Oxford University study links social factors to weight problems

More than half of Britons believe themselves to be overweight, with 60% of women having this negative body image, a recent survey has suggested.

The poll, by electrical goods manufacturer Philips, was published to coincide with January’s National Obesity Week run by the National Obesity Forum. It follows a separate study by academics at Oxford University, which has argued that people living in affluent, “free market” economies are more likely to become obese.

The survey of more than 3,000 adults found that two-thirds of those questioned admitted that they did not exercise as often as they should and only 15% of those who were overweight would consider entering a diet programme.

Just under half of those who considered themselves overweight were also unhappy with their general levels of wellbeing, while 48% said that their overall feeling of wellbeing has deteriorated over the last five years. One-third highlighted depression as a potential threat to their health.

Yet eight out of 10 did make the connection with diseases usually associated with obesity, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

The Oxford University research, meanwhile, concluded that money worries in countries such as the UK and US could explain their higher obesity levels, compared with countries such as Norway and Sweden.

The study compared obesity in 11 affluent countries from 1994 to 2004, with the researchers concluding obesity had “social causes”.

The US had the highest levels of obesity (with a mean of around 30% obese), whereas Italy, with the lowest prevalence, had almost half those levels (around 17%).

Lead author of the Oxford University study, Professor Avner Offer, Chichele professor of economic history, said: “Policies to reduce levels of obesity tend to focus on encouraging people to look after themselves but this study suggests that obesity has larger social causes. The onset and increase of large-scale obesity began during the 1980s and coincided with the rise of market liberalism in English-speaking countries.

“It may be that the economic benefits of flexible and open markets come at a price to personal and public health which is rarely taken into account,” he added.

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