Creating a Question
I have developed an interest in health sciences from studying biology and PE and from undertaking work experience at Worthing Hospital shadowing physiotherapists. This led me to investigate an area of my interest around this subject focus. Initially I wanted to look at the use of drugs in sport and whether elite athletes should be allowed to use currently illegal performance enhancing drugs. However, I found that this area wasn’t particularly related to my career aspiration as a physiotherapist and wasn’t as technical as I had imagined it. But this question did lead me to consider whether it is moral to allow people to inflict injury upon themselves. I therefore considered the question: ‘Should the NHS treat self-inflicted injury?’ This would address issues such as smoking, obesity, illegal drug use and the flexibility of the NHS constitution which is relevant to me as a potential future employee of the NHS. I found this area particularly interesting as I may well treat patients with illnesses resulting from obesity, smoking and illegal drug use but found that the area was too broad to write about concisely in an extended project. This is because there are numerous ways that an individual can inflict harm on themselves; accidently or deliberately and it was very difficult to set the scope of the question.
For this reason I have decided to focus on just one of these areas – obesity. Looking at UK data over time showed that obesity is a growing problem within the UK, and the ramifications for the NHS are large in treating diseases which stem from obesity. Obesity in itself is a massive area and there are two main causes – eating too much and exercising too little. Therefore, to narrow down the subject focus I chose the question ‘Can the UK overcome food-induced obesity?’ This question will evaluate whether the UK can get national rates of obesity to fall by changing people eating behaviour. Currently, our poor diets are one of the reasons so many people over consume calories – there are always numerous fast food outlets and takeaways available. In this report I will look at whether people can change their own eating behaviour without any help by assessing the nature of the food we consume (the biological issue). I will look at economic and legislative solutions the government can use to influence eating behaviour also; including taxes, subsidies and changes to the law on advertising.
I have used the NHS website to get the standard definition of obesity to help set the scope of the question and introduce the question. Government statistics I have found also help to show the current scale of the issue in the UK and the estimated cost to the NHS – which shows the need for obesity to be reduced. The NHS website was also very useful to show the consequences of obesity for the individual; it showed that obesity carries a significant risk for developing type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, cancer and psychological depression.
In October through to December I had difficulty collecting a variety of sources because I had broken my ankle and cannot access libraries to find the books I want to read. However I have overcome this by using the online library for the university of sussex. This way I can access articles and books that I need remotely without having to go to Falmer. I also used the internet to find other online articles from newspapers.
The New Scientist had an article on the addictiveness of junk food from 2003. This article combined the research of several scientists and their experiments. Particularly useful was the evidence from John Hoebel’s experiments involving rats; which showed that rats experience withdrawal symptoms from sugar – a key ingredient in junk food.
I have found articles which argue that junk food addiction can be broken. Mark Hyman and Sara Gottfried speculate that the biochemical changes to the body that occur when it is subdued by addiction can be reversed with the correct nutrition.
To help with my understanding of the economics of the issue, including the effects of taxes and subsidies and elasticity of demand, I spoke to Steve Foden; my economics teacher from last year. We discussed the characteristics of junk food and after explaining my findings from my research on the addictiveness of food we agreed that junk food is a property with inelastic demand. We then applied this to supply and demand diagrams and he explained that taxes are accounted as a cost of production for the manufacturer of the goods. This causes the price of the taxed product to rise and the demand for it to fall, but for goods with inelastic demand the proportionate change in demand is smaller than the increase in price. This means it would take a very heavy tax to bring about any meaningful change in eating behaviour that could affect rates of obesity. Steve then explained that if this information was true; the way to bring about a fall in the consumption of junk food is to change its elasticity of demand through education. I also referred to the AQA AS Economics text book.
A study by Cambridge University which used economic data revealed that the cost of junk food is three times cheaper than that of healthier food for the same calorific intake. This helps to introduce the economics of the issue as this difference in price is key to why people’s eating behaviour could be making them obese.
I have also found an academic article on JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) which supports the uses of taxes and subsidies in the food market. I used their points and ideas to shape some of the arguments in my discussion.
To look at changes in legislation on food advertisement and labelling; the best sources I could find were newspaper articles from the Daily Mail, BBC and the Guardian. These were better than academic papers because they were much more updated. I found that motions to ban food advertisement and enforce stricter food labelling had been met with hostility by the government and food industry; despite the fact that research suggests these policies could significantly improve people’s eating behaviour.
Writing the Report
Despite narrowing down my subject focus as outlined earlier, I still am having problems condensing all the research I undertook into the report because I did not want to exceed the word count. For this reason I have decided to divide the report overall and the discussion specifically into separate chapters . I then planned out how many words I would approximately allocate to each section and allowed myself to have an error margin of 10-20%. This greatly helped me to write more concisely and achieve the same level of detail without wasting time and words.
Research Review: 2100
Within the discussion I also split the report into chapters. I felt that the question divided appropriately into three separate chapters: biological, economic and sociological/ legislative perspectives. Therefore I allocated approximately 650 words for each of these sections.
I also have had difficulty explaining some of the points I was making. For example, in the economics chapter I found it difficult to explain to the reader the implications of a tax and subsidy in words. For this reason I decided to include some diagrams taken from internet sources such as supply and demand diagrams. These helped me to explain the implications of taxes and subsidies better as I could refer to the diagram throughout my explanation. I used a picture of the proposed traffic light food labelling system too, in order to show the readers the clarity of this system.
After meeting in action learning pairs I was given some advice on how to improve some of the more technical parts of the report. For example, many readers have not studied economics and my partner explained that they found it difficult to pick up on some of the economic concepts – particularly the price elasticity of demand. To address this issue I have made a greater effort to explain and define these terms so that no prior understanding of economics is needed to follow the report.
Looking back at my finished project I believe that I have answered the question I set out to. I have found and interpreted a wide variety of evidence around the issue and improved my own understanding.