Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Wednesday, 21 February, 2001, 11:50 GMT
Are we a nation of fatties?
Obesity rate triples
The number of people who are obese has tripled over the last 20 years and is still rising.

If the trend continues, more than one in four adults will be obese by 2010, dramatically increasing the incidence of diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes or coronary heart disease.

Experts blame a combination of a less active lifestyle and changes to eating patterns for the trend that is more dramatic in England than in most other European countries.

Are we a nation of lazy couch potatoes? Do we eat too much or the wrong kind of food? How much exercise do you get every day?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

I am sorry that dreadful fast food and lack of nutrition have now become a way of life in the UK

Di Stewart, USA
I lived in the UK until my late twenties and ate my weight in fish and chips BUT I walked everywhere, which helped somewhat to negate the "buttie" effect. British portions used to be modest but not anymore. Here in the US, the "all you can eat fest" prevails and portions are staggering. Many people are rather generously sized to say the least and don't seem to know when enough is enough. I am sorry that dreadful fast food and lack of nutrition have now become a way of life in the UK.
Di Stewart, USA

There has been a lot of mention of over-eating and under-exercise, but relatively little of alcohol. I'm sure many people will tell you from personal experience that increased drinking - even just a "social" amount - can cause your weight to spiral, not only because of the calories contained in alcohol itself, but because of the effect of empty calories actually making you feel hungrier. And the last thing you want to do with your weekends is go down the gym when you're suffering from a hangover.
Van Dieu, UK

Life is getting really easy. We are well fed and don't need to fight and struggle to survive like our forefathers had to do. These days kids are waited on hand and foot, given ample pocket money and food is never a scare commodity.
CM Kwong, Malaysia

Why don't UK employers do what many do here in Sweden? Get your employees a gym card and offer them one hour of paid "work out" every week? I'm sure this would encourage many to get out of the office early on a Friday evening and would benefit the employer through a healthy and more productive work force.
Mike, Sweden

"Americanisation" I think does not mean that Americans are responsible for our eating habits. It means that our society is taking on more US-American habits: a record number of hours spent on the computer or behind the telly, availability of cheap and fancy convenience foods, increasing reliance on cars. Show me a drive-through national park or a drive-through bank in Europe anyone!So people who say that are saying that we become Americanised are not blaming Americans, they are merely observing that they themselves have been taking on US-American values, essentially the worship of possession, consumption, convenience and comfort.
Andrew Minton, London, England

Parents are to blame

Lance Taylor, UK
Parents are to blame. There are so many fat children about it makes me feel ill just walking down the street and seeing them. Stop feeding them chocolate and chips and stop driving them everywhere!
Lance Taylor, UK

I cycle and I feel as if I am the only one bothered to use the new cyclepaths. People may say they have no time, but they should make time. Parents don't help by taking their kids to McDonalds and letting them sit and watch TV. It would be nice to actually see parents take their kids out for a walk. On a Sunday there is no excuse. Many parents give in to what the child wants to eat. Fruit should be a pleasure and not a bore.
Jacinta, UK

Modern technology and affluence have made people lazy and fat

Rob, UK
Modern technology and affluence have made people lazy and fat.I don't drive and so do lots of walking with my two young children.Yet for most children walking more than a few steps is an unknown concept.Its time to wage war on the attitudes that cause obesity.
Rob, UK

People have got fatter. I'm often astounded at the rubbish I see people piling into their trollies at the supermarket. I don't subscribe to the argument that healthy eating is difficult. The causes are obvious; greed and laziness.
David, UK

To those blaming getting fat on the "Americanisation" of your country - it is beyond pathetic. Are you saying that you have no will of your own and are just waiting to be told what to eat next by us fat Americans?
Tim D, USA

Obesity is a major public health problem. We should consider making the entrances to supermarkets and restaurants much narrower.

There is no good reason for being fat

John, UK
There is no good reason for being fat. Eat healthier food. Do more exercise. Stop making excuses about long working hours or the convenience of junk food.
John, UK

It is very sad that at the start of the new millenium people in the western world are getting fatter and there are still people dying of starvation. We all protray ourselves as being generous, intelligent and caring but in reality we're greedy, ignorant and vain.
Symon Cattanach, UK

The trouble is that the British lifestyle - especially in the under 35's - is so unhealthy. I have many foreign friends who are amazed at how much we, as a nation, drink. We need to get away from the 'ten pints and a bag of chips on a saturday night' mentality.
Richard, UK

Basically the problem people have nowadays is that because they have to work such long hours and weekends they don't have time to cook nutritional meals. If you want to eat before eight o'clock at night you have to grab the nearest convenience food and thrust it quickly into the microwave. As for exercise when are we supposed to get this? By the time you have eaten your dinner, one it is too late and two you are so tired that you collapse in a heap or drag yourself to the computer to do more work. Whilst there you feel so cheated out of life that you resort to snacking just so that you have some sort of enjoyment in this never ending treadmill.

Why has all of this come about? Never mind obesity, which is surely a sign that the vast majority of people are over-worked and stressed, what about family life? Surely the Government should be looking at the fact of why are all of these people this way. Personally I see that it is due to being given continuous extra work at no extra pay and house prices, and petrol etc rising so much that both partners now have to work so hard just to survive, often neglecting the essential elements of life, their health and family!
Kay A, Britain

Looking at the streets of England around 8:15am, it's no wonder that exercise is a strange and unknown thing here. Not even the kids have to walk to school anymore, but are being chauffeured everywhere! I do understand the parent's concerns, but why not try and find a healthier way of getting them to school safely and make exercise part of their daily routine at a young age? And why do they have to get crisps every day? Take the time and give them good and nutritious food!
Bettina, UK

The problem isn't so much a problem with food, as with self-esteem

DH Kelly, UK
The problem isn't so much a problem with food, as with self-esteem. When people have a low self-esteem, they eat, drink and smoke to make themselves feel better. When we are constantly comparing ourselves with other people who are presented as being better in some way, either because of their status, their appearance or wealth, our self-esteem drops and we resort to food and drink. As we become fatter or less healthy, we feel even worse about ourselves and so, we eat and drink to an even greater extent. It's simply a question of how we value ourselves. Strange as it sounds, I think we could all do with a good dose of self-importance.
D.H.Kelly, UK

Having been living in the US for one year now, I can see where the UK is headed. People drive everywhere, take elevators rather than the stairs even going down, have motorised everything (even adjusting your car seat has been deemed to much of an effort, that's motorised too) and then buy treadmills and gym memberships.
Dave D, US/ex-UK

Of course we are or are becoming a nation of fatties, just walk down any high street in Britain and look at some of the obese people about. People moaning on about not having enough time to exercise and eat properly are really poor excuses. The adage "you are what you eat" has more meaning now than ever. Its really no surprise go into any supermarket and there are about 200 varieties of simple bread!
John, UK

Yes we are fat and the cause is the insidious Americanisation of the country as is happening now in China with fat children seen there for the first time in the wake of American-style eating. It is time we woke up and started to behave like Europeans.
Jacquie, England

I think the blame goes to the service stations, the corner shops or newsagents. This is because whenever I fell hungry, there are no healthy options of food like bananas, apples, etc. The shops are just full of chocolate bars and high calorie sandwiches. Should the shops not change what they sell?
Zayneb K, Scotland

So Kenneth believes England's increasing obesity problems are down to "Americanisation" does he? Funny, I can't recall any Americans coming over to England asking us not bother walking down the road but to drive instead or to not bother taking any exercise at all. Perhaps Kenneth is looking for an excuse to blame anybody but his own country for it's increasing ills.
Tristan Abbott-Coates, UK/USA

I lost weight when I became a vegan. Fat vegans are extremely rare.
S.Chesser, USA

Isn't Neil Pearce lucky to be so perfect! Let's follow his argument to it's logical conclusion and fit everybody at birth with "consumption" meters so that all human activity, even including breathing, can be taxed.
Brian, Isle of Man

What constitutes a healthy lifestyle? I run four times a week, on average for half an hour each time. Among some of my less active peers, this level of exercise is considered to be an obsession. Really? Two hours of strenuous activity a week is hardly a propensity in comparison to the many hours spent typing at a PC, or keeping up with that soap on television. Massive re-education about the virtues of healthy eating backed up with regular exercise is required to steer this sloth like nation into shape. Ignorance is surely a blot on our landscape, but to be fair, fresh fruit and vegetables can be hard to come by - they are either expensive, or too inconvenient to consume.
Kirstie, UK

I strongly believe that the main cause of obesity is our reliance on the car. I know people who would rather drive a few hundred yards - walking and cycling would not even be considered. If people were encouraged to take a trip of less than one mile by foot, or less than three by bike, then we would have fitter folk in a cleaner environment (it is short journeys with cold engines that are the most polluting).
Andrew J. Chisholm, UK

We need to get out of our cars and off the tube/bus

Nicoletta, UK
Since last July I have given up public transport and cycled to work. So many of us are so busy and stressed that finding the time to go to the gym before or after work is not an option. We need to get out of our cars and off the tube/bus and use our standard travelling time more sensibly, particularly in view of the current transport chaos. I have cut my journey time by half, I am steadily losing weight, am radiantly healthy, I never even stop to worry about what I eat (though I've never been that keen on convenience food) and my stress levels are probably the lowest in the office.

Cycle if you can - there are plenty of routes with no buses or few lorries (you can buy special cycle route maps for London) or walk two bus stops or tube stops worth. People who do this rediscover the pleasure and exhilaration of ordinary exercise that doesn't leave you feeling as though all you're capable of afterwards is crawling into bed.
Nicoletta, UK

We're being mislead by both the medical and supermarket industry into thinking that 'low-fat food' is good, instead we eat tons more carbohydrates to make up the deficit. There is now lots of evidence to show that even if you don't overeat, this will not only make you put on weight but also increase your blood pressure, cholesterol and chance of diabetes. The medical and food industry simply find it too unpleasant to contemplate a u-turn on their previous advice, and people are too addicted to a junk food lifestyle to want to change.
Helen, UK

I am sure that at least 70% of all obesity is down to psychology (i.e compensating problems by comfort eating) and not because people like to eat. Other people start drink or take drugs, but that is not as obvious as overeating. Nowadays even anorexia is a problem of the society, but if you are overweight it's your own problem and support is marginal. It is a big step to face your "disorder" and try to solve it yourself, but it is certainly worth it! In the end everybody is responsible for their own well-being.
Bettina, UK

It's pretty simple, eat less and exercise more. There is no magic formula, no special diet. Eat more fruit, vegetables, pulses, grains, fibre etc and less fatty processed food! I used to be three stones heavier than I am now and I lost my weight through exercise and eating well. The problem is that we are all far too lazy. I felt terrible when fat and although I am not "slender" by any means, I am toned, fit and well and have never felt better. Some come on, stop all of the moaning and "under-active thyroid" excuses and do something about it!
Marie Griffiths, UK

I'm sure it's something to do with the food. It's over processed and full of sugar and starch. The body has to eat more of this junk in order to get the real nutrients it needs. In the 50's we used to eat vast amounts. A big breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. And hardly anyone weighed more than 170 lbs. Mind you we got around by either walking or riding a bike!
Roger Sayer, USA

Getting healthy is too expensive

Lee, Burnley, England
Getting healthy is too expensive. Gyms can be 35 per month, and healthy food is more expensive. The Government should help people get fit and give them tax breaks for using a gym to make it affordable. This should be part of the HEALTH service given by the NHS.
Lee, Burnley, England

It's just that junk food tastes too good. Get the GM manufacturers to make a salad that tastes like a Mars bar or deep fried chicken, and we'd be fine.
Pete, UK

Take regular daily exercise and don't constantly make a pig of yourself. Is it really that complicated? You feel better and are better able to deal with a busy lifestyle. Yours faithfully, 6ft tall, 12st and over 65 hours work per week of London.
Ian, UK

I would like to say to Neil Pearce, England that I am outraged by his comments. If 'fat' people have to pay more tax because of increased healthcare costs - then so should people who smoke, who drink too much, who don't eat 5 portions of fruit and veg a day etc. It isn't just 'fat' people who have heart attacks. I have 'thin' friends who have a much less healthy diet and lifestyle than me and are every bit as much at risk.
Anna, Scotland

Our recreation time has been eaten up by the requirements of our jobs

Paul Richards, England
Having worked in many countries within Europe, I have to say that we are by far the nation with the fattest people. Why? Our recreation time has been eaten up by the requirements of our jobs. We are working longer and longer hours, with most of us sitting at a desk in front of a computer. What little time we have to relax is spent doing inactive pastimes and hobbies, grabbing fast food to save time. The rest of Europe have got the right attitude. They value their recreational time with their family and friends. Their jobs definitely come second to this.
Paul Richards, England

I work full-time as well as being a part-time post-grad student. My partner is a full-time post-grad student and we have 2 kids, yet we still have the time to cook a decent meal at night. Although I am a bit overweight (and only a bit - honest!!) we are generally healthy, the kids are well looked after and the house is not a tip. And no we do not have a phenomenal income (quite the opposite - less than the 'national average'). It is possible, it just takes a bit of work - and the occasional piece of broken crockery!
Lee, England

Hey Kenneth...America didn't make you eat those chips and crisps. Start taking responsibility for your own problem instead of blaming us.
Jodie, USA

I think we get used to a certain level of obesity and perceive it as normal: Elena from Estonia noticed a difference when she first arrived in the UK; and yet Brits come back gobsmacked from a trip to the USA! I'm lucky to have a fast (but very expensive!) metabolism. If I didn't I'd be fat because I can't afford the healthiest food, nor can I afford a gym membership, and I have to spend 8 hours a day at a desk. Perhaps obesity is a symptom of relative poverty in a prosperous country?
Richard G, UK

Will these people not be happy until we all look like anorexics?

John, UK
In 1997 I passed a sports diving medical with flying colours despite being some 17 stone (I am 6ft 3in tall). Last year my (new) doctor ummed and ahhed and suggested I ought to be 14 stone. At the age of 21 I was eleven stone and looked like I'd just come from a refugee camp. Will these people not be happy until we all look like anorexics?
John, UK

Quite frankly I am not surprised. People are simply greedy with their approach to food. I am in no doubt that the vast majority of the nation could improve their health by simply eating less and working out more.
Robert Harding, UK

How can we begin to educate our children to do more exercise and eat a healthier diet when parents remove their children from schools in protest over a no-snacks policy. We live in the Nintendo age when shopping is the most popular past-time. Until we regain a higher interest in more physical pursuits we shall never remove this problem from our society.
James P, UK

Trying to lose weight is not easy, whilst we are bombarded with media images of slim = beautiful. However we must ultimately take responsibility for our own actions. If we overeat, we get fat - it's that simple. It's easy for Terri G to go for bland statements like 'it's the individual's choice' etc, etc - but they will also impact society at a later date when their lack of self-control costs the NHS time and money treating diseases that a healthy lifestyle would avoid.
Kate, UK

It's very straightforward - Eat less and exercise more. A bit of mental discipline has never harmed anyone.
Susy Fowler, UK

I have, throughout my life, been underweight, and was constantly teased during my days at school, which left me severely depressed. Maybe if we didn't put so much emphasis on one's physical appearance, I might have had a happier childhood, and a lot of today's youngsters would not have to go through what I and undoubtedly many others have already been through!
Mohammed Ahmed, London, UK

Surely the marketing departments of food companies should take some of the blame

Philip Levy, UK
Surely the marketing departments of food companies should take some of the blame. They often promote their products as being 90% fat free etc, whilst still containing 10% fat and probably another 30% of sugar which if not burnt off will store as fat!!! I have even listened to (in almost disbelief) promoters of slimming clubs who don't understand the concept of additives and sugars in foods!! Whilst many of these groups do a valuable job there is a significant number that are as ignorant as the public and until this changes we will not sort this problem out.
Philip Levy, UK

It's just another Americanisation of our country.
Kenneth, England

We're fat for two reasons - modern convenience food and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. We consume far more calories than people did 20 or 30 years ago and we spend all of our time sitting or lying down. I lie in bed for 8 hours. Then I get up and sit in a car on my way to work, where I then sit in front of a computer screen for 8 hours. Modern convenience foods are a nutritional disaster. Take service stations as an example. Have you ever looked at those sandwiches they sell? A simple chicken sandwich contains as many calories and as many grams of fat as a king-size Mars bar! Why? Because they drown them all in mayonnaise.
B. Maguire, UK

It's quite simple. If you're fat you should pay more tax to meet the costs of increased healthcare needs.
Neil Pearce, England

We are poorly educated as to what food we should and should not be eating

C. Hathaway, UK
We are poorly educated as to what food we should and should not be eating. Since dieting, I have been surprised to find what foods are very high in fat and calories and which are not. It is difficult to understand what a 'healthy' diet is. People who try to lose weight are constantly bombarded with contradictory views from so called 'experts' - eat carbohydrates, don't eat carbohydrates, eat according to your blood group, try combination diets. Besides, it is very difficult in this modern-day age to find the time prepare three square meals a day and exercise at an adequate level. We should all be endeavouring to return to a society where families spend time together, play together and sit down and eat together.
C. Hathaway, UK

I believe that, on average, we eat less calories than we did in the 1950s but that seems odd because in those days a bag of crisps and a glass of lemonade were rare treats and today young people seem permanently attached to items of junk food. But of course we have far less active lifestyles. Kids sit in front of TVs and PCs instead of playing outside and look at the way - for example - the energy that drivers and engineers of the old steam trains used up compared to a modern train driver.
Gill, UK

Yes, I agree you have a problem here. I remember the first time when I came here it was the first thing that I noticed on London streets and travelling by Tube.
Elena, UK/ from Estonia

I believe that this problem is one of attitude

Tony, UK
Convenience foods are too... well, convenient, but I also believe that this problem is one of attitude. I, myself, have a sedentary job (behind a computer) but I take the effort to train at a gym and play 5-a-side footie. This keeps me fit. It is interesting to see the number of people who drive to the gym and wait simply ages for a parking place near the front door rather than walk 50 ft across the car park!!! Is this not because some regard exercise as a chore rather than the rewarding and satisfying thing it actually is?
Tony, UK

Isn't it up to the individual to decide what weight they wish to be? We are all responsible adults. The more pressure people put on us to be of a "normal" weight, more eating disorders will occur as a result.
Terri G, UK

I admit to being pretty overweight - though hopefully not quite obese. It's all self-inflicted drinking too much, eating too much and not exercising enough. I know that if I eat more sensibly and exercise more I will lose weight. I just can't seem to motivate myself enough to do it.
Becky, UK

The constant time pressure of working hours coupled with travelling time on our pathetic roads leaves little time for cooking a decent meal

John B, UK
The constant time pressure of working hours coupled with travelling time on our pathetic roads leaves little time for cooking a decent meal. Most convenience food is fast but staggeringly high in calories and fat. In the name of "progress" it is unusual to find one half of a couple "keeping house", and taking the time to prepare a proper meal. Small wonder, then, that people are getting fatter. For myself I'm about to join a health club as I'm sick of my waistline slowly growing.
John B, UK

We eat too much of the wrong food because it is the cheapest option and given that most people go for the cheaper option in the supermarket the less healthy cheaper alternative is purchased. It also allows for the excuse, "well I can't afford healthy options when doing the weekly shopping". Supermarkets should be asked why they charge higher prices for low fat versions of their standard products.
S. Hoffman, UK

I have been at both ends of the spectrum from being obese to anorexic in less than two years. Now I am at a healthy weight, although I do find it particularly worrying that the majority of my female friends have suffered from an eating disorder in their teens. We as a nation have an unhealthy attitude to food and an unhealthy attitude to our physical appearance. We all need to be re-educated to look after ourselves and the Government should definitely return Home Economics to the school curriculum so that when children leave school and go into the workforce or university they are able to look after themselves in a healthy fashion.
Sharon B, UK

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

15 Feb 01 | Health
Obesity rate triples
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Talking Point stories