Leaders: Obesity problem | Pesticides killing bees

BRITISH people are well on the way to becoming mostly unfit for the purpose of living, simply because too many people are far too fat.

Healthy eating starts at home. Picture: TSPL

The trend has been obvious for some time, but now danger signals are flashing. Three-quarters of British men, if everyone carries on the way they do now, will be either overweight or clinically obese by 2030.

Troubling though that is, it is all the more shocking to discover, from a World Health Organisation (WHO) study of all the available statistics, that Britain is near the top of the European fatness league.

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Scotland is not distinguished in the study, but the Scottish Government’s figures show the percentage of obese or overweight people has risen from 52 per cent in 1995 to 62 per cent in 2012, putting Scotland all too comfortably on course to fulfil the WHO’s prediction of three-quarters of the population being far too fat in a little over 15 years.

Obesity is now such a problem that the WHO’s doctors no longer call it a condition, but a disease. That is how it should be regarded by wider society, too, for being fat increases the risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart attacks adding to the cost pressures on the NHS.

Why has it come to this in a world where malnutrition and starvation still kill millions of people? It is not just because our bit of the planet is a world of plenty where we can produce lots of our own food and afford to import more from anywhere that suits.

Neither is it simply that only an unfortunate few can afford only a basic diet, though looking at the fatness map of Europe, income levels do have something to do with it. It is more about what we eat and social attitudes to over-eating and over-drinking – excessive alcohol consumption also contributes to becoming overweight; there are a lot of calories in beer and wine, and a recent study showed alcohol also encourages us to eat.

Happy and festive times, such as birthdays, Christmas and being on holiday are also associated with eating too much. We have more leisure time now. Perhaps many are guilty of turning the special treat into the everyday norm, in the hope that this will make them feel better all year round.

Those who compiled the WHO’s statistics think there is another explanation – that where food manufacturers are only loosely regulated, foodstuffs that have unhealthy levels of fat and sugar are easier to buy. It is no coincidence, they think, that in tightly regulated countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands, the 2030 projections for fatness are only a fifth of what they are in liberal Britain.

Perhaps so, but it remains the case that too many British people do not understand the need for self-restraint at the table and exercise away from it. Turning round these attitudes is where a strategy to combat obesity has to start.

Cut pesticides to save our bees

Bees, many do not appreciate, are an absolutely essential part of our world. Without their busyness, flowers would not be pollinated and crops would fail. And as the world’s human population rises, bee numbers in recent times have been falling,

indicating that there is a big problem looming.

Scientists have been puzzling about the cause for some time. Particularly worrying is what has become known as colony collapse disorder – the death of entire hives of bees during winter months – something which has been happening much more

frequently. The finger of suspicion is now pointing ever more firmly at insecticides, especially those containing compounds called neonicotinoids.

These are recently developed pesticides that have become widely used in agriculture because they are much less toxic to humans and other animals than the chemicals they replaced.

But evidence is mounting that they are highly toxic to bees. Now a study has found that hives that had similar levels of mite and parasite infestation, also thought to be a factor in colony collapse, were much more likely to die if the bees had also been exposed to neonicotinoid pesticides.

As well as there now being a lot of studies showing this effect in empirical terms, researchers have also come close to identifying the causal mechanism – that neonicotinoids disrupt bees’ immune and neurological systems, making them less resistant to disease caused by parasites.

Because of this, European and British regulators have already moved to restrict the use of neo-nicotinoids. But the case for a much tougher clampdown to reverse the loss of honey bees is getting stronger.