Tom Gregory looks at the London Olympics’ pledge to ‘Inspire a Generation’ and asks whether Britons really will be inspired to exercise and take up a healthier lifestyle or will they continue to gorge themselves on fast food?
A series of recent reports has detailed the dire state of our nation’s health. The obesity crisis that has blighted Britain for the past decade appears to be rambling on with 1 in 3 children now classed as overweight or obese, whilst reports earlier this week indicated that 66% of adults do not maintain an acceptable level of exercise. Fat people, both as physical eyesores and as a financial drain, have become the skid mark on the underpants of our once great nation.
Yet as the cream of world athletes descend on London for the 30th Olympic games it is worth contemplating what impact the games will have on a nation whose sizeable Olympic budget pales into insignificance on observing its ballooning waste line. Will the sites and sounds of sporting history inspire a generation to turn away from the trough of fried chicken before them and lace up a pair of running shoes? Or will the barrage of fast food advertising campaigns that flicker across our television sets continue to poison the minds of the obese with lustful thoughts of calorific consumption?
As Sebastian Coe and the Olympic committee secured the 2012 games for London back in 2005, the proclamation that London 2012 would ‘Inspire a Generation’ was left ringing in the ears of all who beheld that now infamous day. Yet as eyes turned from the jubilation of Singapore back to our own shores, the cold light of a London summer morning exposed a generation stricken by an obesity epidemic.
Since that day, just about every spare inch of space in Britain has been festooned with Olympic decoration in preparation for the games. The Olympic committee has laid out a mandate to all involved in this summer’s Olympics to galvanize the next generation of Britons to take to the track, pool or dojo in an attempt to emulate the athletic stars of today. This message is not only intended for those blessed with natural sporting talent, but for the masses. This includes the countless numbers who are sat, vegetating in front of screens whilst they pillage yet another family bucket. It is hoped as Usain Bolt rampages down the track and Michael Phelps glides through the water that Britons will be inspired to put down the hamburger and pick up the javelin in their own pursuits of sporting endeavor.
But what is the reality of the ‘Inspire a Generation’ decree? Britain is a nation already blessed with a rich tapestry of sporting excellence. The most exciting domestic league in world football, a cyclist who has just championed the most demanding race on earth and a tennis player edging ever closer to his first major.
Regardless of the impact of the Olympics, there is undeniably enough ingredients in the cauldron of British sport to invigorate our population’s bodies. Surely then, if Britons required inspiration to leave the couch it would already have happened? A report by the globally acclaimed medical journal ‘The Lancet’ last week answers this question. Research into exercise highlighted Britain as the third laziest country in Europe, with roughly two thirds of our adults unable to maintain an acceptable level of exercise. Certainly, on the evidence of this report it appears that participation in sport for most Britons constitutes of little more than searching clumsily for the take away menu. It is folly to assume that after such a decorated history of sporting supremacy the London Olympics will actually inspire a generation to exercise. Britons, it seems, are more than satisfied with being the greatest armchair fans in the world.
The convenience culture that has ensnared Britain is epitomized during any major sporting event. Junk food companies appear to have a monopoly on advertising for the Olympics with television viewing permeated by an incessant barrage of chocolate, burgers, fries and fizzy drink. Our television sets depict adverts that correspond more with Epic Meal Time’s wet dream as opposed to encouraging vitality. The IOC must be brought into question here. It is entirely hypocritical to preach a message of physical refinement whilst simultaneously marketing foods that are at the nucleus of the obesity crisis. How can the obese be stirred from their lard induced slumber, when at the same time they are trapped in the tractor beam of the McDonalds arches?
Simply put, they won’t. Strings of saliva will continue to drip from the pallets of the obese as fast food outlets will be inundated with gargantuan orders from lazy Britons during the games. It is far easier (and more tempting) to hop in the car and drive to Burger King than it is to join the local gym. The lethal cocktail of convenience culture and toxic advertising campaigns will put pay to Seb Coe’s proclamation that London 2012 will ‘Inspire a Generation.’ From a health perspective at least the avalanche of adverts marketing junk food will ensure that the minds of Britons remain crippled by a constant return to drive thru’s across the country. Indeed, experts predict obesity figures to double during the next twenty years, inflicting deep financial wounds upon the NHS.
As the collective groan of sofas across the country shudder under the colossal weight of their occupants it appears that London 2012 will, realistically, do little to motivate its hoards of fat people to get fit. Britain, sadly, has become a nation of overweight layabouts, the junk food ads that pollute the subconscious of the obese will ensure we remain sprawled across sofas decimating portion after portion of fast food. It seems then, unless salad dodging becomes an Olympic event, the obesity epidemic will continue to rear its ugly head until more strident action is taken.