Stop the UK government's weight-loss incentive scheme

Stop the UK government's weight-loss incentive scheme

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Lori Allison started this petition to UK Parliament and

Hello,

My name's Lori, a 21-year-old student from the UK. Like many I have experienced mental health issues, an estimated 1 in 4 of us have [1]

A few years ago I experienced severe eating disorders which nearly ended my life on several occasions, however, I managed to survive it and find appropriate support. But this isn't the same for everyone, in fact, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, and is the leading cause of death for women aged 15-24. [2]

Shocking, and jarring statistics. So when I read about the UK government's proposed weight-loss incentive scheme, estimated to be released in January 2022, my blood ran cold. The plan aims to tackle what the government refers to as the 'war on obesity', by tracking family supermarket spending, by offering financial incentives in the form of discounts and rewards for families who utilize calorie monitoring and exercising in efforts to lose weight. 

The concerns I have with this initiative is that it places the emphasis on weight loss and from personal experience, weight-loss measures such as calorie tracking, restriction, exercising, and weighing oneself can very easily become compulsive - especially when there's a monetary motivation, and a reward to reinforce these behaviors. 

Research suggests that those who have family members with eating disorders are more likely to develop eating disorders themselves when compared to individuals who have no family history of these illnesses. This is particularly worrying when considering the proposed financial incentive, as households may come to rely upon it - especially with rising costs of living and raising a family.

Furthermore, this will likely unfairly target the working class, especially those living in poverty - despite being more susceptible to developing eating disorders, depression, and anxiety; at a time in which mental health services are in high demand. For example, BEAT (the UK's leading eating disorder charity) reported that demand for their services increased by 35% during lockdowns. 

To put my concerns into perspective, here are some more shocking statistics regarding the contributing factors to eating disorders, and disordered eating. Factors that I hope the government is considering by adopting a holistic and health-driven initiative as opposed to a weight-stigmatizing approach: [3]

  • A 2014 study found that rates of disordered eating have increased across all demographic sectors, but at a faster rate in male, lower socioeconomic, and older participants. 
  • Teenage girls from low-income families are 153% more likely to be bulimic than girls from wealthy families. 
  • Middle school girls who dieted more than once a week were nearly four times as likely to become smokers, compared to non-dieters.
  • 79% of weight-loss program participants reported coping with weight stigma by eating more food.
  • Weight-based victimization among fat youths has been linked to lower levels of physical activity, and negative attitudes about sports.
  • Among fat adults, those who experience weight-based stigmatization engage in more frequent binge eating, are at increased risk for eating disorder symptoms and are more likely to have a diagnosis of binge eating disorder.

 

So I urge the government to include active forms of mental health support in this scheme, to implement safeguarding measures such as a self-assessment tool to monitor the mental wellbeing of service users, and to seek an independent review of the resources by a mental health organization, as focusing purely on weight loss fails to take into account the societal, emotional, and environmental factors which can influence someone's attitudes towards their health.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with issues surrounding eating disorders and body image, please visit the organizations below and source some support.

BEAT

(Member of Language Line and can provide access to an interpreter for non-English speaking callers.)

Anorexia & Bulimia Care (ABC)

  • Helpline: 03000 11 12 13
  • Email (for you): support@anorexiabulimiacare.org.uk
  • Email (for someone else): familyandfriends@anorexiabulimiacare.org.uk 

Family and friends support group

Samaritans

National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) 

Sources:

1. Mind.org.uk. 2020. How common are mental health problems?. [online] Available at: <https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/> [Accessed 30 July 2021].

2. Mirasol.net. n.d. Eating Disorder Information and Statistics. [online] Available at: <https://www.mirasol.net/learning-center/eating-disorder-statistics.php> [Accessed 30 July 2021].

3. National Eating Disorders Association. n.d. Eating Disorder Statistics & Research | Learn | NEDA. [online] Available at: <https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders> [Accessed 30 July 2021].

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