Leader: We cannot ignore dangers of obesity

Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers can all stem from bad diets.  Picture: PA/JupiterImages
Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers can all stem from bad diets. Picture: PA/JupiterImages
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OBESITY kills. Too many Scottish families know this to be true.

Our national record on health leaves a great deal to be desired. Smoking, the consumption of foods heavy in sugar and starch, and the excessive indulgence in alcohol are just a few of the favourite pastimes of Scots that conspire to cut lives short.

There are some signs that public health messages on smoking are cutting through. The ban on smoking in public was a controversial step for the Scottish Government to take but it is now widely held up as an example of sensible ­legislation.

Laws on minimum pricing enjoy the support of politicians across many parties and demonstrate that ministers take seriously the damage caused by Scots’ unhealthy relationship with the bottle.

But there has been less of a focus on the problems caused by obesity. Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers can all stem from bad diets. These are serious and potentially fatal illnesses. The warnings about the dangers of obesity must be clear.

There are, however, certain sensitivities which apply when discussing obesity. Many ­people with weight problems suffer from low self-­esteem and depression. A hectoring ­approach to encouraging those people to take action to ­improve their health is not appropriate.

Scientists at the University of Stirling say that obese people are at particular risk of becoming increasingly depressed or suffering other mental health problems if they are faced with people who hold anti-fat attitudes. And the team behind a study into the impact being stigmatised has on obese people is now advising the Scottish Government and NHS to target certain groups with classes aimed at teaching them to feel less negatively about fat and obese people.

This is a laudable aim but the problem is that the public health message on obesity has to present it as a negative.

We understand that obesity is a sensitive issue and we recognise that those who wish to conquer their weight problems require support and understanding.

But it will do nobody any good if the message on the dangers of obesity is watered down to protect against giving offence.