With obesity set to increase, life expectancy will inevitably decline, says Swansea University academic in new book

A Swansea University academic’s new book explores why present public health approaches to obesity have failed and stand little chance of preventing further increases.

Aimed at the general public, Tackling the Obesity Crisis: Beyond Failed Approaches to Lasting Solutions by David Benton, Professor Emeritus at the School of Psychology, issues stark warnings about the alarming global problem of obesity, which can reduce life expectancy by as much as 14 years.

In 2022, the World Health Organization found that 59% of European adults were either overweight or obese, a shocking statistic that looks only to be getting worse, with more than half the world predicted to be obese by 2035.

In his new book, Professor Benton explains that health policy has failed as no country has significantly reduced the incidence of obesity. Reducing fat or sugar intake shows little evidence of health benefits, with some studies reporting increased obesity. No commonly used approach, such as putting calories on menus, has a meaningful effect.

He suggests various reasons for this public health failure.

Professor Benton said: “While there are over a hundred factors that influence obesity, policies only consider one or, at the most, a few. Calorie intake is so much greater than is required that interventions do not adequately reduce consumption. Even when individuals are able to reduce their weight, there are biological changes that encourage regaining lost weight.”

He concludes that a radically different approach needs to be taken.

Professor Benton said: “There is no obvious solution, but there are several possibilities that could be explored. A major factor is poverty, so action directed to this section of society could be key. We know that the way infants are fed in the first years of life determines the likelihood of obesity when adult, and it’s important for a mother to control their weight when pregnant.”

“Many existing policies aim to offer a healthy choice, although as too few change their behaviour, attention must concentrate on the individual. They should be empowered by correcting false beliefs and teaching successful approaches.”

For forty years, Professor Benton, an internationally recognised expert on diet and behaviour, has researched the relationship between nutrition and brain functioning. His work has been quoted by both the American and United Kingdom governments when developing health advice, and in the UK, he has given evidence to the House of Commons and House of Lords on the influence of diet on behaviour.

Tackling the Obesity Crisis: Beyond Failed Approaches to Lasting Solutions, published by Springer, is now available to purchase from Amazon.