Britain�s �War on Fat�
By Linda S, Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Oct 26, 2007, 00:14

When I was a child in the 1950s and concerned about my expanding proportions, adults would invariably tell me, "Don�t worry. That�s only puppy fat. It will go." Happily, in my case, they were right. Those were the days when plump babies were considered cute, corpulent adults deemed people who merely enjoyed good living and dieters a strange breed of egocentrics or health freaks. As for anorexia and bulimia, if those illnesses had been mentioned then -- if they even existed -- most people would have assumed they were the names of Greek deities.

Nowadays, however, being fat is seen as an anathema not only by society but also by employers and governments.

Take the British government, for instance. It has projected that most Britons -- already classed among the fattest in Europe -- will be obese by 2050 if current trends continue. Researchers from the University of Madrid�s School of Medicine have dubbed Britain Europe�s �Fat capital.�

Today a quarter of all British adults and 24 percent of children between the ages of two and 15 are clinically obese, which means their Body Mass Index (BMI) has exceeded 30.

The Department of Health calls it a �rising tide of obesity� and says tackling this phenomenon, which can, it says, exacerbate the risk of heart disease, Type� 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure is a government priority. Studies show that one out of every eleven deaths in the UK is in some way linked to obesity.

Now that it has beaten the scourge of smoking in public places, this nanny state, whose citizens are monitored by millions of CC-TV cameras and told off by disembodied voices for dropping litter, has launched a serious war on fat.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson says Britain eating habits aren�t at fault. Instead, he blames the growing trend on �a consequence of abundance, convenience and underlying biology.�

Britons are no more gluttonous than their forefathers, he told Parliament, in an attempt to explain why government intervention was a necessity. �Individual action alone will not be sufficient,� he said.

So what is the government doing about it?

Overweight teenagers can now get stomach stapling operations and dance classes courtesy of the National Health Service. Nurseries and primary schools are placing kids as young as two-years-old onto miniature treadmills. �Fat families� can now be prescribed a visit to their local supermarket in the company of nutritionists who will point out healthy, low-fat, low-sodium content foods. The advertising of high fat and junk food -- burgers, chicken nuggets, potato chips, sugarcoated puffed wheat and Colas -- is to be banned from television until after 9 p.m. There is also a plan to ban harmful trans-fats (saturated fats) in foodstuffs.

And now the government intends regularly weighing school children and complaining to their parents when the scales aren�t favorable. There is also a radical program in place whereby extremely overweight children can be forcibly removed from their homes to be trimmed down.

School lunches (called school dinners in Britain) have been divested of stodgy items and school cooks have been retrained to design healthy menus incorporating salads, vegetables and fruit. So far, this strategy costing many extra millions has failed miserably as fewer children sign up to school lunches, preferring lunch boxes from home or hamburger/pizza takeouts.

There have even been reports of parents stuffing fast food, potato chips and candy bars through school gates to supplement school lunches, which some children say leave them still hungry. A child obesity clinic attached to a West Sussex hospital says some of its young patients admit to consuming dozens of chocolate bars and bags of potato chips during the weekend.

When it comes to blame, there is confusion. So-called obesity experts lash out at food manufacturers for loading their products with too much trans-fats and sugar, and fast-food outlets for serving large portions.

Others say obesity is caused primarily by a sedentary lifestyle and target people�s obsession with television, computers and laborsaving devices.

Yet others, point a finger at the government for its inability to keep the streets and the parks free of crime, which would allow adults to take an evening stroll while children could play outside and walk to school.

Some 40 percent of Britain�s doctors believe obesity is generally self-inflicted and, thus, the obese should be refused hip and knee replacements on the National Health unless their condition was proven not to be resultant from an unhealthy lifestyle. The British Fertility Society has recommended that obese women be refused fertility treatment until they lose weight.

The overweight are also being discriminated against in the workplace. A survey of 2,000 personnel officers by the magazine Personnel today showed that most employers prefer to offer jobs to workers of �normal weight.�

Burgeoning levels of obesity aren�t, of course, restricted to Britain. A study presented at a seminar in Qatar by Issam Abd Rabbu suggests 50-70 percent of married women and 30-50 percent of married men living in GCC states are either overweight or obese.

A team of US scientists supported by the National Institute on Aging found that life expectancy for the average American could decline by as much as five years over the next decades due to the obesity pandemic.

The World Health Organization believes there are currently 1.6 billion overweight adults worldwide and 400 million who are clinically obese -- figures that have doubled since 1995.

While acknowledging that obesity is a serious problem short of limiting the production of high-calorific foodstuffs, introducing mandatory exercise for the population and outlawing television and computers the issue cannot be solved by government action.

Obesity is surely the unfortunate result of modern-day living. It�s unlikely our cavemen ancestors faced this challenge. It should also be viewed in the context of 820 million people or 13 percent of the world�s population that go hungry each day.

Don�t let�s turn obesity into some kind of minor crime. Don�t let�s discriminate against overweight people or make children feel inferior due to their extra pounds that could throw them into the arms of anorexia.

The role of government is to educate, inform and advise. In the end it is up to all of us to recognize our world has changed and so must we. If we want to be trim and ensure our children are healthy this is a choice that only we can make. After all, we decide with what to stock our fridge and how we spend our leisure hours.

As individuals we should wage the war against fat in our own way . . . and if we decide that big is, indeed, beautiful and understand the potential consequences of remaining that way then that should surely be our personal choice . . . and not Big Brother�s.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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