The rise in millennial obesity is another intergenerational abuse that needs to be halted — and rationing is the answer, writes Alec Marsh
Not just maligned as ‘snowflakes’, millennials are now saddled with prediction that they are going to be the most obese generation since records began. These are going to be the fattest snowflakes in history.
Not since the last heady days of Rome it seems, when the first great pioneers of decadence were fed 12-course-banquets sustained by intercourse feather-induced vomiting, will the world have seen anything like it.
Fat is on the march like never before.
Already obesity in Britain has climbed from 15 per cent of adults in the mid 1990s, to a staggering, high-calorie 27 per cent today — making Britain the fattest country in Western Europe.
There might be more gyms than ever, but their lonely treadmills and pelvis-pummelling cross-trainers cannot keep up with the sheer tsunami of calories coming our way, nor with working lives that see most of us reduced to the tragic state of digital immobility.
As a result, it’s being predicted that more than 70 per cent of millennial adults will be overweight when they enter middle age — double the rate of the baby boomers, born after the war.
And there’s a fearfully high price to pay: the extra kilos of fat around the waists of our future forty-somethings will bring cancers — some 13 of them linked to excess body-fat, according to Cancer Research UK.
If dire predictions that this generation is the first in history that will be worse off economically than its predecessors weren’t bad enough, now we discover they face this health bombshell, too.
But it’s not just a tragedy for millennials: society won’t be able to cope either with the knock-on effects thereafter. For a start, even if you ignore the effect of other weight-related conditions, such as diabetes, it is clear that the NHS will not be able to manage this additional assault on its means. It is struggling already — and soon it’ll have all those centenarian boomers to look after. So something must be done to halt the rising tide of obesity and fast — and it’s this. Britain needs rationing.
The last time we had rationing in the 1940s and 1950s it was driven by resource shortages: this time it is being driven by an excessive abundance of resources and our sedentary lifestyles. The last time we had rationing it was driven by the need to prevent worldwide domination by the Nazis; this time it’s to prevent annihilation of a completely different but not less wily kind.
And it’s not about calories as such any more: wartime rationing gave adults some 3,000 calories daily but because so many people were working in manual jobs (and didn’t drive to work) we didn’t have societal obesity. Look at the pictures, they were downright skinny back in those days.
People are apparently eating less now, but the balance is just worse: our foods are more highly processed than ever before and they’re full of sugars and fats all of the worst possible kinds. Frozen pizza didn’t exist in 1943; perhaps if they had then the outcome in 1945 might have been different.
So rationing needs to be different — it needs to be about getting all of us to eat a more balanced diet — and it needs to be in tune with our times. Perhaps we could have smart cards that monitor our calorific intake, or the energy-quotient of our food purchases: so when you go to pay for the second jumbo Toblerone family pack of the week, your card could be declined. Yes it’s intrusive, but then the smartphone in your pocket gives people access to all sorts of information about you all of the time: why not harness it for positive ends?
And rationing could be part of a wider move that brings the same low level of social stigma to obesity as smoking currently enjoys.
Would you smoke in the car with your kids? What about gorging yourself on choccie bars and fizzy drinks — in the car — before calling in for a hamburger and fries? Isn’t that better known as day one of half term, for millions across Britain? But might it not become equally frowned upon?
Quite likely it should be.
For now, a modern form of rationing — much as it would be resented in certain quarters — would help each of us monitor quite how healthy or dreadful our diets are, and help us to make healthier decisions. And might just make all the difference. For sure it could help millennials and their children lead healthier, longer lives and restore at least one example of imbalance between the generations. They might have less dosh, but if they could at least live longer, healthier lives, that would be something.
Alec Marsh is editor of Spear’s