A generation of overweight and obese schoolchildren are ‘ticking timebombs’, a Sunderland MP has warned.
In a candid online interview with the British Obesity Society, Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson talks about her own weight battles, the fears she has for the nation’s youngsters and the abuse she receives in her role as Shadow Minister for Public Health.
All of these young people are ticking timebombs, absolute ticking timebombs, and we have got to do something about it.Sharon Hodgson
The MP, herself a type 2 diabetic, said: “I don’t like the thought I’m a burden on society, that my choices in life has led to me having this condition that is going to cost society money, but all of these young people are ticking timebombs, absolute ticking timebombs, and we have got to do something about it.
“One in five, when they start school, are overweight and obese, and that rises to one in three by the time they leave primary school.”
She highlights the effects of social deprivation on health: “Sixty per cent of the most deprived boys aged five to 11 are predicted to be overweight or obese by 2020, compared to about 16 per cent of boys from the most affluent group.
“In Victorian Britain, the waifs and strays were skinny and now it’s the other way around.”
She talks openly about how her own weight problems developed: “Takeaways were not a part of our existence growing up, treats were few and far between because there just was not the money.
“But then I was working, I had my own money, I could buy my own treats.
“So very soon into my 20s, I could feel that I was starting to carry a bit more weight but I was still no more than a ten/twelve and I was a size 12 when I got married.
“We’d cook at home and we’d cook huge amounts of food and I suppose portion control then became the obvious thing. When you’re young, you think weight is never going to be an issue.
“I’m in my early 30s, I’m married, I’ve got two kids, I don’t mind being a little bit heavier.
“You know, you’d put half a stone on here, you’d put half a stone on after each kid, and then they’re toddlers and you put another half a stone on and it just slips on so, so easily.
“The link with type 2 diabetes and being overweight, I don’t think it was as clear. I cant ever remember thinking I’ll get type 2 diabetes if I don’t control my weight.
“I was well into my 40s when I started to become aware there could be long term health implications if I didn’t get control of my weight, but still it seemed like that will happen to somebody else because I’ve got quite a healthy diet.
“I also felt women who did mange to control their weight and stay that perfect size ten/12 were doing it through massive self control and self denial and never allowing themselves to eat.
“I just thought the only choice was about denying yourself these things to look thin or being the size I was and being able to eat what i wanted.”
Even a health scare did not change her behaviour: “I remember going to the doctor and my blood pressure being high.
“I wish that had shocked me into doing something, because he said ‘We are going to have to medicate you for your blood pressure if you don’t get your weight down’.
“But he never mentioned diabetes or anything like that and I was still ‘Well,I feel fine’.
“Then the diabetes diagnoses came about. I was probably 49. I remember going and they just did some blood tests and were monitoring my blood pressure.
“I can remember once being told my sugars were high and I might be pre-diabetic, but nobody told me what I was supposed to do then.
“I was there for a follow-up check-up and there was never a moment where somebody said to me ‘I’m sorry I have to tell you you’re now of Type 2 diabetes’. It was just in passing, she went ‘Oh and obviously, now you’re diabetic...’ and I went ‘What? What did you say?’
“That was the huge shock, that I then felt so guilty and thought ‘Why didn’t I do something about it?’
“The job I do now, shadow public health, I get a lot of criticism. People say ‘How can she be shadow public health? She does not look the healthiest person in the world, she obviously does not practice what she preaches.
“And that is cruel, that is part of the whole stigma and the fat shaming, that you’ve got to be a thin person to be able to do this job, rather than someone who is living it and experiencing the battle with obesity.
“It makes me so passionate about wanting to get it right for the next generation. I started off as a slim kid, a slim young woman and became overweight over a long period of time.”