There has been a lot in the news lately about the government’s new drive to address the growing number of overweight and obese adults and children. Alongside a new and improved obesity strategy, they have launched a pilot Fix your bike voucher scheme to help the public get on their bikes while GPs have been encouraged to prescribe cycling as a way to help their patients lose weight. At the same time, we are being urged to Eat out to help out by another government scheme that wants us to support our local restaurants and cafes. Presumably, the only way to do both is to cycle to our dining destination. But is that really going to help us lose weight?
If there ever was a time when the government gave out such mixed messages to the public, I don’t know when it was. Although a certain Stay at home slogan used when the government deemed it perfectly acceptable to test your eyesight by driving to castles comes to mind…Nonetheless, the recent NHS figures make for some depressing reading. There is no shying away from the stark reality that the UK has one of the highest rates of obesity in Europe but this isn’t a new problem. Despite the wealth of evidence and the consensus among professionals and the general public that being overweight and obese increases your risk of developing chronic illnesses including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, at least 12 kinds of cancer, liver and respiratory disease; the numbers are only getting worse.
For many working in healthcare it is no surprise that almost two thirds of UK adults are overweight with half of those being obese. Teachers and those working in the community already know that one in three children leave primary school being either overweight or obese. And it is hardly a revelation that obesity is highest amongst those living in deprived areas where children are twice as likely to be obese than those living in richer neighbourhoods. But unless these health inequalities are addressed, this population of children will grow up to develop further ill health as overweight and obese adults.
Now that the link between carrying excess weight and the greater risk of needing hospital admission, intensive care, developing serious illnesses or dying from Covid-19 has been unequivocally exposed, it seems that the government finally has the impetus to act. Which brings us to their newfound drive to get everyone on two wheels through the Fix your bike voucher scheme in an effort to shed some weight and build a more active and healthier nation. However, like many of the government’s slogans, it all comes across as being a bit too simplistic.
Although this is not to say that encouraging more people to cycle as a means of getting and staying fit is not a good thing. Ideally, we should all be exercising daily because it is particularly important for our cardiovascular health and to keep our muscles strong. Clearly, the demand for such a repair scheme is also out there because the initial 50,000 Fix your bike vouchers available have already been snapped up. There are of course, much broader benefits to getting everyone on their bikes including reducing the huge environmental impact of people travelling by car. However, most cities do not currently have the sufficient infrastructure to support safe cycling such as having dedicated cycle lanes. Suddenly flooding the roads with new cyclists is more than a little precarious to other cyclists, cars and pedestrians. Which only makes me wonder who Fix your bike is really intended for?
The repair vouchers were freely available online on a ‘first come, first served’ basis and disappeared quicker than any pre-Covid summer music festival. Therefore, anyone who managed to bag a voucher had to at least be pretty organised and have good access to the internet. With no qualifying criteria needed to apply for the scheme, how many of the first 50,000 vouchers were allocated to deprived areas of the UK where physical activity levels are low and there are higher numbers of overweight and obese individuals? Shouldn’t Fix your bike be targeting these areas?
Or was the voucher scheme flooded by requests from everyone out there trying to shift some of their lockdown weight aka ‘Coronaspeck’? This lovely German namesake literally translates as ‘Corona bacon’ and vividly illustrates the results of a recent King’s College Ipsos MORI survey that found that 48% of respondents have reportedly gained excess weight during the Coronavirus lockdown.
What if all of the 50,000 vouchers were allocated to those crafty cyclists who are already a healthy weight and physically fit but who are trying to get a free bike service? Wouldn’t it have made more sense for the scheme to have initially joined forces with the NHS so that GPs could dole out the Fix your bike vouchers to the same patients that they believe would benefit the most from taking up cycling and for which they will be prescribing it as a form of exercise?
However, the real elephant in the room is the premise of the scheme being promoted by the government. They want us to believe that taking up cycling is a simple step that you can take to lose weight, live a healthier life and reduce pressure on the NHS without even hinting at the primary role that diet plays. It is frankly disingenuous to not mention the ‘f’ word when access to healthy, nutritious food is central to maintaining good health. But it is also absolutely absurd to doing this in the same breath as the government is promoting its Eat out to help out scheme.
The Eat out to help out scheme gives all punters a whopping 50% discount on meals at participating restaurants and cafes for the month of August. Now if we are honest, most of us will admit that we have a natural tendency to be a bit greedy when it comes to food. Being gifted with such a hefty discount feeds straight into this instinct and only serves to encourage us to order more food than we need to eat to get the maximum deal. One of the actions the government has committed to in its new obesity strategy is to introduce future legislation that will require larger restaurants, cafes and takeaways to publish calorie labels on all the food they sell. However, at present this information is not clearly available to anyone sitting down in a pub trying to do the discount maths to work out if it’s better to go for the fish and chips or the 12″ pizza to get a ‘free’ pudding. In effect, the scheme doesn’t square up with the message to get on your bike to lose weight against the background of an ever-growing population of overweight and obese individuals.
At the moment, the Fix your bike scheme is not releasing any further batches of vouchers and are said to be monitoring the impact of the scheme with the cycling industry in order to manage the capacity of bike mechanics. I guess the rest of the masses who missed out in the pilot batch will have to find another means of losing weight, being more active and getting healthier. Only time will tell whether the government’s Fix your bike voucher scheme has been taken up by those who need it the most and if it has made any significant impact on the country’s waistlines. In the meantime, the Eat out to help out scheme has taken off with so much success that popular restaurants and fast food outlets are having to turn people away. Which only makes me wonder how soon we will be learning the new word for post-lockdown Coronaspeck…I suspect that in the UK, it may be a revival of the circa 70’s word for belly fat, a spare tyre.
Now for a recipe that was inspired after reading about someone reminisce about a favourite instant veggie burger mix they had eaten as a child in the 80’s. When I learned that it had become available I had to check it out. However, it was a bit of a letdown as it was full of palm oil and brimming with salt. I decided to try to create my own healthy version. This Veggie burger mix is a lot healthier and tastier than any you will find on a supermarket shelf.