One of the truly head-scratching paradoxes of recent times is the great health and fitness degeneration simultaneously manifesting as the fitness explosion. These wildly contradicting graphs appear to make no sense!
Lets have a look at some basic facts. We eat fewer calories per person per day than was the case a few decades ago. Nutritional knowledge is now well and truly in the mainstream and consumption of organic products and items termed as ‘health foods’ has never been higher. In the wider health and fitness world we now have: more exercise products, more gyms, more fitness classes, more trainers and professionals, more magazines, more TV and radio shows, more books, more DVDs and infinitely more web information.
And the result of all this is? An obesity epidemic effecting one in four women and one in five men, record numbers of eating disorders in males and females – back in 2007 84,377 UK hospital bed days were used to treat eating disorders, a rise of almost 35,000 from 2002 and it has not been getting better – sports/activity participation amongst schoolgirls at a record low and a growing sedentary lifestyle amongst large elements of the population.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
How can things be getting so much better on one hand, yet so much worse on the other?
I have no straightforward answer but suspect that we have become very good at preaching to the converted who continue to exercise and eat well, while losing sight of the more reluctant or less aware. The polarity between those who are interested and active and those who don’t want to know seems to be on the increase. A kind of fitness version of the ‘rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer’.
If this is indeed true we in the fitness industry and anybody who follows fit and healthy principles need to make ‘our world’ more inclusive, less intimidating and perhaps a little less self-involved, earnest and serious. It is of course a serious business but one that is exhilarating, life affirming, sociable, beneficial and fun. Perhaps this doesn’t come across to the doubters often enough? We have to welcome and encourage all.
The increasing habit of decrying training habits and methodology of past years irritates me. Perhaps some of the things we did in school PE classes were not technically perfect but at least we were doing them! For some people now well into their adult years this might have been the only active period of their lives. If they’re now hearing it was all so old-fashioned and wrong it is unlikely to inspire a new resolve. I suspect what it does do is provide an excuse for ever more courses and certificates!
Currently 25% of women and 20% of men in the UK are classified as obese. Even if we consider the unsatisfactory height, weight, ratio method of measuring these things (a system that would likely see entire international rugby teams classified as obese) they are still alarming figures. And it gets worse. Child obesity has trebled in the last 20 years (10% of six-year-olds and 17% of 15-year-olds) and adult obesity has quadrupled over the last 25 years. These figures coincide exactly with the start of the fitness boom in the 1980’s.
I think part of the problem is that for every hard yard gained in spreading the word and positively engaging people, two yards are very easily lost. The media has a massive role to play but unfortunately some journalism can be little short of irresponsible.
Recently a more seriously minded tabloid devoted half a page to the findings of an absurd and entirely redundant study from Holland. A sensational headline was followed by a story front-loaded to maintain the ‘shock’ element. The story told us that out of obese people, smokers and ‘correct weight’ non-smokers it is the latter that provides a greater per-head burden on the health system over an entire lifetime. Only in the latter depths of the article is this attributed to the fact smokers generally die first, obese people follow and then a good deal later the correct weight non-smokers pass away. It also admitted the study didn’t take into account such factors as working days lost over an adult lifetime by smokers and the obese or health effects on others. In short the study was worthless and the article even more so – though anybody reading the first three quarters would simply blame most of us for being such a burden on the state.
Days later papers, TV and Radio told us that obesity can be attributed to a genetic pre-disposition. The way it was reported simply gave any overweight person full license to absolve themselves of responsibility. What it didn’t say was that some people are more pre-disposed to weight gain than others (no secret there) if they live an unhealthy lifestyle. That is a totally different message. Sadly it is far too sensible and obvious to be a headline grabber.
I believe two such national stories with skewed emphasis does a huge amount of harm. Unfortunately the basic facts probably aren’t exciting enough. We can talk physiology, biology, biomechanics and all sorts of science, but it’s the simple stuff that provides the foundation from which to reverse so many negative trends. We may have more gyms than ever and more home exercise products and outlets for information, but sometimes real change lies at a more basic level. For example a mere 12 months after smoking bans were introduced in Ireland and Scotland reported cases of heart attacks fell by around 18% in each country. There were no other indicating factors.
I’m not saying countless bans are the way forward, but it does show that real progress can be achieved through sensible lifestyle choices. Nothing clever, nothing complicated and nothing radical. Just sensible.