Mark Drakeford, the Health Minister of Wales, is calling for mandatory government regulation on the food industry to help lower obesity rates among the Welsh.
Drakeford says Wales is suffering from an obesity epidemic, and while smoking and drinking rates are down, he believes that mandatory sugar regulations on foods would benefit public health-- “whether we want to eat them or not.”
For the past few years, 22 percent of the Wales population has qualified as obese, based on the Welsh Health Survey. Another study by Public Health Wales reported that more than one in ten children, between the ages of four and five are obese by the time they start school. Childhood obesity rates in Wales, in fact, have now risen above those of neighboring England. The United States is currently the leading country for obesity, where more than one-third of the population suffers from the condition. Recently, a tax on sodas was approved by voters in Berkeley, California.
The Health Minister is also urging consumers to be part of the solution. In an interview with The Wales Report, he said that what the health service does is “deal with the health consequences of people’s lives,” that could have been avoided, “had they made different choices earlier in their lives.” It is now better understood that obesity is a disease that doesn’t result from unhealthy choices alone. Nevertheless, Drakeford has some credence when it comes to the power of choice in battling obesity.
At this year’s Obesity Society Annual Scientific Meeting, researchers from the University of Buffalo reported that children who are obese by the time they are five years old are more likely to remain obese as teenagers. They also found that preschoolers whose parents had stricter rules about food showed healthier eating habits and were better at self-regulating behavior. Scientists said that these children also had better control over their emotions, which could be why they made healthier food choices.
But all consumers, from parents to children, can make healthier choices early on and help prevent obesity later in life. Linda Bailey, a Public Health Wales consultant, says “simple steps” such as replacing sodas with water and choosing fruits over sweets and chips may be an answer to the school-age problem. Adults have a bit more of a challenge, as there are far more 24-hour drive-through restaurants than fitness centers, and because healthier food is generally more expensive than unhealthy food. New data also suggests that many obese people in the U.K. don’t believe they are obese.
This, says Health Minister Drakeford, is where government regulation can play an important role. He says regulations on sugar, for instance, can create the conditions where people can better look after their own health.
Published On: November 17, 2014