'It’s just not about willpower or self-control'

The UK has among the highest obesity levels in Western Europe, with two in three adults overweight or obese. Obesity rates in UK primary school children also saw their ‘highest annual rise’ in 2020-21′ statistics collected for the National Childhood Measurement Programme revealed. Obesity in four- and five-year-olds in reception classes rose to 14.4% in 2021, compared to 9.9% the year earlier. Among pupils in year 6, aged 10 or 11, obesity levels increased to 25.5% from 21%.

These figures can be linked to the food environment in which individuals operate, new research highlights.

The British food environment – where people buy and eat food outside of the home as well as the advertising and promotions they are exposed to – ‘actively undermines’ people’s attempts to lose weight and maintain a healthy body mass index, according to the conclusions of a systematic review from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Obesity Policy Research Unit.

The review contends that the ‘ubiquity and appeal’ of unhealthy foods mean people actively trying to lose weight are forced to avoid parts of the food environment – an isle in the supermarket, the work canteen, or certain social situations – to steer clear of temptation. 

“This review highlights not only how difficult it is to lose weight in Britain, and keep it off, but also that it’s just not about willpower or self-control: even people trying really hard are thwarted in their efforts by unhealthy food options that are everywhere – they’re easy to find, cheap to buy, quick and appealing,”​ Kimberley Neve, co-author of the review and Research Assistant at the Obesity Policy Research Unit, Centre for Food Policy, City, University of London, explained.

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