Tag Archives: obesity

WARNING! Reading this blog could make you fat.

I was otherwise occupied last night. If I hadn’t been, I’d have joined in with the chorus of disapproval regarding Nuffield Health and Prof Michael McMahon’s pop at fat ‘role models‘ (see also the Metro’s coverage).

What to add that Costigan and Carol haven’t already said (or for that matter, Susie Orbach and Phill Jupitus)? Merely that the links between the diet/’fitness’ industry and the current obesity panic is one of the most under-reported scandals of our modern age.

It hasn’t gone completely unreported. I blogged about the Independent’s expose of The Obesity Awareness and Solutions Trust (which was quickly wound up thereafter, although you can still find their muddy footprints all over teh internets). TOAST was established by LighterLife who managed to rope Sandra Gidley into a gobsmackingly ill-advised press stunt which involved her walking around in a fat suit* (this exercise apparently proved that I am incapable of tying my own shoelaces – all it really proved is that Sandra must be considerably less fit than me). This latest bit of hate-filled PR by Nuffield only demonstrates quite how brazen they feel they can get away with being.

I get angry about all this because I know how it would have affected the younger me and thus I’m pretty sure how all this affects overweight children and teenagers today. When I look at old photos of my I’m amazed at how relatively unfat I actually was. If only I knew that then. I used to find it hard to imagine how an anorexic could look at themselves in a mirror and see themselves as larger than they really are – until I realised that I did that every day when I was in my teens and twenties.

And aside from Prof. McMahon and his gastric bands, or LighterLife and their magical yoghurts, what actual help is there out there? For me, it was a dietician who told me off for not looking after myself and gave me helpful advice like “if you feel like eating a chocolate bar, eat a digestive biscuit instead.”

These days, I appear to beyond medical help. The last two times I’ve registered at a doctor I’ve been too heavy for the scales – so even if BMI wasn’t totally bogus, they can’t actually tell me what my rating is. Yet I’m rarely the fattest person sitting in the waiting room. So what’s going on? How can the NHS lecture people about the obesity epidemic when they can’t even be bothered to actually measure how much people weigh?

Even the Wii Fit can’t help. I gamely stepped on our nice new one last week only for the computer to order me off and delete my records. Thanks a bunch. Real motivational that one.

The diet and fitness industry is established to make money out of the excessively vain and the desperate. If you fit into neither category, you are just fair game as far as they’re concerned. Like so many other aspects of modern living, they preach individualistic solutions to a phenomenon that is – if anything – a social problem. Walk through Chapel Market, as I do every day, and you’ll notice that most of the obese people you walk passed are from the local estate not executives from the nearby office buildings. Obesity and poverty go hand in hand, yet we are constantly assured that it is all the fault of individuals for eating too much despite evidence to suggest that diets simply don’t work.

I’m not sure that enough has been done to look into the links between mental health and obesity. There does appear to be a link with depression (and indeed a link between mental health and equality). Every week there appears to be new research about the placebo and nocebo effects – suggesting that the role the mind has over the body is still only dimly understood. It is odd that we are expected to believe that people like Beth Ditto and James Corden are such role models to their fellow fatties, yet the idea that obesity might be linked to self-esteem is ignored by the same people.

Either way, there must surely be something sick about a society that seems to simultaneously think that obesity is caused by over eating and can be solved by even more consumption.

“New Nagging” – a very Cameroon concept [UPDATED LOTS]

Small bit of advice to Andrew Lansley. If you have to insist that you are not “nannying” that is almost certainly what you are doing. Finger wagging doesn’t stop being finger wagging just because you have the fingers of your other hand crossed behind your back.

I know I need to read the actual speech rather than the media precis, but my kneejerk reaction is: what on earth has happened to Reform? They used to be the thinktank that so-called ‘Orange Bookers’ slammed in everyone else’s face as the epitomy of laissez-faire economic liberalism. In the past few months they’ve transformed themselves into one of the usual thinktank subjects – constantly harping on about how government should intervene here, and regulate that.

* * *

I’ve now read Lansley’s speech – I’ve even skimmed through Alan Johnson’s speech on obesity last month for good measure. I struggle to find much in the way of a substantive difference between the two. Both proudly unveil partnerships with the private sector. Lansley states “Providing information and example is empowering, lecturing people is not.” Johnson states “vilifying the extremely fat doesn’t make people change their behaviour.” There is a subtle difference there but it is not immediately apparent.

In the comments below, Dale Basset makes much of the fact that Lansley states that “Legislation will be a last resort.” Is he honestly suggesting that Alan Johnson would say anything different? It isn’t as if the government have been falling over themselves to introduce legislation. In fact though, it simply isn’t true. In Lansley’s bullet point list of steps to take, legislation – specifically European legislation – is right on the top of his list. Points 3, 5 and 8 are also primarily regulatory and/or concerned with state intervention.

His prescription for tackling adult obesity may be legislation-lite, but it is very heavy on “supportive rôle models and positive social norms.” Be honest, given that this is supposed to be aimed at adults, does it not sound more than a little patronising? He actually suggests a teenage version of Lazytown, but by implication he is suggesting an adult version as well.

And as for the children, he explicitly calls for more nannying, merely questioning the nannying style: “we need more of a ‘Mary Poppins’ than a ‘Miss Trunchbull’.”

Bearing all that in mind, he is lucky that he doesn’t get done under the Trade Descriptions Act for calling his speech “No excuses, no nannying.”

Finally, regarding the ‘no excuses’ stuff, it varies between the nonsensical and the deranged. He explicitly attacks the government’s Foresight report for sending out the ‘wrong’ message to obese people. Since when did obese people, with the obvious exceptions of Lansley and myself, sit around reading government reports (admittedly, this may change if they end up cancelling Countdown)?

The line “Tell people that biology and the environment causes obesity and they are offered the one thing we have to avoid: an excuse.” is all too reminiscent of John Major’s call for society to “condemn a little more and understand a little less.” In short, it is classic Tory Flat Earthism. Who cares if there may be important biological and environmental factors behind the increase in obesity? Whatever you do, don’t tell the fat people.

I speak from personal experience here when I tell you that we fatties are perfectly good at finding excuses ourselves. We don’t need government reports to provide them for us and we certainly don’t need populist politicians to protect us from ‘unhelpful’ things like scientific research. I’m happy to take responsibility for my own body shape, but that is another thing entirely from dismissing external factors. One external factor for instance is being singled out as the fatty every day throughout your school career. While I’m no scientist, I have no personal doubt that there is a link between obesity and mental health, as this interesting Ben Goldacre article suggests. Not only might the “no excuses” culture of Toryism not work, but if its main effect is to simply make fat people feel even worse about themselves it could prove counter-productive.

One of my favourite David Boyle books is Tyranny of Numbers. Way before its time, in it he comes up with a number of ‘paradoxes’ about our target obessed culture. Paradox Number Seven states that “When you count things, they get worse.” It certainly seems to me that the more our society obsesses about obesity, the bigger a problem it becomes. Why this has become such a big thing over the past decade I can only guess at, although I suspect it has something to do with irresponsible medical professionals getting carried away with numbers which suit their budget submissions, and a burgeoning diet industry that can now afford to hire sock puppeting lobbyists (and even MPs). I look around me and don’t seem to see much more obesity than there was 20 years ago, yet everyone I know with a bit of muscle on them is BMI classified as obese. It strikes me that a proper ‘conservative’ attitude would be to not get carried away with all this at all. And ultimately, it if boils down to a choice between traffic light labelling on food and having Chris fucking Hoy rammed down my throad as the latest Lansley-approved ‘rôle model,’ I’ll stick with the regulation thanks.

Sandra Gidley’s favourite crash diet under investigation

LighterLife, already in my bad books over TOAST and fat suits, are the subject of a BBC investigation tonight:

The liquid-based programme, aimed at people who are three or more stones overweight, involves dieters consuming just 530 calories a day for 12 weeks.

But Inside Out has heard from some dieters who have experienced disrupted periods, hair loss and water poisoning.