Lord Robathan, an ex Tory, conservative minister for South Leicestershire from 1992–2010 said that England’s anti-obesity plans and strategies have not borne enough results and that it is time for people to take some “individual responsibility.”
In July 2020, British government had introduced an anti-obesity strategy that emphasized not just on the associated health problems, but also highlighted it as a societal issue. The publication claimed that losing weight is “not just about an individual’s effort”, but it also calls for healthier food options, and better nutritional advice to be made more accessible.
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Addressing the House of Lords, Lord Robathan said, “I’m glad the government recognises the huge problem this is and the dangers that being overweight bring, especially during Covid. But… the strategy, as good as it might be, is not actually working.”
“Is it not time, perhaps, to revert to the situation when I was young, when it was not socially acceptable to be grossly overweight and push individual responsibility?” he questions.
In response to Lord Robathan, Health minister Lord Kamall said, “One of the things we always have to be careful about with any strategy or programme is the unintended consequences.”
He further adds by saying that the government does not wish to create “more problems and concerns and anxiety for those who suffer from eating disorders”.
The impact of weight stigma on mental health
Official reports suggest that 28% of adults in England are obese, with the rate almost doubling from 15% since 1993. Following the onset of COVID-19, over 40% of adults in England gained weight, as per a survey by Public Health England.
Similarly, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), “In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults aged 18 years and older were overweight. Of these over 650 million adults were obese.” “Overall, about 13% of the world’s adult population (11% of men and 15% of women) were obese in 2016,” the health agency adds.
Having said that, obesity is extremely prevalent in adults and young people alike. While it can lead to many chronic illnesses, the stigma around it can impact people’s mental well-being in many ways. While it can be treated and prevented, people dealing with obesity have to undergo a whole lot of stereotypes and discrimination, which has become a rising issue.
The ex ministers Lord Robathan’s statement on obesity being “socially unacceptable” and urging the government to tell people to eat less may backfire in many ways. No matter how good the intention may be, it could have drastic mental health effects on people dealing with it.
Emphasis on ‘personal responsibility’ may have a reverse psychological effect
When it comes to weight-associated campaigns, policies and initiatives, no matter how good the intention may be, the stress on individual responsibility may have a negative impact on people’s mind. It may backfire in the sense that people already dealing with obesity indulge in acts that contribute to it. Eating disorder, binge eating and exercise avoidance may be some of the problems that may in fact arise.
England’s Health Minister Lord Kamall reflected on such occurrences and responded by saying that the government does not intend on “creating more problems and concerns and anxiety for those who suffer from eating disorders”.
Several studies have also highlighted that weight stigmas often destroy a person’s confidence and self-esteem. Calling out on people who are obese or overweight may sabotage their intent or effort to lead a healthy life. This could in turn lead to more weight gain.