Health & Wellbeing

Better to be fat and fit…

Post it note with 'live longer' written on

Better to be fat and fit than thin and sedentary – and that’s proven!

Almost a quarter of British women are obese and nearly as many men, according to the European health interview survey published by the EU's statistical office Eurostat. Meanwhile, Jamie Oliver continues his campaign to improve school food, asking the prime minister to ensure that academies don't undermine it, and again focusing on "rocketing obesity rates in the UK".

But this focus is all wrong. Obesity isn't what's robbing us of good health and life. Using data from the Cooper Centre Longitudinal Study, exercise scientists have established that you can be fat and fit. In fact, it’s better to be overweight and active than a normal weight and sedentary in terms of the risk of mortality.

Physical inactivity is the biggest public health problem of the 21st century. Yet instead of paying attention to sedentary lifestyles, we keep on focusing on fatness. Individuals can't resist stepping on the scales and what we put in our mouths is the staple of all weight-loss programmes. Physical activity is almost always a secondary consideration and, even then, is only in the mix because of its power to help us to lose weight.

This narrow focus is repeated in campaigns and across the media. However, the obsession with how much people weigh and how much weight we need to lose isn't helping us lead longer and healthier lives, or reducing the burden on the health service.

Campaigns such as the Government's Change4Life initiative combine diet advice and alcohol tracking with activity suggestions but the message needs to be far more straightforward. Forget berating young and old for their eating habits and what the scales are saying and give them the much more appealing solution that physical activity is the way to a longer, healthier life.

If you offered people a drug that would confer these benefits with no side-effects, you would be trampled in the rush. A pill that promised the same effect as just 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity each day would make headlines around the world. Yet because it's not a new miracle cure on the market, and it's not a mythical super food, it's not news at all. But the evidence is there. Physical activity can reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers and even delay cognitive decline.


Better to concentrate on the positive and what we can do rather than what we should give up. It’s an all-round healthier approach.