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Obesity Legislation Misguided

Slovakia is not yet in an obesity epidemic but current trends are all pointing in that direction for the future, wrote Marta Durianová in her piece Health experts call for anti-obesity plan, published on January 21.

Slovakia is not yet in an obesity epidemic but current trends are all pointing in that direction for the future, wrote Marta Durianová in her piece Health experts call for anti-obesity plan, published on January 21.

As a Fitness Professional having worked in four of the fattest nations on earth; Australia, Ireland, USA and the UK, I have seen many bad societal practices that lead to this present crisis. Scotland has just been assigned the number two berth in this ladder of obesity (per capita) and the newly elected SNP government is calling on all sorts of legislations and ideas to turn this trend around.

The Slovak national programme will focus on two areas to 'trim the nation's waistlines: nutrition and exercise', and a large effort will be aimed at targeting the alarming increase in obesity rates among children. These ideas and planning are all very well intentioned and just might provide the sort of catalyst for reform that the country is looking for. However, judging by previous observation, government legislation is not where we should be directing our attention.

In the UK, it is now illegal to advertise foods high in sugar, salt or saturated fat during children's television programmes. British children's television is now undergoing a funding nightmare that could leave them with virtually no new home grown content in the coming years, and this is surely not helped by the decreased revenue from advertisers as a result of this legislation.

Another proposal by the Slovak government is to ban vending machines containing similarly unhealthy snacks in schools around the country. The UK did this and went one step further after Jamie Oliver (a relatively well-known celebrity chef) attempted to overhaul school dinners throughout the UK via a television programme and in-house education campaign aimed at broadening kids' food experience. They were exposed to such exotic delights as broccoli, avocado and homemade apple pie. My favourite scene during this television series happened after a few weeks of tough campaigning. Outraged parents of these children fought back against the newly imposed school dinners. We saw children with hands thrust through the school fence reaching out for packets of crisps proffered by parents.

So then if not government intervention, what is the key to a healthier and slimmer nation? Take responsibility.

In the aforementioned countries already caught in the grip of this obesity epidemic, there is an overriding lack of individual and family responsibility in the maintenance of a healthy body and mindset. It is statistically proven that children of overweight adults are more likely to become so themselves.

Europe has a comparatively good history of healthy eating and exercise. In my mind, this is not due to any government control but a healthy respect for family and thus as adults, ourselves.

Having spent the past month living in Slovakia in a middle-class family, I have seen what can happen when too much outside Western influence creeps in; Tesco, fast food, binge drinking, two-car households. While the introduction of other cultures, foods, increased tourism and more money into the economy can only be a good thing for the nation, it is important for people not to forget the importance of traditional, nutritious, home cooked food and incidental exercise in this equation.

'Eat better, exercise more'. It sounds ridiculously simple but this remains the simple fact behind a healthier nation and all its individuals. Governments can take things away and promote what they like, but by taking responsibility for ourselves and those dearest to us, we can only move in one direction - 'in'.

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