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A weighty issue

07/24/2009

Having posted a bit of a diatribe (make that two diatribes – is that a gaggle?) at http://www.punkrockhr.com/ about obesity, I checked with my conscience.

She told me I didn’t understand all the issues. So I tried to explain.

She told me to blog about it. And as I always listen to my conscience………

My beef is this: obesity is a societal issue.

The way we structure and organise our society has led to the issues with increasing obesity. The way that people explain this away is dangerous. Sure it might make you feel better as an individual to say that you have a “genetic predisposition”. But the statistical probability of that is slim (no pun intended).

The chances are that it is a lifestyle problem. Most obesity is caused by taking more in than you expend. That is the long hard truth of the matter.

And worse. By taking the “genetic predisposition” line we also risk giving the green light to children that there is an answer and that it’s ok to be overweight. We are not focussing on the real problems, the real issues.

Fast and unhealthy food is too cheap.
We have lost our cooking skills and the ability to make nutritious affordable meals.
Organised exercise is inaccessible or prohibitively expensive.
Nutritional information is poor and inconsistent.

These are societal issues. And this is where I come in as an HR professional. My organisation is part of society. We are a living and working organism. And we have employees. People who come to work every day for us. People who make us who we are. People who we care about.

I believe we have a role in providing information and opportunities for our people. We provide free healthcare for all. Information on and ways in which people can assess their health and wellbeing confidentially. Biannual confidential medicals. Subsidised Gym membership. Plus a canteen that provides subsidised nutritious and balanced meals.

None of these are forced on people. We don’t make people stay and eat – they can go across the road and buy what the hell they want. We don’t make them join the gym or go to the Doctors. We create an environment which is conducive to healthy living and where it is ok to tackle issues of wellbeing.

Being obese has long term health complications. Sure you may argue that an obese person is as “healthy” as a slim person. But then there are examples of professional sportspeople who smoke. But we wouldn’t argue that a smoker was “healthy”?

These long term health issues will result in medical and societal problems in time and in turn, unless we act, these will impact on my organisation.

This is not Big Brother. This is a ticking time bomb.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Sayya26 permalink
    07/24/2009 14:36

    Well said HRD! At my previous job (I was a TA at an international school), we had a wellness program for the staff. Also, the gym teacher did abdominal exercises every wednesday, and the high school science teacher (Jim) had a Friday workout session called 'Gym by Jim.'

    It's not necessarily the organization's responsibility to look out for us in this manner- it's really a more personal lifestyle choice- but I think it goes a long way for an employee when they can see that their company cares about their well being.

    Bottom line is we need to get our fat @$$es away from the computers and the tvs and all that junk and go take a walk! If we take the first step (no pun intended), and get the kids involved- things could turn around. I keep telling my husband yes we're living longer- but it's not necessarily better.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    07/26/2009 18:01

    I usually read your excellent blog, nod with interest and agreement but I had to comment. Forgive the anonymous, I am not hiding, just not registered.

    I agree that obesity is a societal problem, but I think this is a gross over-simplification of the many causes of obesity. It is not always simply because we eat more and exercise less or use genetics as an excuse. It is also a medical problem.

    I have been morbidly obese for about 17 years in spite of a very low fat healthy diet and working out 5 times a week for more than 12years. And no, I don't stuff my face with chocolates and cakes in secret.

    In all the years, no doctor or dietician has been able to help me lose weight or understand my enormous efforts.

    Last year, I was finally diagnosed with a condition that results in excessive weight gain, and inability to metabolise carbs.

    However, neither the consultant I was seeing nor the dietician that I made aware of this diagnosis, advised a low carb/low GI diet.

    It took another painful few months of inability to lose weight, reading every book under the sun about this condition, before I realised that the only reason for my weight gain was insulin and carb related.

    There are thousands of women like me, and in forums all over the place, I meet scores of them, and there are hundreds of medical professionals failing these women by failing to point out something so serious and vital.

    I have now lost 50 pounds and I am helping others to lose weight. I am no longer classed as morbidly obese and for the first time in my life, I am confident that one day, I will finally be the healthy size that reflects my healthy lifestyle and efforts.

    Yes, there are fat people out there who are that way because they are lazy and make all the wrong choices. But sadly, there are people like me, who are so painfully judged by society, and are found wanting, but who are fat through no fault of our own.

    TMHOgirl

  3. HRD permalink
    07/27/2009 08:37

    @Sayya – Thanks for your comments as ever!

    @Anonymous – Thank you for posting your views, for your honesty and of course anonymity is fine.

    I'm sorry if my clumsily worded post suggested that there was only one cause of obesity (over eating versus under exercising), and this certainly isn't my view. What I was trying to say is that we need to have a grown up debate about the issues and that includes accepting that in most cases the issues are caused by lifestyle choices.

    The figures released by the health service suggest that less than 1 in 100 cases of obesity are medical. And even if that was a five fold underestimate, 95% of cases would still be lifestyle related.

    The increase in obesity in recent years has happened quicker than any possible genetic change in society and therefore we need to be honest about the causes. This does not mean I condone medical professionals not taking situations like yours as seriously as they should have done. Quite the opposite.

    I don't believe in society we should be stigmatising people for their body shape, whatever it may be. I don't believe that thin is good and fat is bad.

    But I do believe we need to face up to the fact that each generation of children is bigger than the last and that is not due to medical factors but societal ones.

  4. Anonymous permalink
    07/27/2009 09:49

    Thank you for your kind words and for your comments.

    The debate is long over-due and we are rapidly approaching becoming a nation like the States where the non obese are firmly in the minority, and the cheap cost of junk food makes it a more economically viable option, than making fresh healthy food from scratch.

    The lack of food education, not just from low income, poorly educated people, but also well educated, successful, smart, busy professionals, astound me on a daily basis.

    My long weight loss quest and talking with tons of people with weight problems, still leave with me the belief that there is a fundamental lack of training and old fashion ideas with doctors and dieticians.

    If someone finally recognises they need to do something about their weight, being given out-dated, boring, uninspired, unrealistic diet information or like a contact of mine got told, just eat salad and canned tuna, is the wrong approach.

    TMHOgirl

  5. humanresourcespufnstuf permalink
    07/27/2009 21:27

    Spot on sir. I'm confused as to why in our society we will bitch at people for smoking in public, but not for ordering 7,0000 calories of crap at McDonalds.
    Obesity is often a direct result of the choices we make, I don't deny you your right to make your choices, as long as you don't deny me my right not to subsidize your demise.

  6. Anonymous permalink
    07/28/2009 12:52

    I can't help but feel this is a post that is not an emotional topic but which is rapidly becoming one. If I may, I wonder if the following is a point that HRD is trying to make:

    It's (more or less) in the company's best interest to be concerned about the welfare of their employees with regards to their weight and the long term implications of it. This includes but is not limited to current and valid information regarding diet and exercise, healthy choices in company canteens, and health care that can and will support investigations into why employees may be struggling with weight loss.

    I just wonder a bit if the comments are becoming very "pointed finger" at either side (including assignations between Americans and Europeans, always a crowd pleaser), when I suspect that's not the direction this post originally intended.

    Apologies if I've overstepped the mark.

  7. sarah permalink
    07/28/2009 17:10

    Surely it must be impossible to post about obesity, and not expect it to become an emotional topic, especially if you have actual experience or know someone affected by it.

    Having said that, in my opinion, I don't think the comments have been emotional.

    I don't necessarily agree that anyone has been finger pointing on the comments or necessarily crowd pleasing.

    I too WAS of the why don't you eat less and exercise more school of thoughts but I must admit that the comments and honesty from TMHOgirl struck a chord with me and gave me plenty to think about. I for one, am grateful for a discussion that has included someone with personal and long experience of something that we all tend to have an opinion about, without necessarily understanding all the facts.

  8. HRD permalink
    07/31/2009 07:35

    @all – Thanks for your comments, it clearly is a subject with numerous sides to it. As a (hopefully) last word on the matter, "I love everyone"!

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