Tuesday, 17 December 2013

A Christmas Rant

I should be writing a piece for the Independent right now. That’s what I should be doing. But I had to stop what I was doing because I’ve had an epiphany. And as you all know, epiphanies should always be paid attention to and, preferably, blogged about.

On those days when I’m working from home I like to enjoy the audio-company of a rather remarkable radio broadcaster called James O’Brien. For those unfamiliar with his work, James presents the mid-morning show on LBC 97.3. Far from the usual blatant political agenda-pushing, passive aggressive huffer-puffery and people ringing in to say there are too many immigrants with plasma TVs, James’ show represents his genuine desire to gain a greater understanding of a social issue, using the thoughts and experiences of callers with something valuable to contribute. I love him a bit.

Anyway, today in response to the news that 40% of 13 year old girls are worried about becoming fat, James asked parents to call in and answer honestly this simple question:

Would you rather have a teenage daughter who was fat, or one who was obsessed with not putting on weight?

The natural instinct is to say “I’d rather she was fat” of course, but then as James pointed out what most parents want is for their children to be happy and so the real question is which of these paths is more likely to lead to genuine happiness and the answer is probably neither. Why we seem hell bent as a society on making fat people feel as miserable and apologetic as possible is a question for another blog.

By 12.55, five minutes before the show’s conclusion, James had (rightly, in my humble) identified that the problem is there are less and less opportunities for children to be physically active, both in and outside of school. As a result they are becoming larger and more sedentary. Rather than ask why the government has removed funding for huge swathes of community sports centres throughout the UK and refused to raise the minimum requirement for physical education lessons beyond a paltry average of one hour a week in state schools, our reaction has been to have school nurses weighing and measuring children as young as five, giving nutrition lessons to primary school children and having ‘experts’ write for the Daily Fail advising parents to tell their kids they are fat.

Cue seven year olds, who have not yet developed cerebral critical facility and therefore do not really understand what they are being told, coming home and ticking off their parents for giving them a cereal bar and speaking in dark, portentous undertones about how ‘bad food makes you die’ and ‘being fat is wrong’. Then we wonder why, by the time they are thirteen, young people are not only unduly concerned about their weight but also intent on judging each other bodies and subjecting each other to body image related bullying in the playground.

We have, in essence, made our children overweight, blamed them for it then robbed them of a carefree childhood by bombarding them with unnecessary information, in an action that might as well have been designed to give them life-long self-esteem and body image issues. Bravo, society. Well done.

Anyway, none of that is the point. Anyone who has ever seen me on TV or read anything I have ever written knows my feelings on this issue (it’s always good to reiterate, though. As my Mum says – “I’m not nagging I’m reiterating”).

So, back to James’ show. At 12.55pm the inevitable ‘obesity statistic quoting person’ rang in to inform us all, Katie Hopkins style, that we had been pussy-footing around the issue and that if we allow children to be fat they are going to DIE immediately if not sooner and therefore it’s our DUTY to intervene by whatever means possible and tell them in no uncertain terms that fatness is NOT OKAY. I can’t remember her name, but since she was talking absolute arse I think it’s probably irrelevant.

That’s when I realised something.

….Because whilst it is true to say there are some health risks associated with being morbidly obese, there are none to suggest you WILL get type two diabetes, have a heart attack and snuff it if you’re a little bit chubby. And since the term ‘obese’ is applied to anyone with a BMI over 23 (which is slightly chubby/a tad curvy in most cases) the statistics aren’t accurate.

When we think of an ‘obese’ person we think of someone in an American documentary who’s confined to their bed. Yet I could show you hundreds of pictures of women as small as a size eight or ten whom YOU wouldn’t term obese but the medical community WOULD. This has to do with BMI not taking into account bone and muscle density (I refer you to my blog ‘the B in BMI stands for Bollocks’ for further info).

So what the Hopkinses and Brickses and people who are ironically raising their own blood pressure and making it more likely they will die of stress (the REAL number one killer in the UK) are doing is this:

Taking the statistics about the health risks associated with being morbidly obese, applying it to anyone who has ever been termed ‘obese’ and concluding that 1/3 of the country are going to die.

It’s fine for them to work themselves up into a frenzy pontificating about such nonsense (as long as we treat it with the contempt it deserves) but please, let’s not pass this burden down to our kids. They were healthier when we just let them be.

Merry Christmas.