Susan Dalgety: The answers to our 21st century obesity crisis

Young people are heading for an obesity crisis. Picture: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Young people are heading for an obesity crisis. Picture: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
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It seems we are getting fatter. And our children – the much maligned millennials – are getting even fatter.

Cancer Research UK has issued a dire warning that millennials, those born between the early 80s and mid-90s, are set to become the most overweight generation ever.

By the time they hit 40, seven out of ten of this junk-food loving generation will be obese. And they don’t just risk humiliation in Top Shop’s changing rooms.

According to Cancer Research UK, being fat is linked to 13 different types of cancer, including breast, bowel and kidney tumours. Put bluntly, fat kills.

I have struggled with my weight most of my adult life, moving seamlessly from a svelte size ten in my late teens to the comfortable 18 that I am today.

I occasionally diet. My favourite is a low-carb one where I cut out everything starchy, from bowls of pasta to mounds of chips, and instead load my plate with veg.

And it works … up to a point. I can lose 10 pounds almost painlessly, but then one morning I will sniff some newly toasted bread, and I am a broken women.

Out go the oatcakes and rice cakes and I gorge myself on toasted sourdough and roast tatties.

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Within days it seems, those 10 pounds have returned and my dreams of slender thighs are as distant as they ever were.

I know, without any expert telling me, that if I am to realise my dream of a size 14, I will have to stop drinking red wine with my dinner every night and ditch sweeties, sourdough bread and potatoes, not for a few weeks, but for the rest of my life.

Frankly, I would rather die than be without my supermarket Pinot Noir and bars of marzipan-filled chocolate, so I focus instead on making sure I walk every day. Sometimes, I even walk briskly.

I may be a lost cause, but there is still time for those podgy millennials. They are old enough now to know better, and to change their eating habits before it is too late. Fewer Big Macs and more fruit would be a start.

But the generation I really worry about is our grandchildren. The latest NHS statistics tell us that nearly a quarter (22.9 per cent) of primary one children are at risk of being overweight.

And that the figure for children living in our poorest communities is heart breaking, with just over 26 per cent of children at risk of being fat, compared to 18 per cent in better-off areas.

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Policy makers have always known that fat is a class issue. After all, if you have a limited budget, where the pounds really do matter, then you are tempted to buy the cheapest food with the most taste sensation.

Offers like a recent one from a discount supermarket where you can buy two pizzas, a bag of frozen potato wedges, a large tub of ice cream and two litres of cola for less than four quid are irresistible when you are counting the pennies.

Somehow two smoked haddock fillets and a bag of spinach, which would cost you even less from the same shop, don’t have the same appeal.

So how do we tackle this fat crisis, one which threatens to overwhelm our health service, and destroy countless lives?

After all, fat doesn’t just give you cancer. It triggers heart disease, diabetes and makes you feel, and look, miserable. It also reduces your chances of getting a decent job, with nearly half of employers saying they are unlikely to hire overweight workers.

Politicians wagging their fingers at stressed out parents won’t work. Nor will well-meaning ad campaigns warning of the dangers of too much junk food. We need tougher action to end this epidemic.

The new sugar tax, which comes into force in a few week’s time is a start. Irn Bru addicts may moan just now that they don’t like the new low-sugar recipe, but this time next year they will have forgotten what the original tasted like, and hopefully lost a few inches.

And the Scottish Government’s plans to clamp down on supermarket price promotions of junk food deserve our support.

Supermarkets will squeal that such restrictions will hit “hard-pressed families” but what they really mean is that their profit margins will suffer.

But surely even they must realise that this is a price worth paying for the health of our nation.