problems that are so prolific amongst the elderly. Not only that, but additional muscle mass – coupled with a reduced amount of body fat – especially works wonders for men’s health. It will significantly contribute to a higher, less-volatile testosterone level that can not only better regulate your mood and sex-drive, but it could even significantly prevent the onset of depression [10]. Yet, studies have shown that we lose upwards of 40% of our muscle mass between our 20s and 80s, especially picking up speed towards the latter half of that range [11]. It gets worse, however, because the importance of muscle mass to our health – especially the older we get – is far greater than I believe many people realise.

Thus, to rectify these health problems, I would recommend the following: A balanced, healthy diet that consists of high protein and low sugar, with healthy fats and complex carbs thrown in where necessary, especially pre-workout. In addition, it is imperative that, in order to create the healthiest body possible, you perform frequent cardiovascular, strength and hypertrophy training. I would also recommend intermittent fasting, because it not only can help with losing weight but also holds numerous other benefits, including Alzheimer’s prevention [12]. In addition, according to a new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, a sedentary, non-active lifestyle is associated with a higher risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes [13].

With this being said, I am not your doctor and you should consult them about developing a healthy lifestyle.  If you are unsure about your health, you can calculate your BMI with your doctor and, if necessary, have them check your blood pressure and take blood tests.

Whilst this advice is all well and good, there is simply not enough currently being done by the government to prevent rising cases of obesity, but I would go even further than this and argue there is not enough being done within social and cultural circles either.

It is easy to look at something broken and see how it came to be that way and why it is hazardous in its current condition. However, providing an alternative or a solution is not always that simple, which is why I have recruited the help of a fellow Localist to discuss what Local Matters would do to combat the obesity crisis.

The Localist Solution 

The NHS’ origins lie with the Tredegar Medical Aid Society, which provided affordable healthcare to some 20,000 locals in South Wales. Locals paid a penny per week in 1909, which equates to around £1.22 as of 2020. This service offered everything from GPs to surgery.  In the early 30s, the society provided healthcare to 95% of the local population. This is evidence that decentralised healthcare works, and it works so well in fact that the model was followed and, as usual, made bloated on a national scale.

The problem is that what we perceive to be as a national health service is in actuality a national sickness service that allows us to first get sick and then treats us, not the other way around. instead of waiting at the finish line for the injured stragglers to come limping through, a true national health service would be concerned with both direct treatment for unavoidable diseases and illnesses and preventative measures to combat any issues that could lead to avoidable diseases and illnesses.

At present, our NHS staff enjoy a 20% discount at KFC fast food outlets, meaning that they are actively encouraging a high sodium diet, the excessive intake of breast cancer causing sodium, obesity, high blood pressure, infertility, and other health complications. At over 400 calories, 900mg of sodium, and 25g of fatty acids, the excessive consumption of KFC burgers could become the reason for severe health complications and can increase the risk of hair loss, weakened eyesight, and abnormal blood flows in the body [14]. This is just one of thousands of easily available and affordable foods that has a detrimentally negative impact on our bodies yet is equally as readily and frequently consumed by the British public.

In 2016 the NHS was the victim of a 2600% price hike from Pfizer and Flynn the amount the NHS was charged for 100mg packs of the anti-epilepsy drugs rocketed from £2.83 to £67.50 – raising the annual cost from about £2m annually in 2012 to £50m the following year [15]. Large pharmaceutical companies’ prey on a larger, more bureaucratic-prone NHS, and these attacks leave our NHS hemorrhaging money as we protect those most vulnerable. However, if we could somehow relieve this pressure on the NHS with preventative healthcare education and local health services, we can collectively help them to save lives more effectively.

The people’s lack of knowledge regarding such matters of health enables advertisers to sell people devitalised and chemicalised items that call themselves food. However, it’s not just advertisers, but supermarkets too that have essentially become institutionalised attacks on people’s health.

At Local Matters, we encourage a return to seasonal, locally produced foods, but more than this we encourage you to get active: Start a discourse between our education system and our doctors; write a letter with this information to your local GP and to your local schools encouraging doctors and nurses to give talks in schools on a regular basis, stop large pharmaceutical companies praying on our NHS. These are all steps that can make our NHS preventative again.

However, individual or grassroots resistance simply is not enough for corporations who are large enough to ignore popular mandates. It must begin with education, education that will push the community trend away from their fake foods towards healthier whole foods. A locally run health-service would be more aware of the relationship between the supermarket and poor health and would encourage locally sourced and chemical-free foods.

Firstly, a standout issue is the cost of using large pharmaceutical companies to supply the NHS. By revitalising and bringing back local health services and cottage hospitals, we would be freer to break out of the large pharmaceutical companies control by employing local labour, locally produced medicines, and even employing local services such as herb gardens. Not only would this create more jobs for local communities, but it would allow us to escape the large bureaucratic costs of national healthcare.

Additionally, there are a couple different ways we could defend against the attack on the nations’ health. These include but are not limited to:        

  • Community assemblies and a greater focus on localised, direct democracy would give communities the necessary power to reject business practices that are harmful or predatory to individuals.
  • A democratic, locally run health authority would be a frontrunner in promoting the ways in which good health can be obtained.
  • Raising awareness and campaigning within UNISON and other unions associated with the NHS.
  • More funding for the NHS to reach out to communities to educate people on the benefits of good health.
  • The reinstatement of our cottage hospital system to support the NHS, in conjunction with local herb gardens and other local healthcare alternatives.

Westminster has pursued the idea of giant hospitals for too long and, during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulted in the writing off of £13.4 billion in debt [16] but we must look back to our cottage hospitals to help against this over-centralisation. At present people must travel long distances for healthcare – including the staff – which means additional CO2 emissions, more accidents, and most importantly, a delay to treatments.

We incorrectly focused treatment of COVID-19 to a centralised plan, using enormous hospitals like an epicentre for the virus to fortify. A radical reassessment of what a health service really is must take place. The future must be decentralised and localised if we are to bring about meaningful change.

In 1997 administrative costs stood at £2,150 million and by 2001 had reached £2,625 million whilst overall per capita costs had risen in 2001 from £951.36 to £1,200.57 in 2003, yet it doesn’t seem that this increase has garnered much in the way of noticeable change. Our National Sickness Service must stop pursuing a policy of several, concentrated hospitals and instead focus on a dispersed, localised system.

We must create our own assemblies with our own health authorities to create a mandate for change and request that our local NHS tackle the issue of obesity with preventative methods in the form of campaigns, advertising, education of both adults and children, strikes, union action, and political lobbying.

The United Kingdom currently has more hospital administrators than beds, but this shocking fact can change if we allow local healthcare to regain its power and localist values to reach the forefront of local and national politics.

[1] https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-021-10167-3

[2] https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN03336/SN03336.pdf. pp.3

[3]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/943114/NDNS_UK_Y9-11_report.pdf pp.14

[4] https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-does-sugar-in-our-diet-affect-our-health/

[5] https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN03336/SN03336.pdf pp.3

[6] https://www.gmjournal.co.uk/media/21754/gm2aprilp27.pdf

[7] https://www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/uk-health-records-point-to-midlife-obesity-link-to-dementia-risk/

[8] https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/life/teenagers.html?showall=1

[9] https://www.jns-journal.com/article/0022-510X(88)90132-3/pdf

[10] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/2712976

[11] https://academic.oup.com/ageing/article/46/4/588/3065034

[12] https://www.endalznow.org/news/research-shows-intermittent-fasting-may-prevent-alzheimers-disease

[13] https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2021/04/07/bjsports-2021-104080

[14] https://www.bmj.com/content/364/bmj.k5420 

[15] https://news.sky.com/story/drug-firms-fined-over-2600-nhs-price-hike-for-epilepsy-treatment-10686291

[16] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/nhs-to-benefit-from-13-4-billion-debt-write-off