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Capitalism is literally bad for your health. That’s what official statistics show, with levels of obesity in England almost doubled in the last thirty years, threatening the lives of millions of people. And naturally, the conservatives have no solutions to this crisis, other than blaming individuals for their poor diets.

The scale of the problem is such that 28% of adults in England are now ‘obese’, defined as having a body mass index (BMI) over 30. And a further 36% are ‘overweight but not obese’, defined as having a BMI greater than 25.

This means that in total almost 65% of English adults have an unhealthy body weight, including around three-quarters of those aged 45-74. Meanwhile, one in seven children are obese by the age of five, rising to one in four children by the age of 11.

As a result, levels of heart failure, diabetes, osteoarthritis, kidney and liver disease have increased over the past decades. And the UK now has the second highest obesity rate in Europe.

All of this is yet another stark symptom of the long-term decline of British capitalism, which cannot provide a decent standard of living – including affordable and nutritious diets; accessible exercise facilities; and a healthy work-life balance – for the vast majority of ordinary people.

class matter

While obesity affects people from all walks of life, there is clearly a strong class element to this issue. The prevalence of overweight is on average 13 percentage points higher in the poorest parts of England compared to the wealthiest.

At the extremes, the trend is even clearer. In Halton, Sandwell and Bolsover, at least 76% of the population is overweight or obese. In affluent areas such as Hammersmith & Fulham, Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea, the figure is a maximum of 44%. And when it comes to children, obesity rates in poorer areas are double those in wealthier areas.

The reasons are clear. Highly processed foods – high in salt, refined carbohydrates, sugar and fat – are three times cheaper per calorie than healthier foods. With over 7.3 million people in Britain skip meals or unable to afford food due to the cost of living crisis, healthy eating has become a luxury for many.

There is also the question of the time needed to cook fresh meals – a fairly time-consuming activity. Those with busy or irregular work schedules, and especially those with children, are often forced to rely on unhealthy processed or takeout foods, which require little preparation.

While wealthier people can afford to eat in fancy restaurants – with plenty of nutritious and organic options on the menu – those in poorer households have no choice but to rely on fast food meals and unhealthy, high-calorie pub food, such as those offered by McDonalds and Wetherspoons.

Even in schools, the extreme pressure on budgets due to austerity means that the food served to children – often provided by outsourced companies that cut costs and profit – leaves much to be desired.

Combined with cuts to school athletic programs and community exercise resources, it’s easy to see how the obesity problem starts at such an early age.

(Un)healthy benefits

mcdonaldsburgerThen there’s how food is made. Food giant Nestlé admitted last year that more than 60% of its food was “unhealthy”. Indeed, it is more profitable for these companies to produce and sell ultra-processed sugary foods than to offer healthy options.

It is the inevitable result of producing and distributing food as a commodity, that is, for profit. While the wealthy have no problem enjoying the most varied and healthy diets, millions of people struggle to put even the most unhealthy meals on their tables.

Many other factors also contribute to the gap between the obesity levels of the rich and the poor. For example, while the wealthy can easily afford the time and expense of going to the gym – and even employing a personal trainer – such luxuries are beyond the reach of the poorest.

Many sports and exercise activities in general, on the other hand, involve high initial costs or setup fees. Expensive hobbies like bicycling and rock climbing, for example, have become more popular among higher earners in recent years. But these activities are either out of reach for low-income people or simply unavailable in working-class neighborhoods.

sugar tax

It is not surprising that the Conservatives have no solution to this growing problem. Earlier this year, for example, the Conservative government delayed action to curb the promotion and advertising of junk food to children. Obviously, they are reluctant to do anything that would eat into the profits of big food companies.

One idea floated as a solution to the obesity crisis is for the government to impose a high tax on salt and sugar. It is hoped that by doing so, it will encourage food manufacturers to reduce the use of these ingredients. Indeed, it was one of the key proposals put forward by a government-commissioned review of England’s ‘food strategy’.

While this may result in some recipes being changed, the overall impact of such a move would be to increase the price of cheap foods as manufacturers try to pass on their costs.

It is therefore a regressive tax that would simply hammer the already strained incomes of already working people harder, and as such must be fought.

“Personal Liability”

FoodBankGreat BritainEventually, the government rejected the idea of ​​a sugar tax, saying it did not want to raise food prices when incomes are already under pressure. There is no doubt that they are also reluctant to do anything that interferes with the big food companies’ ability to make a profit.

Instead, the conservatives’ “solution” to the obesity crisis is simply to blame individuals for their “wrong” lifestyle choices. Indeed, former Health Secretary Savid Javid simply urged people to “take responsibility” for their weight. Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, meanwhile, said “the best way to lose weight, believe me, is to eat less”.

But if obesity is simply a matter of willpower, how come there was virtually no obesity in Britain 50 years ago?

As always, all conservatives can offer is to blame individuals for the failings of the capitalist system.

Socialist solution

The obesity crisis, however, could easily be solved if only the profit motive were removed from the diet and fitness industries.

By taking over the big food producers and distributors, under a national food service, run under public ownership and under the democratic control of workers, we could ensure that supermarket shelves are stocked with nutritious and affordable food for those who want to cook at home or grab something to eat.

At the same time, by nationalizing large restaurant and fast-food chains, public canteens could be set up in businesses and communities, offering healthy and accessible meals to all, freeing people from the burden of domestic work.

Finally, large gym chains and recreation centers should be made public, giving grassroots communities free access to exercise. And there should be massive investment in public spaces and facilities for community sports and activities – starting in schools, but continuing throughout life.

Combined with a reduction in weekly working time, with no loss of pay, everyone could take advantage of the opportunity and ability to keep fit.

In the final analysis, these measures could only be achieved in a democratically planned economy – with production based on needs and not on profits, and with the working class taking power – within the framework of the socialist transformation of society.

Until then, eating healthy and exercising will increasingly be luxuries beyond the reach of millions of people.