Why the Government’s diet won’t work UnHerd, July 29 2020, James Bloodworth
Healthy eating comes from a healthy frame of mind
“Over the past few months, my waistband has been slowly but irrevocably expanding. I now look as if I have been melted and poured into my trousers, when before they were merely ‘snug’. There is no give left. I asked the scales and they didn’t lie: I have this year added around five kilograms to my formerly willowy frame.
In normal times I might shrug and attempt to rectify the situation by taking the stairs, instead of the lift, or with a lazy trip to the shops in search of a bigger waistband. But, alas, these are not normal times; according to new research from the Government, the more bulk I put on, the greater my risk of becoming seriously ill if I contract Covid-19. I’ve no choice but to lose this extra upholstery — and swiftly.
I’m not alone. A study by King’s College London found that almost half (48%) of those questioned admitted they had put on weight during lockdown. Boris Johnson, too, says he was “way overweight” when he contracted the virus. And just under two-thirds (63%) of adults in Britain are officially classed as overweight or obese; the UK has consistently ranked as one of Europe’s fattest nations.”
Through the WI lens
Thanks to its insidious role in coronavirus deaths, obesity has been placed firmly in the crosshairs of the UK Government’s policy arsenal, with a package of measures ranging from a pre-watershed ban on TV junk food advertising, to a £50 voucher scheme to get people back on bicycles. Many would welcome these initiatives, but they come against a backdrop of seemingly contradictory messages, such as urging people to ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ and exhortations to grab fish and chips on the beach. The point of this piece is to argue that overeating is not simple and nor is its solution; just as the worst diets are often to be found in areas that have suffered rapid industrial decline, obesity often afflicts those who are suffering from other psychological issues, such as stress and depression.
A survey by King’s College London found that during lockdown, half of us have been eating more than usual and half of us are also feeling more anxious and depressed – which seems more than a coincidence. The Government’s policy will fail, it suggests, if we are simply subjected to sanctimonious compulsion. What’s needed is a much better understanding of why people eat badly and over-indulge; how that is determined by where you live and a myriad of other social and demographic factors; and what can be done to encourage more healthy eating habits using the metaphorical carrot, rather than the stick. Economic wellbeing is part of the story, but it is also about finding less stressful lifestyles, in which healthy diet figures as a meaningful measure of success.
What this article goes on to explain is how positive thinking – described here as ‘thriving’ – can counter the effects that come from the negativity outlined above, from reduced memory to diminished performance. Based on studying people in a series of organisations in different industries, one of the authors has found that people who attain this state are more resilient, experience less burnout, and are more confident in their ability to take control of a situation
“Behind the jargon what this is really about is how we address the challenge of biodiversity under threat, move away from fossil materials like plastic and concrete, and use nature in a sustainable way, all of which could be summed up by “living in harmony with nature”.”
“In the new ‘consensual contract’ between employer and worker, what’s required is a commitment from the employer to safeguard the wellbeing of their people, and a commitment in return from employees to take personal responsibility for their performance of their job.”
“Could loneliness not only be damaging our mental and physical health but also be making the world a more aggressive, angry place? And if so, what are the implications for a cohesive society and democracy?”
“On such fragile foundations are built the first steps towards a more ethical kind of business, and who knows what virtuous circles might result?”
“Scientific evidence recently emerged that, contrary to earlier beliefs, Covid-19 can be spread by tiny droplets that we breathe out when we respire, called aerosols.”
“Economic wellbeing is part of the story, but it is also about finding less stressful lifestyles, in which healthy diet figures as a meaningful measure of success.”
“The industry has every asset needed to be a guiding light in the shift toward personal health priority. Will that become a prevention legacy, a ‘phoenix rising’ from the Covid-19 ashes?”
“Looking at the bigger picture, putting the measures in this order represents a lost opportunity that the pandemic could have offered for a cultural pivot pivot towards getting people more focused on their health, a powerful statement of intent.”
“Employment is necessary to fulfil our most basic human needs such as food and shelter. Any significant increase in long-term unemployment will spell a retrograde step for human wellbeing like no other.”