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About the Author

Jodi Bush
PhD Student (Herts, United Kingdom)

I've had a longstanding interest in human rights, socio-economic development and the environment, and am currently undertaking my PhD in politics at the London School of Economics.


The Cost of Obesity

Published 31st March 2010 - 19 comments - 11071 views -

Obesity is big news in western media at the moment. “Fatness” has become endemic within developed countries, and the United Kingdom is no exception.

 Approximately 50% of the British population are overweight, with 1 in 5 adults being categorised as obese.

Obesity does not simply pose a health risk to the individuals in question, it puts considerable strain on the government’s purse strings as a result of illness, death and time off work. In the UK related costs are estimated at around £7billion a year.

What is perhaps most disturbing about this issue is that the number of obese individuals now equals the number of underfed – about 1.1 billion. It is also on the increase. That so many people are dying for want of food while others are dying because of too much is unconscionable.

My purpose is not to point an accusatory finger at overweight people, but it is an issue that reflects a wider global problem. We live in a culture of excess and waste. Not only do we eat more than we need to in the United Kingdom, but between thirty and forty percent of all food is being thrown away. It’s a disgrace.

If we want to address issues of poverty and deprivation, we need to analyse our own actions and take greater responsibility for the imbalances that exist around us.


  • Lara Smallman on 31st March 2010:

    I could not believe my eyes reading this Jodi! And you’ve got a good point there, it’s time to look at ourselves and our habits. That has to be done before we start dishing out advice to others.

  • Ivaylo Vasilev on 31st March 2010:

    Crisp facts, and well-presented! I’m looking forward to your other posts.

  • Clare Herbert on 31st March 2010:

    Really interesting piece. Look forward to reading more.

  • Sylwia Presley on 31st March 2010:

    I think in the UK - as anywhere else - it’s a complex issue.
    From my observations it is due to the culture of driving in the UK (I saw mothers driving their kids to the school down the road!), but also lack of understanding that it’s down to bad habits. Did you see the Supernanny programme on kid’s obesity? She proved that kids in the UK eat as much as you give them - have no ability to stop when they are not hungry, so they eat too much already at nurseries - not a good start.
    Other issue is the ready made meals instead of cooking and honestly high costs of market veggies…
    Rates you are mentioning come together with high amount of alcohol consumption - which is not a diet friendly group of drinks.
    Additionally concept of beauty (acceptance of overweight people in public sphere, like acting or TV which is projected across society - and yet still becomes a social problem for tweenagers:/) eliminates the social factor of women wanting to stay thin - for instance. I do not think it’s good to live in a society where overweight is a stigma, however I do think there is a correlation there and the problem you are describing needs to be addressed on several levels.

  • Sholpan Gabbassova on 31st March 2010:

    Hi, Jodi! Very nice post! I just want to add that the problem of obesity also occurs because of low-quality and unhealthy food like GMOs and fast food. Maybe if people could consume less and be more fastidious in what and how they eat this problem wouldn’t have a global scale.

  • Jodi Bush on 01st April 2010:

    Thanks everyone - I’m glad it caught your attention! When I was writing it there was part of me that I might get slammed for not being “politically correct”. I.e. - suggesting that being obese is in some way unethical! But I’m glad that everyone could see the point I was trying to make. It really is a worrying fact on so many levels.

    @ Sylwia and Shopan - yes, it’s complex. Not everyone who is big has a choice over that fact. Some have health issues, some have been brought up on fast food, some have poor education when it comes to health. There are a vast number however, who know they’re overeating and consuming the wrong things but they still do it. But like you say it’s not just the individuals to blame, it’s our culture. The fact cheap, high fat, high salt, high sugars foods are plastered all over the place is a major issue. As is our time scarce mentality - we won’t walk anywhere if we can drive because it is seen as a waste of time.

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 01st April 2010:

    Hey Jodi! It is really a disgrace that so much food is wasted. An article on BBC suggested it is as much as 3.6 million tonnes of food needlessly thrown away in England and Wales alone! But this comes down to our culture, as you say. Consume, consume, consume - this is a huge part of the problem. We buy extra food because it’s 2 for 1, or discounted today, or just “maybe I’ll feel like eating this on Wednesday…”. And when it’s no good anymore, we just throw it away. Maybe money would be a factor to consume less, if not morale: for example, I tend to buy the minimum of food needed for the next couple of days, because my wallet cries if I throw a rotten banana away…

  • Liisa Leeve on 01st April 2010:

    I agree that if you think about it, being obese is in a sence unethical. But so is buying a new pair of jeans when you don’t really need them.

    I don’t think any of us have any right to pass judgement on anyone else for their eating or spending habits as long as we shop for clothes, travel, party, drink alocohol or do anything that’s not absolutely necessary.

    In the future we all have to learn how to down-size because there are limits to what this planet can sustain. The problem is that most people just couldn’t care less…

  • Jodi Bush on 01st April 2010:

    @ Giedre - yes, it’s an absolutely insane amount of food being thrown away. In another blog someone mentioned how a group was helping 57,000 odd people by distributing 981 tonnes a food a year. Meanwhile billions of tonnes are just being tossed on the garbage heap. It’s really shocking.

    @ Liisa - you’re right, it’s not black and white by any stretch of the imagination. What if you’re vegetarian, but you fly a lot? What if you work for ActionAid but you buy all your clothes from Primark? What if you overeat, but you volunteer your time to help others? It’s a quagmire! I suppose all you can do is be conscious about your actions and try to limit the damage you do. At least make an informed decision rather than pleading ignorance. The problem is that the vast majority of us give little thought to what impact we have on the world around us.

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 01st April 2010:

    Your last sentence, Jodi, sums it all up. But I think obesity in itself is not unethical, unless someone eats a lot just because they don’t wanna leave anything to the rest of humanity. In lots of cases it’s the parents to blame, either for their genes or bad behaviour. I was shocked when I first saw some parents feeding their three-year-old junk food. What kind of message does that send to this kid? This, together with over-consumption, is very worrying.

    Thanks for bringing up this issue, Jodi!

  • Jodi Bush on 01st April 2010:

    @ Giedre - Thanks for your positive feedback. I am agreed with you and certainly am not saying obesity is unethical in itself. There are many social and biological reasons why people become overweight. I am saying that waste and excess is unsustainable and that it is disgraceful that so many go without when so many have more than they can use. Consumers, whether that be of food, of clothes, or of technology, need to give more thought to their levels of consumption.

  • Pierre-Anthony Canovas on 01st April 2010:

    Hey Jodi,

    Indeed, this is a very interesting post: clear, concise and it has the quality to point out impressive stats and habits. In France too, Obesity is a (new) issue at stake. More and more Frenchmen get fatter, especially young people and people get stressed and often take an overdose of medicine against depression because of this. (and especially because of all the glossy magazines where they constantly beautiful and thin models….).

    In addition, I read somewhere that according to several statistics there should be over 2.3 billion of overweight people worldwide,  around 2015 and around 930 million will be obese. Pretty scary,don’t you think?

    For all of you, I am posting a very well-done web documentary on Obesity. Directed by an award-winning photographer and videographer Samuel Bolendorff, it is an interactive journey in the world of Obesity. You become a journalist who investigates about this issue. You should definitely check that out.

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 01st April 2010:

    Jodi - that’s exactly how I understood your post, and I agree with you completely! I’ll go watch Pierre-Anthony’s suggested documentary now smile

  • Jodi Bush on 02nd April 2010:

    Great documentary Pierre-Anthony. I particularly liked the debate amongst that family about whether domino’s counted as fast food - “it takes forty minutes” so how could it be! Eye-opening.

  • Radka Lankašová on 03rd April 2010:

    Jodi, I got your point. Not sure whether you have seen a totally scary document which was a hit a couple of years ago called SUPER SIZE ME.

    Let me quote Wikipedia as it perfectly summarizes what I wanted to say:

    “Spurlock’s film follows a 30-day time period (February to beginning of March 2003) during which he eats ONLY McDonald’s food. The film documents this lifestyle’s drastic effects on Spurlock’s physical and psychological well-being, and explores the fast food industry’s corporate influence, including how it encourages poor nutrition for its own profit. Spurlock dined at McDonald’s restaurants three times per day, eating every item on the chain’s menu. He also always “super-sized” his meal—but only if it was offered. Spurlock consumed an average of 20.92 megajoules or 5,000 kcal (the equivalent of 9.26 Big Macs) per day during the experiment. As a result, the then-32-year-old Spurlock gained 24½ lbs. (11.1 kg), a 13% body mass increase, a cholesterol level of 230, and experienced mood swings, sexual dysfunction, and fat accumulation to his liver. It took Spurlock fourteen months to lose the weight gained from his experiment.

    The reason for Spurlock’s investigation was the increasing spread of obesity throughout U.S. society, which the Surgeon General has declared “epidemic”, and the corresponding lawsuit brought against McDonald’s on behalf of two overweight girls, who, it was alleged, became obese as a result of eating McDonald’s food [Pelman v. McDonald’s Corp., [237 F. Supp. 2d 512 [1]]. Spurlock points out that although the lawsuit against McDonald’s failed (and subsequently many state legislatures have legislated against product liability actions against producers and distributors of “fast food”), much of the same criticism leveled against the tobacco companies applies to fast food franchises whose product is both physiologically addictive and physically harmful.[1][2]

    The documentary was nominated for an Academy Award for Documentary Feature.[3]”

  • Jodi Bush on 04th April 2010:

    Hi Radka - yes I did see it. It’s an interesting film. I suppose a big part of it comes down to where responsibility ends and begins. How much responsibility should we take for our own actions, addictions, failures and how much should be apportioned to companies, politicians, society. There is a tendency to blame others for our failings.

  • Andrea Arzaba on 20th April 2010:

    Very interesting…if somehow we could waste less and “send more” (not by sending it directly but by being fare…)

  • PET CEMETERY on 28th April 2010:

    Thanks so much for this. Really helpful information. I’m going to pass this on to a few of my friends. smilePERPETUAL CARE CEMETERY

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