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...