Tackling the Obesity Myth

Ideally all of our elected political representatives would receive an average workers wage to help keep them in touch with the lives of the people they are meant to serve. This is the commonsensical policy of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), but is something that is vigorously opposed by Tory’s like Andrew Bridgen, the MP for North West Leicestershire, who is forthright in his belief that a basic salary of £65,738 is simply too little!

Mr Bridgen has also been quick to label David Cameron as a soft-touch with regard to the coalition’s ongoing butchering (privatisation) of the NHS; bizarrely noting that government should not cave “into the Stalinist protectionist elements that have been allowed to stifle innovation and competition in our healthcare system.”

Today, Mr Bridgen, our local NHS dismantler-in-residence, has again graced the pages of the Leicester Mercury this time saying “he was concerned that health problems associated with being overweight would put a crippling burden on the NHS.” This statement coming on the back of his attendance at a Parliamentary event hosted by the National Obesity Forum, “where the scale of the [obesity] problem was outlined to MPs, peers and experts.”

According to Mr Bridgen and his friends at the National Obesity Forum it is obesity but not privatisation that should be of major concern to the British public. Yet is obesity really the critical threat to the NHS and our health that we are so often reminded of in the mainstream media?

Paul Campos, author of The Obesity Myth: Why America’s Obsession with Weight is Hazardous to Your Health (2004), would suggest not. He argues that:

While very fat and very thin people tend to die sooner than average, there appears to be a broad range of weight — running roughly from a BMI in the high teens to one somewhere into the thirties — at which little or no correlation between weight and early mortality can be found (this range includes most of the people the government now classifies as “overweight” and “obese”). Indeed many such studies find the lowest mortality levels at BMI figures that are currently classified as “overweight.” (p.19)

Moreover, not too surprisingly it turns out that one can be “overweight” and yet still fit. Thus Campos reminds us how:

Over the past twenty years, scientists have gathered a wealth of evidence indicating that cardiovascular and metabolic fitness, and the activity levels that promote such fitness, are far more important predictors of both overall health and mortality risk than weight. Yet none of the studies most often cited for the proposition that fat kills makes any serious attempt to control for these variables. (pp.34-5)

So who one might ask are the National Obesity Forum that kindly educated Mr Bridgen about the ongoing obesity epidemic? Well their web site notes that they were established in May 2000 “to raise awareness of the emerging epidemic of obesity and the effect that it was going to have on both individuals and the NHS and because we believe that bold action needs to be taken to tackle obesity.”

The most famous figurehead behind the National Obesity Forum’s ongoing and widely publicised campaign is Dr Hilary Jones; a man who finds gainful employment as GMTV’s health and medical advisor, a weekly columnist for the News of the World, and the dieting agony aunt featured in Rosemary Conley’s Diet and Fitness magazine.

Here one might note that local dieting megastar Rosemary Conley — who in 2001 was granted the Freedom of the City of Leicester — makes a tidy profit from the perpetuation of the morbidly obese weight loss industry. For more on such callous profiteering read Laura Fraser’s Losing It: False Hopes and Fat Profits in the Diet Industry (1997).

Returning to our media friend Dr Hilary Jones, one should observe that in addition to serving as the National Obesity Forum’s patron, he acts a “weight loss expert” for the controversial British dieting company LighterLife: controversial because in 2008 it was revealed that LighterLife had been funding their very own front group for the weight loss industry called the Obesity Awareness and Solutions Trust (see “MPs ‘conned’ over obesity charity that was front for diet firm”).

Such corporate connections are the norm in the obesity industry, as the chairman of the National Obesity Forum, professor David Haslam, happens to be the chair of LighterLife’s medical advisory board. It is also revealing that award winning broadcaster and health campaigner, Anne Diamond, who had been working as the patron of the Obesity Awareness and Solutions Trust in the year prior to their closure, now serves as the honorary patron of the National Obesity Forum.

If all of this does not make you rethink the truthfulness of the endless propaganda of obesity… nothing will. Nevertheless as Paul Campos concludes:

The perverse paradox at the heart of the obesity myth is that this myth creates exactly what it most fears and loathes. At the core of that fear and loathing lies an especially transitory aesthetic judgement: a judgement both generated and supported by a mass of half-conscious prejudices about what “fat” supposedly tells us. In a culture that pays a great deal of lip service to egalitarian values, fat prejudice allows the traditional disgust that the rich have felt for the poor, that white people have felt for the darker-skinned, that gentiles have felt for Jews, and so forth, to be expressed indirectly, through a sanctimonious (and largely false) judgement about the terrible things “those people” are doing to their health by allowing themselves to get so fat. Fat people, according to this set of myths, are dirty, lazy, undisciplined, lustful, impulsive, and so on. That is, they display all the characteristics attributed to social pariahs, no matter who those pariahs happen to be. (p.248)

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