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 Manning is a social entrepreneur, writer, campaigner and commentator. She is based in London and is the founder and Chief Executive of 2020health, an independent, social enterprise Think Tank whose aim is to Make Health Personal. Through networking, technology, research, relationships and campaigning 2020health has influenced opinion and action in fields as diverse as bioethics, alcohol, emerging technologies, fraud, education, consumer technology and vaccination. Julia studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991. Her career has included being a visiting lecturer at City University, a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital, working with south London Primary Care Trusts and as a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. She specialised in diabetes (University of Warwick Certificate in Diabetic Care) and founded Julia Manning Eyecare in 2004, a home and prison visiting practice for people with mental and physical disabilities using the latest digital technology, which she sold to Healthcall (now part of Specsavers) in 2009. Experiences of working in the NHS, contributing to policy development, raising two children in the inner-city and standing in the General Election in Bristol in 2005 led to Julia forming 2020health at the end of 2006. Julia is a regular guest on TV and radio shows such as BBC News, ITV’s Daybreak/ GMB, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions, BBC Radio, LBC and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week. She is mum to a rugby-mad son, a daughter passionate about Shakespeare, and wife of a comprehensive school assistant head-teacher. She loves gardening, ballet, Zimbabwe, her Westies Skye and Angus, is an honorary research associate at UCL and a Fellow of the RSA.
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