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Chewing the Fat in the UK

So spring is in the air and our old friend Jamie Oliver is back to his usual rabble-rousing with demands that academy schools must be subject to the same draconian school meals standards as LEA-controlled ones and the launch of a campaign, backed by an alliance of celebrities, footballers and obesity campaigners for compulsory healthy cookery lessons in schools. The second may be a laudible objective in its own right but of course he justifies it in the context of fighting what he describes in typically potty-mouthed fashion as the ‘biggest f**king obesity epidemic ever’. Ironically, the School Food Trust, a taxpayer-funded organisation set up to implement improvements’ to school dinners in the wake of Oliver’s first campaign in 2005, is now warning that many children are at risk of malnutrition as a result of inadequate portion sizes driven by requirements to reduce calorie contents, lack of cafeteria time and fear of weight gain.

Whilst a survey of British doctors and the claims that a majority support restricting healthcare to smokers, drinkers and fat people has been receiving a lot of attention from Fatosphere bloggers, another story involving doctors passed largely un-noticed. The Academy of Royal Medical Colleges, which claims to represent every doctor in the UK, has united in a ‘crusade’ against obesity, which it claims in predictably Chicken Little-esque fashion to be the biggest single issue facing Britain. According to its spokesman Prof Terence Stephenson the project will spend three months reviewing the evidence for different types of obesity interventions and strategies but the striking thing about this is how much has already been taken for granted; that obesity is a problem requiring intervention is never questioned and the familiar alarmist urgency of language abounds. Whilst it is pointed out that the recommendations are not final, the proposed inquiry seems to be something of a window-dressing exercise and I’ll bet my house there’s no mention of HAES or the counterproductivity of some of the more extreme proposals being mooted anywhere in the final report.

Meanwhile the latest salvo in Peta’s anti-obesity crusade has not been well received. A billboard depicting a coffin-shaped meat pie with the tagline ‘fight obesity, go vegan’ has invoked the ire of local people (the location was apparently chosen due to the opening of new crematoria capable of dealing with 50st cadavers) and, interestingly, Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum. The hoarding was later defaced by vandals who tore away the ‘obesity’ section revealing a previous advertisement for McCain home fries. With food advertising next on the list of fat police ban targets, it seems that irony is rarely without a sense of humour.

Once again the language of the crisis has made the news. In an apparent rejection of a 2009 suggestion by the then opposition party that the word ‘fat’ should be used to shock and shame patients in preference to the more clinical ‘obese’ , a new NICE paper on fighting obesity in deprived communities advises against the use of the stigmatising O-word in favour of the (equally problematic from a FA perspective) phrase ‘healthier weight’. Woe betide any who suggest that fat people should be entitled to the use of respectful language, with the usual ‘antis’ dominating what passed for a debate in the mainstream media. British fat activist Kathryn Szrodecki pointed out on the BBC’s notoriously fat-phobic Breakfast show that whilst language is important in influencing attitudes, fighting the fat stigma that keeps fat people in their houses and avoiding the doctor should be even more of a priority, but was quickly drowned out with a rant from the obligatory ‘expert’. The Guardian’s take was typically puerile, with the implication that it was an instance of ‘PC gone mad’ more fitting of the Daily Mail, but even my city’s local newspaper covered the story, and with an uncharacteristically balanced piece.

Also in the Guardian ‘body image’ campaigner Suzie Orbach discusses the(really quite horrifying) findings of a British study into levels of weight-based discrimination in the workplace, Kevin Smith talks about his vilification and ridicule at the hands of the media following the Southworst sizism incident of 2010, and there’s a truly frightening demonstration of how fat hatred and rising levels of disability prejudice intersect over the issue of mobility scooters (or ‘obesicles’ as several commenters refer to them) and whether fat people without a specific diagnosis of a disability should now be prohibited from using them.

Elsewhere, rising rates of premature births and arthritis are the latest health crises to be blamed on weight, whilst a BBC report on a course for ‘fat food workers’ aimed at teaching them to cook healthier meals is also framed in terms of fighting obesity. There’s criticism of the sponsorship of the London Olympics by Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, renewed demands to replace the GDA method of labelling foods with a traffic-light system of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ items, another propaganda piece promoting WLS for kids and a study linking reduced testosterone levels to male obesity.

Oh, and yet another Channel 4 series, starts this week, this time claiming to tackle ‘Britain’s big fat problem’ with ‘secret eaters’ by subjecting ‘obese’ families to 24-hour surveillance in a chilling echo of the tactics employed by Social Services in the recent Dundee child protection case.

Whew. Now enjoy what’s left of the weekend...

Stories I've seen lately in my MedPage Today | There's a new issue of Vol•Up•2 online!

worrier May 13th, 2012 | Link | "there’s a truly

"there’s a truly frightening demonstration of how fat hatred and rising levels of disability prejudice intersect over the issue of mobility scooters (or ‘obesicles’ as several commenters refer to them) and whether fat people without a specific diagnosis of a disability should now be prohibited from using them."

This one gets me the most. Forbidding people from using mobility scooters in a democracy. This is the start of a really dangerous kind of overt discimination. If it does get enshrined in law this is getting into the Jews being banned from universities and shops and banned from marrying "aryans" territory that happened in Nazi Germany. Next will probably be fat people being banned from clothes shops. Has that one already been suggested?

vesta44's picture
May 13th, 2012 | Link | It wasn't that long ago when

It wasn't that long ago when one of the states here in the good old USA tried passing a law that would ban people from eating in restaurants if their BMI was over a certain number. Fortunately, there was such a hue and cry raised over it that the legislation was withdrawn (for now). We seem to be making some strides toward HAES becoming more acceptable, but the journey is one of 'two steps forward, one step back' (and sometimes it seems more like 'one step forward, two steps back'). There are times when I despair of humanity ever giving up its prejudices and biases toward all people.

WLS - Sorry, not my preferred way of dying. *glares at doctor recommending it*

omnifrog May 13th, 2012 | Link | I'm just sick of...

I'm just sick that every news report and newspaper article on obesity has to contain 3 things:
-headless fatties
-jokes about fatness or "clever" turns of phrase about expanding waistlines
-anything said by a person who has never been fat that uses the phrase "we need to..." where "we" refers to "fat people who aren't me."

I've seen all these things in legitimate newspapers, like the New York Times - often all in the same article. It's all just so dehumanizing and offensive.

richie79's picture
May 16th, 2012 | Link | Omnifrog, I've tried writing

Omnifrog, I've tried writing to the BBC concerning their use of headless fatties, using the Rudd Center's report into the issue and Charlotte Cooper's original text to support my argument that such imagery dehumanises its subjects and serves to exaggerate the perception of 'obesity' in the public consciousness. Whilst the Beeb have a reputation for being over-cautious about offending minority groups, the response I received did not engage with my concerns but instead attempted to justify the imagery on the basis that using candid shots of people in the public realm to illustrate news articles was perfectly legitimate. Legally, probably yes. Morally? Only if you consider fat people to be uniquely undeserving of respect or privacy.

Worrier, I've not seen restriction of access to clothes suggested by any experts yet, though it is a staple suggestion / demand of commenters on obesity epi-panic discussion threads. And with the withdrawal of Evans from the UK high street those at the top of the size range have been forced into the 'online ghetto' of unrepresentative models and constant returns without a single law being passed. A few years back someone suggested that plus-sized clothes should carry health warnings and the media frequently get all afroth about the availability of plus-sized children's clothes (especially school uniforms, how dare the fat kids get to dress like their peers!) but currently the debate seems to be around fat taxes, which given that hardly a day goes by without some group or another popping up to 'demand' we follow the lead of Denmark, New York etc in imposing them, now seem pretty much inevitable.

The mobility scooter thing is motivated by sheer, undisguised spite and as I said I suspect a lot of the hostility toward these vehicles has been deliberately generated by Government smear campaigns, assisted by a predominantly Conservative media, against poor people and those with disabilities in addition to 'the obese'. There seems to be an increasing and worrying trend for regarding anyone in receipt of any form of public assistance as undeserving scroungers sponging from the rest of society, and misusing their ill-gotten gains to fund luxuries (satellite TV and holidays being the most commonly-cited examples). Unsurprisingly, there has been a sharp upturn in disability-related hate crime, and I suspect the same would be true for verbal / physical attacks on fat people were thes recorded in the same way.

"What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right" - Albert Einstein

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