Influential lobby group the National Obesity Forum (NOF) has admitted exaggerating the severity of the UK’s national obesity crisis and relying on anecdotal evidence, rather than scientific research, in its State of the Nation’s Waistline report published last week.
The document – which received widespread media coverage – claimed predictions made in the 2007 Foresight Report that half of Britons could be obese by 2050 had under-estimated the crisis. In reality, the problem was growing worse, it claimed.
But NOF spokesman Tam Fry told BBC Radio 4’s statistics programme More or Less, that the group had exaggerated its warnings about the scale of the obesity crisis in order to reach a wider public.
“What we were trying to do is force home [its obesity warning] …”, he said. “A little exaggeration forces the message home – that’s what we wanted to do.”
‘A little exaggeration’
Fry also acknowledged the NOF should have made clear its report was based on anecdotal rather than scientific research. “I think maybe we were a little wrong not to be more forceful about why we were drawing these conclusions,” he told the programme.
“We think it [the obesity problem] has got worse, because although we have no statistics and figures, we have a lot of observations,” said Fry. “The word coming through from clinics all over the country is the greater volume of people coming in for obesity – but, more importantly, coming in for the conditions that it engenders.” That included diabetes, cardio-vascular problems and strokes.
Since the Foresight report was completed, there had been little improvement in government action to remedy the problem of obesity, leading the NOF to conclude that the problem is growing still, said Fry.
‘Not as bad as we thought’
The programme highlighted research conducted after the 2007 study that suggested Britain’s obesity crisis was not becoming worse. Ben Carter, the programme’s obesity expert, said: “Most of the data published since 2007 has shown that things are not as bad as we thought – or at least not deteriorating at the rate we thought we would.”
US research was also quoted suggesting while the obesity problem was a serious problem, it was not becoming ever worse.
But Fry claimed there were various problems with the data. Chief among those was its reliance on body mass index, which generally under reports overweight and obesity. “There is a lot of literature that states that for a fact,” he said.
Speaking after the programme Fry told FoodManufacture.co.uk the Department of Health “had all the time in the world to say that the report was rubbish but they didn’t”.
Fry added: “Obesity is such a problem that that doctors now say 2M need gastric bands to curb their food intake. Also, gout, which used to be the preserve of kings, is now a lot more common .”
Listen to More or Less here .