Updated: Feb 21, 2019
As made clear in a report published at the end of May in The Times, serious questions are now being asked over the NHS strategy for tackling obesity.
According to Professor Neena Modi, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, “There have been millions directed to trying to intervene once obesity is established, and yet they’ve all been failures, so we need tackle the causes.”
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has already called a “scandal” the fact that one in five British 11-year-olds are obese and has also suggested that tackling this situation will be a priority for the new government.
As such, the NHS is now launching a £5 million lifestyle intervention programme to encourage people to lose weight, though Professor Modi argues that focussing on those adults who are already obese is actually a waste of time and money. Instead she argues that funding should go towards understanding how children become obese adults.
As for myself, as a personal trainer working in a gym in central London, I have met over the past three to four years plenty of people asking for advice, personal training sessions, etc. I have never met any children asking for this service, due I imagine to the cost of a personal training session sa well as my gym’s policy with regard to children exercising on the premises. As a result, my clients are, generally speaking, adults aged between 30 to 60 (and indeed over).
I agree with Professor Needa Modi in what she is saying about obesity and the government’s strategy to tackle it. When you are a child, you are very much like a sponge; physically and mentally you are in a growing process. As such, you are predisposed to absorb a lot of knowledge at school, while your body is full of energy (and you need to use that energy).
I am personally a good example of how this works. My parents signed me up for a rugby club when i was six-years-old, where I trained until I was 29. From then on I continued my fitness training by running and attending a gym and in doing so, I found that I never had to face obesity problems during my childhood.
So yes, I would say that it is obvious that most of the funding used for tackling obesity should go towards children’s education.
Now, there are plenty of people coming to gyms’ that are demanding results. Most of the time, for them it is about losing weight and getting fitter. My five-years experience in this job however has taught me that getting results is not a straightforward process - or to put it another way, some people get results and some just don’t.
As such I believe you cannot simply say to people that they should have done better when they were younger. In that spirit, and alongside the article in The Times, I would like to share an interview published in September, 2014 in the Sciences et Avenir review (issue 811).
In this interview Dr Jean-Michel Lecerf (Head of the Nutrition Department at the Institut Pasteur of Lille) explains that there are two key principles to the study of nutrition; diversity and moderation.
Lecerf argues that we need to alternate ingredients from the same nutritional family (e.g. vegetables, fish etc.) and keep changing the way we cook them (whether by steaming, stewing, boiling, etc).
Of course, individuals still need to exercise regularly, according to Lecerf, though many of us are aware of that already.
Another point developed by Lecerf in his interview is that the feeling of pleasure in eating is a guarantee of a well balanced nutritional plan. Eating is a complex act, linked to our biological make up, but also dictated by our family and cultural habits.
Biological, emotional and psychological factors influence our relationship with food, so there is an instinctive element in staying in tune with our gut feelings with regard to how we eat (Consult Your Guts is tactually the title of a chapter in the Food rules bestseller in U.S. by author Michael Polland). Too much dieting, or any attempt to control our diet abusively (or as a surfeit of control) in the way we eat will thus diminish the satisfaction derived from eating itself, which is ultimately self-defeating.
Lecerf suggests it is important to give people frequencies in their food consumption (or put it this way, he suggests giving people a timetable or a schedule for their eating plan) and ends up by saying that we should also look to other factors in our lives to understand how we relate to food, such as economic, social and habitual behaviour.
What is clear, particularly from my experience, is that people are certainly confused by the published advice about how they should relate to food and eating.
Over the past 15 years we have seen the rise of a new sector in the fitness industry, which has grown up alongside a growing interest in sporting activity as a whole. On the one hand the fitness industry, which is dominated by big chains (LA Fitness, Virgin active etc.), can be seen to have developed into a sophisticated sector in its own right which sees its clients as customers, rather than as people with individual needs.
But, on the other hand, opportunities for sports and keeping fit also exist on a more general basis in the form of local sport clubs, associations and groups. These organisations operate without specific business targets, are usually run by passionate volunteers and operate alongside the work of the professional sector.
Of course there are also charitable gyms out there (Jubilee Hall, for example, is a charitable gym), but the competition for members is tough , particularly in the current economic climate. Plus, the big chains benefit from having access to larger budgets to promote and market themselves and to get their messages across via sophisticated advertising campaigns.
Against this background and taking into account the information that is being constantly made available about the relationship between diet and training, I would say that in over seven years as a personal trainer I have had the opportunity to meet hundreds of people asking for all kinds of lifestyle advice. My sense is that there is a general and continuing confusion in the minds of most people about what the fitness sector can do for them (and what they should really also do for themselves).
Today I am more passionate than ever to help my clients to both understand what they can do to improve their fitness and how personal trainers, such as myself, can support them in their quest to achieve greater fitness and body awareness. As such, I see my role more as that of a healthy lifestyle mediator to my clients in their long-term progress to a healthier lifestyle.
I also completely agree with Dr Lecerf when he says that we need to understand the needs and motivations of people in more depth; their background, social circumstances, economic position and so on to be able to help them.
The issue of obesity in our modern society is not only about what we eat or when we eat it.