Slim and poor? Fat chance

11/10/16 . Partners

By 2020, it is likely that most boys from poorer families will be overweight or obese.

That is the stark conculsion from findings released to mark World Obesity Day by the Obesity Health Alliance. They estimate that  60% of the most deprived boys aged 5-11 will be overweight or obese by 2020 compared to about 16% of boys in the most affluent group. Interestingly there is no such trend among girls with about 20% predicted to be obese or overweight by the start of the next decade regardless of their family's income levels.

The Obesity Health Alliance say that sugar currently makes up 13% of children’s daily calorie intake. The official recommendation is no more than 5%.

The Alliance is backing the government’s Soft Drinks Industry Levy as 'an important step to help make our children healthier'. The Alliance is also calling on food manufacturers to comply with the government’s programme to reduce the sugar in food eaten often by children and wants to see loopholes closed to protect children from exposure to junk food marketing online and on TV.

Robin Ireland, Chief Executive at Health Equalities Group and member of the Obesity Health Alliance was at a loss to explain the gender difference. He said:

'These stats also illustrate an obvious gender gap with boys, especially those from the most deprived areas, much more likely to be obese. Whilst it is difficult to comment on exactly why this happens, there could be a number of reasons including girls usually being more conscious about their physical appearance, and boys being more brand loyal and therefore susceptible to the billions of pounds spent on marketing to children through brand characters and sports stars. Either way, this area needs a lot more attention.'

The Men's Health Forum agrees. CEO Martin Tod said:

This shows how urgent it is that we have a robust childhood obesity strategy that works for boys. Given the size of the challenge that this report suggests we face, there's a real risk that the government's current proposals won't be up to the job.

It also shows why sensitivity to gender is so important in health policy. You can't always predict where the differences are going to be.  The differences in obesity between rich and poor in this model were less of a surprise, but the gap between boys and girls was a shock. Men are more likely to be overweight or obese than women - but not by so much.

Weight-management interventions need to be designed differently if they are going to work for men. If this data is correct, they may need to be designed differently for boys as well.

The Men’s Health Forum need your support

It’s tough for men to ask for help but if you don’t ask when you need it, things generally only get worse. So we’re asking.

In the UK, one man in five dies before the age of 65. If we had health policies and services that better reflected the needs of the whole population, it might not be like that. But it is. Policies and services and indeed men have been like this for a long time and they don’t change overnight just because we want them to.

It’s true that the UK’s men don’t have it bad compared to some other groups. We’re not asking you to ‘feel sorry’ for men or put them first. We’re talking here about something more complicated, something that falls outside the traditional charity fund-raising model of ‘doing something for those less fortunate than ourselves’. That model raises money but it seldom changes much. We’re talking about changing the way we look at the world. There is nothing inevitable about premature male death. Services accessible to all, a population better informed. These would benefit everyone - rich and poor, young and old, male and female - and that’s what we’re campaigning for.

We’re not asking you to look at images of pity, we’re just asking you to look around at the society you live in, at the men you know and at the families with sons, fathers and grandads missing.

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