Britain has a fat problem; there is no denying that. Aptly nicknamed “the fat man of Europe” we are only getting larger; nearly a quarter of British adults are obese, and that is set to exceed 50% by 2050. Clearly we need to change our ways. However, that far from condones the abusive actions of the crassly named “Overweight Haters Ltd.”
Since the now infamous “fat” cards were handed out, the mainstream media has treated those who received the cards as victims of a moral crime against our social code, rather than people full of “selfish greed”; and quite rightly so. It was an ignorant act of bullying. To use a cliché, it was ‘fat shaming’. The only point worth discussing was their accusation of “wasting NHS money”. In response: while obesity may account for a significant chunk of unavoidable NHS expenditure, so do many other lifestyle factors. Oh boy, I hope those who handed out these obscene cards were smokers. What a sweet, sweet example of hypocrisy that would be.
The thing is, abusive messages and judgemental assumptions aside, our battle of the bulge does not end with a salad and a treadmill. This is because obesity is not simply about food meeting face, and rear meeting sofa. People do not reach a BMI of over 30 because they over indulge their “selfish greed”.
There are underlying personal reasons, like depression. Everyone who experiences times of hardship or grief seek comfort, and for many that comfort is food. Think of Pavlov’s Dog. Food acts as a reward, making us feel good, or at least better. We’ve all had stereotypical Bridget Jones’ style, meltdown provoked food comas, but generally these are one offs. For some with chronic mental-health problems these binges are more of a continual spiral of addiction.
As with anorexia or illegal drug addiction, abuse and discrimination are not going to ‘knock people out of it’. A study published by PLOS ONE Journal suggests the contrary. Apparently people with obesity are 3x as likely to remain obese; those who were just overweight are 2.5x more likely to become obese post weight discrimination. So if these “haters” are worried about our NHS or are serious about making people “slimmer [and] happy,” their tactics will have utterly misfired.
Why are we getting bigger now? Obesity in the UK has trebled in the past 30 years. That correlates with huge social change and the rise of convenience. The Georgian ritual of tea may have had a detrimental affect on our waistlines, but it is since the revolution of ‘the main meal,’ in the 70s that our cultural attitudes have really damaged our mental and physical health.
The rise of convenience meals waves goodbye to daily guaranteed interaction with loved ones. Now busy people can be relentlessly busy, and lazy people can be never-endingly lazy. No wonder we are sadder than ever before. Big companies play key role here: once the incessant advertising and cheap prices draw customers in, the instant satisfaction brought by the sugar and salt content keeps us coming back for more. The government knows the dangers of processed food, as do the companies. But the power of the cereal industry is such that the government isn’t able to suppress them.
And so we must tackle our chronic obsession with food, together. Create a social structure of support. Be bold and form a consensus to disregard the consumerism that the big companies, who have little regard for our well being, promote. Tax sugar. Promote vegetables. Most importantly, don’t attack individuals.
Image Credit: Mauren Veras