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UK Government criticises obesity epi-panic

Just by way of an update, the All-Party Parliamentary Group into body image has now published the report of the inquiry discussed above. Considering this a Government document there's some really good, groundbreaking stuff in there, including acknowledgement of the limitations of the BMI, the role of constant media discussion of the obesity epidemic as being key to fuelling fear of fat in children, the prevalence and effects of weight stigma, the potential harm being caused by the National Child Measurement Programme, the need to re-frame the emphasis of public health messages away from the current focus of weight and obesity and even (and perhaps most controversially) the potential for legislative action against discrimination and prejudice based on appearance, effectively making weight a protected class in terms of access to employment, housing, goods and services.

On the downside (and not entirely surprisingly) the recommendations place a disproportionate focus on the role of the media over and above that of central / local Government and their often ill-advised NHS / Education Department campaigns which deliberately target children and problematise fat at an increasingly younger stage. They also take claims that there is an obesity epidemic or multiple crises of public health for granted and avoid examination of the evidence base for these, instead regurgitating the 'accepted wisdom'. Some of the language also leaves much to be desired. But all in all, it's a good start.

However as the group's primary targets the mainstream media, has unfortunately and almost without exception attempted to downplay, dismiss and put a negative spin on the group's findings in a thoroughly spiteful and apparently co-ordinated attempt to ensure that after a flurry of animosity toward fat people the report ends up being quietly forgotten about. The worst culprits were (as usual) good old Auntie Beeb with a piece which focused exclusively on the recommendation that public health messages be presented in weight-neutral language and twisted it into being about 'banning' the use of the 'overweight' and 'obese' labels (again).

Of course all these articles have comments enabled and if one were to take the balance of opinion expressed within at face value (which I long ago learned never to do) you'd be mistaken for thinking that denying the great British Public their right to bully and shame fat people was up there with ID cards and road pricing in the list of unpopular Government suggestions; as such expect to hear little more about it. When the UK press and media bare their teeth, woe betide anyone who resists.

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

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richie79's picture
June 8th, 2012 | Link | Thanks for bumping this Dee;

Thanks for bumping this Dee; I was going to put together a more detailed summary of the report, but just haven't had the time. And you're absolutely right to file it under 'Mixed Messages'. To clarify, this ISN'T official Government policy, which still favours a weight-centred approach to healthcare, but the report of a committee of MPs which in turn stemmed from a climate of concern about the impact of media representations on the self-esteem of children and teenagers. Whilst the report is a useful summary of the issues, its recommendations and finding run so far counter to the prevailing climate and tone of discussion within both the media and Government that all but the least contentious are extremely unlikely to be adopted, at least on the strength of this one document. For instance, the BBC have already effectively given their response to criticisms of the media's current pre-occupation with documentaries and programmes concerning obesity with the announcement of 'The Men who Made us Fat', a three-part 'wake-up call' in which the requisite skinny white journo examines how changes to our eating habits have fuelled a fat epidemic of 'supersize (pro)portions'. Meanwhile local councils across the country are putting the finishing touches to their local anti-obesity campaigns in preparation for their takeover of public health functions from the NHS later this year.
"What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right" - Albert Einstein

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