Education and obesity

One of the biggest social and health problems facing the developed world is obesity. Obesity has implications for the health services, for insurance, for social policy and welfare, for transport, for public safety, for the fashion industry, for economic performance. In the United States it is estimated that obesity costs the economy some $75 billion annually, and affects such things as the size of clothes, the design of cars, even the average width of coffins and graves; 25 per cent of American adults are thought to be obese. But apart from the material costs there are also the psychological issues, including questions of self-esteem and self-confidence.

While obesity has an impact on almost every corner of society, it has particular significance in education. In Aberdeenshire it has been estimated that 8 per cent of primary school pupils are obese, and as these and other young people progress through education the problem gets worse. Across a number of countries serious questions can be asked about catering and eating in the education system. In Ireland there is generally no school catering, and as a result students leave school at lunchtime and, typically, eat crisps and chocolate, or junk food. In countries where there is a school catering service the quality of the food is often very questionable.

Nor does it get better, necessarily, at university, where catering is often built on what one might call the fast food culture.

However, as the problem gets worse, there are now university research centres on obesity. Some of the leading ones include centres at Yale University, Sydney University, Bristol University, and my own Robert Gordon University. One of the notable aspects of the work of these centres is that, apart from research, they also do outreach and public education in relation to obesity issues.

Obesity is one of the key health and social problems of our age. Universities need to harness their expertise to support drives for management of this problem and the search for solutions. At the same time, educational institutions at all levels need to ensure that their students enjoy appropriate and healthy diets. The future is at stake.

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5 Comments on “Education and obesity”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Almost every ounce of meat one buys has been bulked out with an agent. Why exactly is it that no one is bringing to question this interference and making a possible connection with obesity.
    It is also very questionable that it is not made clear for the benefit of diabetics and pre-diabetics the true nature of these additives.

  2. Al Says:

    I have to question the nutritional content of this post.
    Wouldnt university intervention be the more expensive and therefore less efficient means of intervention.
    Further isnt a failure of the entire education system that we end up with this dehumanised educational system of questionable continence whereby fundamental life skills and knowledge are ignored in favour of, insert your own here,….,!!!
    This is equally so also with regards to alcohol and in may cases it isnt just due to an incontinent educational philosophy as existing power/money relationships are tolerated whose only basis is the transfer of wealth from the exploited party.

    Note: this post was sponsored by “Lets love our fat kids” and “Student drinkers for the responsible drinking of drink”

  3. no-name Says:

    And yet when university folk go out for dinner zero thought is ever (in my experience) given to what the vegetarians/vegans, healthy-eaters, etc., will eat. Organizers don’t check menus first, or even ask, if anybody is vegetarian/vegan before making a booking. If it becomes an issue one is often told that there will be a vegetarian “option”, which is, in itself, thoughtless and offensive (would anybody look forward to going out for a meal knowing that they can have pasta and tomato sauce or pasta and tomato sauce?). At the last event that I attended the school served up chicken wings, sausages, etc., so, junk food. There was nothing, not one single thing, for me to eat and the organizer didn’t care.The vegetarian “options” in the student union shop here are the chicken sandwich or the tuna sandwich. There exists in this university, at least, a very high level of ignorance when it comes to healthy eating (healthy eating can include meat) or even personal, religious, cultural, etc., eating preferences. In fact, many people can’t identify basic vegetables. I have lost track of the number of times that so-called educated people have asked me, on discovering that I am vegetarian, whether I eat chicken or fish. It’s almost impossible to understand how somebody with a PhD (or anybody at all) could think that a chicken is a vegetable or a pulse, or, at least, not an animal. It is shocking that people are so unaware of what they are ingesting.

    I won’t even address the snide remarks that people who turn down the junk food offered at university events have to put up with.

    Anyway, vegetarian food is much cheaper than meat options, so just from a budget point of view it makes sense that it should be the majority of what is on offer at events, no?

    Educational institutions in Ireland would do well to look to Germany for a lead in this matter.

  4. don Says:

    Obesity is a complex issue, partly because it affects people in different ways, as outlined by Ferdinand. The complexity is added to by the fact that obesity is a manifestation of a number of contributory factors: diet, genetics, culture, economics of food supply, and, not least, exercise. The debate is not just about food intake – it’s also about what happens to that food once it’s in the body; conversion to fat is the problem. Exercise programmes in many Irish primary and secondary has become an optional extra, to be used (dare I say exercised) at the discretion of the teachers. Of course, it’s not really the teachers’ problem – it’s principally one for parents/guardians, many of who need state assistance and education to understand the enormous benefits of regular exercise.

  5. hunkasebnest Says:

    I am a former special education teacher and I wrote a children’s picture book that tackles the issue of childhood obesity. Hunka Chunka Monkey Shapes Up entertains children without being preachy. It places a simple truth as a foundation in their hearts… cut back on their favorite snack, become active and make new friends.

    Chris Powell of ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition reads my book to his children every night. He stated on his FaceBook, “The kids are requesting Hunka Chunka Monkey Shapes Up for their bedtime story tonight….AGAIN! This is the third in a row, but I love it. What a great message of healthy living for children:). Nicely done, Sam E Bromley!” Chris’s wife, Heidi Powell, used such words as ‘amazing’ and ‘brilliant’ when describing my story! I am excited about getting this message out. You can go to and type in my book’s name: Hunka Chunka Monkey Shapes Up and see a brief message about my story! Please pass this on for all to see and partner with me and let us stop the obesity problem in America by encouraging the very young to skip, run and jump their way to a better life and a better future!

    Sam E Bromley

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