Since the turn of the twentieth century, we have seen huge improvements in public health in the UK, with significant increases in life expectancy and the reduction or, even eradication, of a number of serious illnesses and diseases. The implementation of the welfare state, including the National Health Service, aimed to protect UK citizens from the cradle to the grave and the UK continues to be a world leader in the provision of healthcare.
However, new problems have arisen. Obesity is a fast growing concern, with one in four British adults considered to be overweight. The stress of modern life is associated with increased risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. We have also seen increases in a number of psychological ailments, including increased diagnoses of depression and anxiety disorders. Furthermore, poor health in the UK is indicative of the pervasive inequality that exists in British society, with women and children in lower socio-economic groups being more likely to develop comorbidities.
For most people fresh fruit and vegetables and good quality meat, continue to be seen as luxury items that cannot be afforded. Poverty in the UK is a real problem, with more and more families relying on the use of food banks, and affordable foods are often processed and unhealthy.
However, poor nutrition is not an issue that solely affects individuals who are disadvantaged. Research has found that obesity levels in the UK have more than trebled in the last thirty years, and rates of obesity are significantly higher than other countries across Western Europe. Across the Mediterranean, fresh fruit and veg are a part of their everyday diet, with lots of fish and olive oil which are both associated with a healthier lifestyle.
Eating well does not just have physical benefits, but also a range of psychological ones. A balanced diet that features starchy carbohydrates, lean protein and fresh vegetables is associated with a clearer mind, increased energy and increased self-esteem and self-confidence.
One in five children are considered to be overweight in the UK, and the government are committed to reducing childhood obesity rates due to the long-term negative impacts that this can have on their lives. There have been many claims that have linked the rising prevalence of childhood obesity with a sedentary lifestyle, with some blaming the stats on children being more likely to stay indoors than go out and play. Some have even suggested that children and teenagers are becoming inundated with junk food advertising, resulting in increased calorie intake per day.
The government have stated that they are committed to creating healthier environments, promoting positive health in children and young people in order to reduce the obesity rates long term. However, that does not deal with the issue right now. The NHS is under severe pressure to cope with the multiple ailments associated with inactivity and poor nutrition.
Our employment has also changed, people are now more likely to be sitting at desks at work rather than doing manual labour. This has resulted in generations of blue collar workers who are no longer engaging in physical activity on a regular basis. With long hours and long commutes to sedentary jobs sat at a desk, people may not have the time or abilities to prepare fresh, nutritious food. The 21st Century is the era of fast food, takeaways and microwaves.
This is the decade of the quick fix. We search for the next faddy diet that will solve all of our problems without fully understanding the implications of poor nutrition and an inactive lifestyle.
Keeping healthy in the 21st Century can be a challenge, and for too long we have spent time body shaming individuals rather than dealing with the wider issues that have resulted in such increased statistics. Check labels carefully, research nutrition and healthy eating, and be aware of what you are putting into your body. Regular exercise has such a wide range of health benefits, but even the smallest steps can make the biggest difference.
Check out your local leisure centre for a once or twice a week class, not only is this a great way to stay accountable but is also the perfect location for meeting like-minded people. Get off the bus a few stops before your own, skip the elevator, and take regular walks, being active does not have to mean hours spent at the gym. Speak to your doctor or local public health team for further guidance and support regarding healthy living.