The Strategist

Errors in calculation of calories intake hinder Britain's fight against obesity

08/08/2016 - 15:24

Despite the constant decrease in calorie intake, the number of obese people in the UK is increasing, reaching record levels. This is a pure phenomenon, and The United Kingdom’s Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) tried to explain it. The organization’s report showed that researchers, that watch calories intake, do not consider almost half of them, thus making it difficult to fight obesity at the state level.

Lorrie Graham/AusAID
Lorrie Graham/AusAID
According to BIT experts, errors in the measurements obscure up to 50% of consumed calories. The researchers found that almost all latest official studies of calorie intake in the country show a steady decline for 40 years in a row. Yet, other official studies show steady growth in the number of obese people.

BIT believes it's all about the method of measurement of calorie intake. The methodology used in national studies does not notice almost half of consumed calories. This happens because the researchers do take into account changes in people’s eating behavior, for example, snacks outside the home. In addition, people taking part in the studies tend to consciously or subconsciously underestimate amount of food consumed by them. In addition, obese people do not keep records of calories as accurately as researchers think they do.

The errors cause serious harm to the national level. "Such a major underestimation of the calorie intake gives wrong information to those who create policy to combat obesity, and leads to less effective measures to overcome the current national crisis in this sphere", - believes BIT.

The Office for National Statistics in Britain have already said it is going to carefully examine the report’s results, and take necessary measures to ensure that their studies have been more accurate.

Over the past 30 years, number of obese people has increased dramatically from 857 million in 1980 to over 2 billion in 2013. This is about a third of the world's population. Only in 2010, about 4 million people have died from complications resulting from obesity.

In general, when people talk about obesity they recall the US, yet it is not the only country which faces an acute problem of obesity. People around the world now keep a more sedentary lifestyle, as they work mainly on the computer. In addition, they often choose high-calorie foods, such as fast food and sugary drinks. Therefore, obesity has become an epidemic in many countries around the world, and a serious threat to public health. 

According to forecasts, the situation will only get worse unless action is taken.

In fact, obesity can be regarded as a kind of the global economy’s indicator, which now suggests that we have not yet overcome the crisis. After all, it's not just about switching to cheap products, but also about the fact that many people still sit idle, and, therefore, without movement. This is another reason why the world is gaining weight so rapidly. 

"Prior to 1980, the proportion of healthy people and people suffering from obesity in OECD countries has been even less of one to ten. In the following decades, rate of spread of the problem has accelerated two or three times. At the moment, already 18% of adults in OECD countries suffer from obesity", - says OECD’s Obesity Update 2014 report.

In the last five years, we have seen deterioration of the dynamics, although the rate is no longer rising as fast as it used to do in past decades. One in five children in the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development suffers from excess weight.

In some countries, such as Greece, Italy, Slovenia and the United States, the ratio reaches 1 to 3. The researchers argue that difficult financial situation of families, which in some countries was aggravated due to austerity programs, led to spread of obesity.

Moreover, people with poor education and low social status are more likely to gain weight. They pay attention to their health, and cannot afford exercising and active lifestyle.

"Although there is evidence that reduction in working hours and unemployment are pushing people to outdoor activities, the effect of activity reductions related to the work is still stronger than the first factor", - says OECD’s report.

The gap is particularly evident among women. For example, the UK scientists found that poorly educated women are 1.6 times more inclined to gain weight.

Interestingly, even rich people in some OECD countries began to get fat since the crisis. For example, this happens in Mexico and the US, where obesity has recently spread among educated people even faster than among those without a good education.

Australasia (a region, which includes Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and some nearby countries) has the strongest worldwide growth in the share of obese people, from 16% in 1980 to 34%. The region also recorded the strongest growth of the disease among the adult female population from 17% to 30%.

"Over the past three decades, no country has succeeded in reducing obesity levels, and we expect that obesity will continue to grow with increase of income in low- and middle-income countries unless urgent action is taken", - said Rob Moodie, Melbourne’s University Professor.

People suffering from obesity are more prone to a range of diseases, including heart. They are difficult to perform work that requires physical activity. If the unemployment rate declines very slowly, and countries do spend money on the fight against obesity, as a result productivity and demography will come under the cosh.