Obesity overtaking smoking as biggest Welsh health risk

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Obesity overtaking smoking as biggest Welsh health risk

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Media captionMerthyr has the worst child obesity problem but this Cardiff City football programme is encouraging activity

Obesity is overtaking smoking as the biggest risk to health in Wales, experts have warned.

The "stark" problem with overweight children could also mean this generation will not live as long as their parents, according to Wales' chief medical officer.

It comes as the nation's first strategy to combat obesity is launched.

The health minister wants to create an environment where it was "normal and easy" to eat well and be active.

A consultation – Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales – sets out ambitions to reduce obesity over the next 10 years, while recognising that nowhere has quite managed to successfully stop it in its tracks.

  • 'Cheap junk food to blame' for obesity
  • Children with obesity 'need NHS help'

It wants to end the stigma of talking about being overweight, make it a natural conversation to have with a GP, while making the ability to be active and make healthy food choices far easier, regardless of where you live or how much money you have.

There is a challenge for civic and political leaders, those in community roles – as well as all of us – to play a part, stated the consultation.

But the hope is that Wales is sufficiently small with enough law-making powers already behind it to make real strides over the next few years.

Obesity in children

Four and five-year-olds in Wales

  • 27% overweight or obese

  • 30% overweight or obese in the most deprived areas

  • 32.7% overweight or obese in Merthyr Tydfil

  • 12.4% in Wales classed as obese

Public Health Wales Observatory, 2016/17 Getty Images

What is the obesity problem in Wales?

  • One in eight of four and five-year-olds are obese – and this is worse in more deprived parts of Wales
  • Another 10,000 more adults become obese every year
  • One in three adults aged 45 to 64 are obese
  • It is the second biggest preventable cause of cancer – after smoking

What is in the strategy?

There is a mix of "stick and carrot" and ideas include:

  • Limiting the use of advertising and promotion of unhealthy foods in public places – from bus stops to sports events
  • Incentivising healthier food purchasing – and regulating price promotion and discounting for unhealthy foods
  • Stimulating an increase in healthier food outlets – this could include using planning regulations and tax breaks
  • Banning sales of energy drinks to under 16s from all shops
  • Creating "healthy weight environments" in new building projects for housing, schools and hospitals – as well transport projects like the South Wales Metro and increasing sports provision and good quality green space close to towns and cities
  • Maximising healthy food opportunities in schools, nurseries, colleges and workplaces
  • Read the full consultation document

'I was given a fitness age of over 80 – and I'm in my 30s'

Image copyright Nick Davies/Ffit Cymru
Image caption Hospital worker Nick Davies lost 3st 3.5lbs in eight weeks and has taken up running

Nick Davies, 37, a hospital worker from Pen-y-groes near Cross Hands, Carmarthenshire, took part in a Ffit Cymru programme on S4C, which brought in a daily exercise and eating plan.

Going back 18 months, I used to live a life of 'eating, work; eating, sleeping'. I was in a rut not a routine. I was overweight, I wasn't fit and on a slippery slope.

My blood pressure was through the roof and I had high cholesterol. If Ffit Cymru hadn't come along, I might have been in trouble.

When I was younger, I played rugby twice or three times a week. I've never been one to go on a diet but I got away with it because I was doing so much training.

My little boy came along, my rugby stopped but I carried on eating as I was and before long it became the norm.

When I look back to what I was eating – I'd have a cooked breakfast, then I'd be thinking about lunch – leftover curry or a sandwich – and then fish and chips when I got home. I was in denial and looked in the mirror and thought I looked good.

My clothes were getting tighter and I'd blame my wife for the washing.

I was given a fitness age of over 80 – and I'm in my 30s – that was shocking.

My realisation was I wanted to see my children grow up. I've knocked 40 years off my fitness level. By the end of the eight weeks I was running 5km and a few weeks after finishing the programme I did the Cardiff half marathon – in six months.

My advice to anyone, is there's no good time, just get out there.

Dr Frank Atherton, chief medical officer for Wales, said: "If we think about preventable disease, only smoking exceeds obesity and being overweight at the moment but it's catching up. We need to think about the next generation and there's a real risk that if we don't get serious, they will live shorter lives than their parents."

Dr Julie Bishop, director of health improvement at Public Health Wales, said obesity was more difficult to tackle than smoking "because everyone needs to eat".

She said it had to become commonplace that pupils walked to school, that sitting down all day was not a good thing, while school lunches were not rushed and the healthiest options were the first ones that children saw in the canteen.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The health minister wants to create an environment where it was "normal and easy" to eat well and be active

Health Minister Vaughan Gething said fitting healthier eating and exercise into busy lives could appear to be an overwhelming challenge but they wanted to support making the healthy choice "the easy choice".

"Creating an environment where it is normal and easy for us all to eat well and be physically active can make a significant difference and nudge us to change our daily routines," he said

"This starts in the places where we shop, socialise, commute and in schools and workplaces".

Image Copyright @EveryChildWales @EveryChildWales Report
Twitter post by @EveryChildWales: Today @WelshGovernment released their obesity strategy for Wales. 27% of children are overweight by the time they start school.We must end the stigma of talking about being overweight and break the taboo. Visit our website for tips on how to give your child a happy, healthy life. Image Copyright @EveryChildWales @EveryChildWales Report

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said there was "no quick fix" but getting it right in childhood was an excellent place to start.

Vice president of the Royal College of Physicians in Wales, Dr Gareth Llewelyn, welcomed the focus on children but he was disappointed there had been "very little or no progress" in most parts of Wales in improving specialist medical services for people who were already obese.

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