High Five – but where is the COBRA for obesity?

So, the BBC has highlighted the BMJ report that all we need to do is eat five portions of fruit and veg a day, no more, no less. More advice for the public on what they should be doing – at least it chimes with previous recommendations and isn’t a source of confusion.

That’s the good news. The bad news is, like alcohol units, people don’t know what a portion is. Unlike alcohol where people overestimate what constitutes a unit, when it comes to eating your greens people underestimate how much they need to eat to count as a single portion. NHS choices gives guidelines, but who knew that you needed three HEAPED tablespoons of carrots to achieve one portion (and how many young people know what a tablespoon is?!)

The site barely mentions salad but that is probably because you have to eat a plateful of lettuce, rocket or spinach to get one portion.

This is of course eminently achievable apart from two significant barriers – access and cost.

Our research into nutrition and obesity has highlighted the problem of fresh-food deserts (as opposed to desserts) in some areas of the UK where there is no easy access on foot to supplies of fruit and veg.

Likewise if you compare the cost of a £1.99 takeaway ‘whole meal’ and what salad you would get for the same amount, it’s no wonder people buy the takeaway despite the fact is is less nutritious and unlikely to contain much fibre which will leave them feeling hungry again sooner than if they had eaten the salad.

It struck me again this morning as the news reported that Philip Hammond was chairing a COBRA meeting on the threat to the UK of the Ebola virus, as to when the government was going to have their Damascene awakening and realise that they desperately need COBRA meetings on UK obesity and nutrition. Successive politicians have not come anywhere near to a successful, holistic plan that will tackle our obesity crisis which is not only weighing down the NHS, but the economy and welfare state. Nothing less than participation and commitment from health, local government, devolved nations, treasury, DWP and DCMS will create the necessary cross cutting strategy to ensure we have a nation for for  future.

2020health’s report on the Obesity Crisis will be published in September.



About Julia Manning

Julia is a social pioneer, writer and campaigner. She studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991, later specialising in visual impairment and diabetes. During her career in optometry, she lectured at City University, was a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital and worked with Primary Care Trusts. She ran a domiciliary practice across south London and was a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. Julia formed 20/20Health in 2006. Becoming an expert in digital health solutions, she led on the NHS–USA Veterans’ Health Digital Health Exchange Programme and was co-founder of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Her research interests are now in harnessing digital to improve personal health, and she is a PhD candidate in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) at UCL. She is also dedicated to creating a sustainable Whole School Wellbeing Community model for schools that builds relationships, discovers assets and develops life skills. She is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Digital Health Council. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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