New report says obesity is 'not a choice'

Obesity is "not a choice" and is not down to a lack of willpower, British psychology experts have said, as they call for changes in society's opinion on the condition.

A new report from the British Psychological Society calls for changes in how obesity is regarded, with less reference to "obese people" and more discussion of "people with obesity" or "people living with obesity".

It said the British government should approach the problem of obesity in the same way it did smoking.

Experts behind the study argue that people become overweight or obese as a result of a complex combination of factors, including genetics, responses to stress from childhood, sedentary lifestyles and only poor food choices being on offer.

"Obesity is not simply down to an individual's lack of willpower," they said.

"The people who are most likely to be an unhealthy weight are those who have a high genetic risk of developing obesity and whose lives are also shaped by work, school and social environments that promote overeating and inactivity.

"People who live in deprived areas often experience high levels of stress, including major life challenges and trauma, often their neighbourhoods offer few opportunities and incentives for physical activity and options for accessing affordable healthy food are limited.

"Psychological experiences also play a big role - up to half of adults attending specialist obesity services have experienced childhood adversity."

The report said that dieters are also "particularly susceptible to emotional eating".

While the society did not support classing obesity as a disease, as some bodies including the World Health Organisation do, it said it remains "important to avoid language and explanations that locate the 'problem' of obesity within individuals".

"Whilst obesity is caused by behaviour, those behaviours do not always involve 'choice' or 'personal responsibility'," the report said.

Chartered psychologist, Dr Angel Chater from the University of Bedfordshire, one of the authors of the report, said adult obesity levels in England increased by 18 per cent between 2005 and 2017, and there were similar increases in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

"This cannot be explained by a sudden loss of motivation across the four nations of the UK," she said.

PA