Tuesday, May 3, 2011

On the Sick

The government are busying themselves trying to get people off disability benefits because it costs too much. Some 1830 people are on incapacity benefit because of obesity. Many others will be disabled because of diseases caused by obesity, including heart disease, stroke, arthritis and many others. There's increasing evidence that obesity significantly raises the risk of dementia. Yet more people will be disabled because they were injured in a car crash.

Simply getting people off incapacity benefit does not get them working, and it does not reduce their healthcare costs. It would make a lot more sense if the government were working to fight obesity and road danger, thus tackling a number of public health problems at source, rather than trying to reduce the cost after the damage is done. Successive governments have refused to do anything meaningful to reduce the UK's sedentary, car-dependent lifestyle, so we can't be surprised to find ourselves at the top of the European obesity league. Promoting cycling would be a good way to start to tackle the problem of obesity, rather than blaming and penalizing the victims of past policies. Yet, in spite of the fact the Prime Minister, the Mayor of London are cyclists, along with other members of the major parties, cycling still seems to be seen in policy terms as a minority, slightly eccentric activity rather than a useful tool for improving public health. They accept the health and environmental benefits of cycling, but they can't conceive of large numbers of people actually doing it. In contrast, for countries like the Netherlands, cycling is a priority for no better reason than it makes economic sense to keep the nation active and healthy. As a result, the Netherlands has one of the lowest rates of heart disease in Europe, whereas the UK has one of the worst, and the UK has more than double the obesity rate of the Netherlands.

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