Societal change is needed if we are to tackle the damaging health effects of poor diet and obesity, according College President, Professor Derek Bell.

Professor Bell's warning comes on the eve of World Obesity Day (11 October), which he says should be used to highlight the fact that obesity is not inevitable, and that many of us must change our perceptions of obesity and diet. Professor Bell has suggested a number of measures that society and government must implement to tackle the obesity crisis.

Professor Derek Bell OBE, the President of the College said:

“As doctors, we often treat adults who are suffering from obesity related complications. There are of course measures which people can take to reduce weight related problems, and we always recommend eating healthily, avoiding junk food and excessive alcohol consumption, and exercising regularly. However, many of the health problems associated with obesity can be avoided altogether. Government must work closely with schools, food agencies and supermarkets to ensure that healthy choices are available from early age to adulthood. But doctors must also consider their approach to obesity too, being mindful that we must lead by example.”

The College wants government, and food agencies, to help shift societal attitudes towards a healthier relationship with food and exercise by actively encourage lifestyle changes, for example with more investment in food education. Such a move could help highlight that healthy diets should not be based on “fads” or changes in short term eating behaviour. Instead, society will benefit by treating healthier choices and exercise as part of everyday life, something that governments can help promote. The College has also acknowledged that one of the problems with tackling adult obesity, is that many of the complications associated with the condition have already affected peoples’ health, highlighting the need for better education in childhood.

Dr Mark Kroese, Director of the PHG Foundation, University of Cambridge and College Fellow said:

“By intervening earlier, we can reduce occurrences of medical problems and give children in particular a better chance of maintaining a healthy weight, as they progress to adulthood. The College wants more government investment in schools to help children learn about healthy eating and lifestyle habits, and to enable them access to their 5-a-day of fruit and vegetables. Initiatives such as the Daily Mile and school running and exercise clubs should also be encouraged, promoted and supported.”

Obesity remains one of the single biggest public health challenges across the UK. According to Public Health England in 2017, obesity is estimated to cost £6.1bn in England alone, and part of the problem is the sheer scale of the issue - nearly two-thirds of adults in England are classed as being overweight, and it is a similar picture for Scotland.


Paul Gillen

Contact: Paul Gillen 0131 247 3658