Leeds councillor asks why obesity is such a big problem in more deprived areas of city

A Leeds politician has questioned why obesity is such a big problem in more deprived areas of the city, suggesting children should be better educated about healthy diets and exercise.

By Richard Beecham
Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 4:45 am

A Leeds City Council scrutiny committee heard details of a report into health inequalities in the district, which showed life expectancy and general health outcomes were generally worse in areas with higher rates of poverty.

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Among the issues raised by the report was the prevalence of both childhood and adult obesity – as well as alcohol-related illness – which were higher in lower-income areas of the city.

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Photo: Clara Molden PA/Wire

Coun Caroline Anderson (Con) questioned why people living in some of the most deprived areas of the city were more likely to be buying “expensive” takeaway food, when healthier food and exercise was relatively inexpensive.

However, the council’s executive member for health partnerships suggested that many takeaway foods were in fact cheap and convenient, and those facing stresses caused by poverty were unlikely to be prioritising a healthy lifestyle.

The comments came during a meeting of the authority’s adults and health scrutiny board, following a presentation from council officers.

Coun Anderson asked: “All through this report there are things about problems with obesity and alcohol. That is what is highlighted. It costs a lot of money to get takeways. How do we square that? If you haven’t got much money then you would think it would be difficult to smoke, drink and buy fast food. Good food is relatively inexpensive.

“It’s probably an educational thing – if we are starting with children, we need to embed that early on. How to eat cheap nutritional food. To exercise, you don’t need to go to an expensive gym, we have beautiful parks and green spaces right across Leeds and are free to enjoy and exercise in.”

Leeds City Council executive board member Coun Fiona Venner (Lab) responded: “Poverty underlines all the health inequalities we are talking about. People need to meet their most basic needs first. If you are worried about how you are going to pay for housing and put food on the table, you are not going to be thinking about doing exercise. Poor-quality food is accessible and pretty cheap

“You are not going to think about going to the supermarket and buying vegetables, you are going to think ‘what is close? What is cheap?’ Food that is [high in] carbohydrate and sugary is immediately satisfying even though it is not healthy.

“You don’t have the mental bandwidth to have an exercise programme and plan healthy meals. People under that level of stress are far more likely to seek relief in things like alcohol and smoking.

“The link seems really clear to me. When you are in financial crisis and mental health crises – it’s difficult to make good choices.”

According to the report, the proportion of adults with a BMI of over 30 is 28.5 per cent in the most deprived parts of the city, and just 19.1 per cent in the least deprived. It also showed how the likelihood of deaths from alcohol-related liver disease was almost four times as much in the most deprived area of the city, as in the least deprived.

Speaking earlier in the meeting, Leeds City Council health consultant Kathryn Ingold told members: “Health inequalities impact on everybody – there are indications that overall levels of health are far worse for more unequal societies. Research shows life expectancy is longer and adult mortality, infant mortality, mental illness and obesity are lower in more equal societies.

“The health inequalities are not inevitable. They are created by luck, where we live and the experiences we have in life. These inequalities can be reduced through targeted intervention.”

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