Excess weight and obesity is becoming more common in Wales, and at the same time our collective ability to recognise what being a healthy weight looks like is reducing.
This is a cause of significant public health concern, since carrying excess weight can have significant implications for an individual’s physical and mental health.
Being overweight or obese increases the risk of a wide range of chronic diseases, principally type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease including stroke, as well as some types of cancer, kidney disease, obstructive sleep apnoea, gout, osteoarthritis, and liver disease, among others. Obesity is also associated with and contributes to a shortened lifespan.
It can also impair a person’s well-being, quality of life and ability to earn. Poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle are the main causes of overweight and obesity. Some people may also experience psychological problems such as low self-esteem, poor self-image, and low confidence levels.
The proportion of children and adults in Wales who are of a healthy weight is dropping: Between 2003 to 2015 there was a 4% increase in levels of obesity among adults, and a 3.6% decrease in those of a healthy weight and around 60% of adults (16 +) are overweight or obese – with a quarter of those classified as obese
Back in 2017, the Welsh Obesity Alliance made 18 recommendations on their views of how to tackle obesity and to address the assumption that “being overweight has become normal in Wales”.
Last week in the Senedd the Health Minister made a Statement on the launch of 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales'.
I was very pleased to hear that a number of issues have been incorporated into the strategy from the recommendations that the Welsh Obesity Alliance made, and I very much welcome the fact that the Welsh Government is consulting with stakeholders on taking action to address them.
One of the points that the Alliance have raised is the need for increased regulation in the media around advertising of unhealthy food products and while the National Assembly do not yet have devolved responsibility for this, I called on the Health Minister to work with the Health Secretary over the border in the UK Government, so that we can actually get some UK-wide approach to resolving this issue of media advertising.
The Obesity Alliance have also suggested that providing cooking lessons, not only in schools, but also to adults, to teach them how to maximise the benefits of self-prepared food, is one way to help shift people's behaviour and reduce their reliance on ready meals, which often have high salt content and a high proportion of processed foods.
Many of our sedentary behaviours start in childhood, with many primary and secondary school children taken to school by car, which sets in place patterns of behaviour that then repeat throughout life. Whilst there have been many initiatives to encourage youngsters to be active, more needs to be done.
Not only is living healthier, more active lifestyles good for our health and wellbeing, it also helps us to reduce demand on our already over stretched health services.
I don’t always agree with the Welsh Government but action to prevent and reduce obesity in Wales can’t come a moment too soon so I will be engaging positively with Ministers as they seek to address this important challenge.