Should we take other people’s health into our own hands?

Although I think he said this with plenty of sarcasm, the other day my older brother jokingly questioned, “If pubs aren’t allowed to serve drunk people, why are McDonalds allowed to serve fat people?”, begging the question of whether or not a customer always gets what they want even if it could lead to their death.

If I was working at the checkout in a supermarket and an obviously obese person was buying a shopping trolley filled with lard, chocolate bars, cakes, ready meals and anything-else containing high proportions of saturated fat I would feel I ought to stop them from buying what may eventually kill them. The NHS have enforced regulations in food outlets that show people the calorific value and % of fat in what the customer is eating. However, all this has done is label what is healthier for those dieting, yet there are still many for whom dieting would be appropriate and they will buy the food they like irrelevant of calories, fat and salt content. We are currently going through an ‘obesity epidemic’, but is it really an epidemic if it is easily curable and treatable in many cases? I think not, and this therefore seems an illness which the ‘patient’ brings upon themselves to some level, and blaming the ‘fat gene’ as many do is the obese person trying to blame anyone other than themselves, as very few people leading a healthy lifestyle and diet could be classed as obese.

The issue with these dietary restrictions though, is where the line can be drawn? The obvious place to enforce these specific restrictions would be having a BMI (Body-Mass Index) over 30, as that is the national definition for obesity. However, this is very unreliable as a short rugby player may be extremely fit, but he would have a very high BMI as he would be very heavy due to his muscles mass and he would have little fat compared to his height. Yet, as this is most common measure of obesity, it should be used; considering the levels of fat in certain areas, using apparatus that literally pinches the fat, and therefore is more accurate for heavier but fitter people. Although there may still be an issue – measuring people’s % fat at the supermarket till. We would have to have our weight and fat content measured at the doctors regularly, possibly every 6 months, and more often concerning how obese the patient is.

Another possible issue would be the manner in which people would be allowed to buy the food. If food products with very high levels of saturated fat, salt and sugar were given coloured labels this would indicate this to the salesperson, who would then have to see an NHS registered card from the patient proving that they are able to buy the food. This does sound very over top, so obese people would be allowed to buy what they want but these restrictions would be a form of moderating their consumption of saturated fats, salt, etc. rather than making them forbidden.

According to the latest Health Survey for England, in 2009, 23% of adults were obese and 14.4% of children were classed as obese.1 Although my recommendations may sound drastic, these statistics show that there is a serious, but treatable, obesity epidemic. Minor moves have been made by the NHS to increase obesity awareness, but now people are aware, actions ought to be made to see improvement rather than a nation of people who see their diet is bad but make no dietary changes. I also realise that exercise would be necessary for reduced obesity, however this could not be as easily forced upon people as a change of diet. I may not expect you to agree with me but this is one possible solution to a serious problem, and please comment if you have any suggestions.

1http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publichealth/Obesity/DH_078098