Notify me

Sign up to be informed about FOE activities, and receive our newsletter.

* indicates required

Don't worry; we won't abuse your email address. Read our privacy statement.

NZ: Rod Jackson on obesity – Listener article

Professor Rod Jackson’s views on obesity

The latest New Zealand Listener has a feature article focusing on some contentious views about obesity held by Professor Rod Jackson from the University of Auckland’s School of Population Health.  Most of what he says is sensible.  Some is not.

Jackson starts by calling for a 10-year moratorium on use of the terms “overweight” and “obesity”. He prefers talking about “healthy weight”.

First, the sensible. According to Jackson:

While we should stop talking about overweight and obesity, we should proceed with legislation and regulations to help people make better food choices. We need to take the blame away from the individual – which appears to be doing more harm than good as we just get fatter – and put the blame where it should be, on the environment. So, regulations about food in schools and hospitals, banning junk food advertising on television – not just to kids – should go ahead.

FOE doesn’t care whether such regulations are implemented under the banner of fighting obesity, promoting healthy weight, fostering good health or improving people’s diets.  We just want to see them happen.

But then there’s the weird.  Jackson asserts that the message to eat less and exercise more is not working, “so let’s do something else for 10 years”.  The “something else” appears to be a focus on reducing smoking.

As far as health risks go, Jackson says that being overweight comes below smoking, raised blood pressure and raised blood cholesterol.  So, he argues, “we would be better to target smokers than those deemed overweight”.  But it’s not an either-or.  Jackson’s position is akin to saying that cancer kills more people than AIDS, so let’s not bother with trying to prevent the latter.

As well, it’s not clear that raised blood pressure and blood cholesterol are greater threats to health than unhealthy weight, and for two reasons.  First, unhealthy weight itself contributes to raised blood pressure and cholesterol, so Jackson is not comparing apples with apples.

Second, raised blood pressure and cholesterol are silent killers and disablers – they typically only affect quality of life when they contribute to a heart attack or stroke.  Unhealthy weight, however, can affect people throughout their lives in a long list of physical and psychosocial ways, including reduced mobility and increased joint pain. Many people would choose a slightly shorter but higher-quality life to a longer life of lesser quality.

Jackson’s position makes sense if he means that since messages about eating less and exercising more haven’t worked, it’s time to move on to regulating the food environment. This is the real issue.

Read more:  New Zealand Listener, 23-29 January 2010, 21-23.

Published on January 18, 2010 in New Zealand news