Moral finger wagging may actually increase obesity

Government strategies to tackle obesity are not working, and no one with half a brain ever thought they would

Banish plump Jack and banish all the world
David Atherton
On 13 October 2012 11:26

As mused in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 when the portly Sir Jack Falstaff opined to the future Henry V in the hope that he will retain favour after ascending the throne, "To be fat, be to be hated."

The body beautiful magazine Men’s Health journalist Richard Conniff wrote “..the doctor first walked through the examining room door - he was fat. And I hate fat people.”

Australian Olympic swimmer Ms. Leisel Jones was the target of derogatory comments before the last Olympic Game for being “overweight.” Never mind she probably burns off 3,000 calories a day and is a former world record holder in the 100 and 200 meters breast stroke.

It seems prejudice against the overweight to the morbidly obese is not new, nor is anyone immune from comment from both the public and, increasingly, the government.

I may have mentioned the World Health Organization (WHO) in the past but they have stated that “ escalating global epidemic of overweight and obesity – “globesity” – is taking over many parts of the world. If immediate action is not taken, millions will suffer from an array of serious health disorders.”

The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that 22,138 people in the UK die from obesity related cancer every year. This article published by the BBC is actually from 1998 “Obesity is at epidemic levels in the UK and not enough is being done to combat the disorder..” The scare stories are repeated over and over.

Therefore “something must be done” by government. Transfats are implicated in coronary heart disease, reducing ‘good’ HDL cholesterol and increasing ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol. They've been been banned in Demark, Switzerland and the states of California and New York. San Francisco City Council banned free toys with McDonald’s Happy Meals and Mayor Bloomberg has now banned soda drinks larger than 16 ounces for retail sale.

Not only that but we now have in the Anglo-sphere the threats of more regulation if the food companies do not cooperate. An NHS hosted Change4Life website is expecting the food and drinks industry to contribute £200 million towards the dietary education of the public.

In Australia, law Professor Roger Magnusson gives it all away in the title of his paper “How Law and Regulation Can Add Value to Prevention Strategies for Obesity and Diabetes.” The British Medical Association as far back as 2004 asked for the banning of “junk” food advertising before the TV watershed. Some people have gone as far as suggesting obesity is a form of child abuse and children that 'suffer' should be taken into care. 

Schools in California under the Los Angeles Unified Food Services have forced “healthy” lunches on school children, serving up Jamie Oliver style vegetarian curries and tamales, quinoa salads and pad Thai noodles. Alas many of the children voted with their stomachs and boycotted the canteen. Some came to school with a more appetising couple of bags of chips (crisps) and a nice bottle of soda. In true prohibition style, a black market in “chips, candy, fast-food burgers and other taboo fare is thriving.” Others simply did not eat. In Yorkshire, parents passed portions of fish and chips through the school gates, in response to their children’s disapproval of the new menus.

But in the UK, despite all the hype, childhood obesity levels have gone beyond flat lining and have reduced to 2002 levels. Adult levels of obesity in the UK have hardly vindicated the hype with 24% of adults "obese” in 2006 and 26% in 2011.

What is the net result of all this state, government and public distaste for those in nautical terms could be considered broad at the beam? Abject failure and even greater consumption of food even. The obese find the stigmatisation, denormalisation and no holds barred public and state opprobrium demoralising, making them feel “..depressed, defeated and ashamed..” as reported by the Rudd Center published in the International Journal of Obesity.

Anti-obesity campaigns viewed as disapproving "..instill less motivation to improve health,” and even result in more overeating. 

Rebecca Puhl, the Rudd Center's research director and leader of the new study added, “When children or adults are made to feel stigmatized, shamed or teased about their weight, they're likely to engage in binge eating and unhealthy weight-control practices, and to avoid physical activity, we find that people actually cope with stigma by eating more food."

No schadenfreude from me about unintended consequences, the failure of the state and moralising nannies. Not the first time, nor the last I have written it.

From my point of view obesity falls into a number of areas. Most are genetically predisposed to obesity. Some people’s obesity is the result of underlying emotional issues, I have a close relative who falls into this category, while some are slothful and lack motivation. However, the current strategies are not working. 

I will leave you with Shakespeare at his very best, as I am so ill equipped to write something as erudite, Sir Jack Falstaff’s lines are just sublime:

"If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked! if to be old and merry be a sin, then many an old host that I know is damned: if to be fat be to be hated, then Pharaoh's lean kine (cows) are to be loved…. Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.”

David Atherton is Chairman of Freedom2Choose, which seeks to protect the informed choices of consenting adults on the issues of smoking. Follow him on Twitter: @DaveAtherton20


blog comments powered by Disqus

We are wholly dependent on the kindness of our readers for our continued work. We thank you in advance for any support you can offer.