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Mon Mar 18, 2013, 02:12 PM

Poverty and obesity

Coverage of obesity in the British press has doubled in the past year and threatens to become an 'epidemic' in its own right. It is almost impossible to pick up a daily or Sunday paper without being exposed to headlines featuring words such as 'time-bomb' and ill-founded assertions that the present generation of children will die before their parents. The sounds of wringing hands and admonishments to eat 'properly' have become almost deafening.

In the midst of this 'headless chicken' panic about growing girths and especially the girths of children government agencies appear to have given in to the food-correctness lobbyists who have sought to pin the blame for the disaster squarely on those greedy multinational purveyors of lard, sugar and salt the culpable 'fat cats' who have, apparently, single-handedly created our fat nation. The Food Standards Agency, for example, has announced a plan to 'overhaul food promotion to children' despite the fact that in its own evidence just 2 months ago to the Commons Select Health Committee regarding advertising of food to children it conceded that:

"The conclusions that the researchers drew was that the evidence is not there to draw any conclusions on the magnitude of the effect."

In what we take to be proper science-based approaches, if the magnitude of an effect cannot be measured then it cannot be said to exist at all. Rational and evidence-based thinking clearly no longer stands in the way of appeasing the growing clamour for action on obesity, even when there is no evidence that the proposed measures will have the slightest impact. The 'let's be seen to be something, no matter how misguided' philosophy has long been a familiar response of agencies that have run out of proper ideas.

Amidst this disoriented casting around for culprits and simple solutions, driven hard by media hype, it was refreshing to read in the Observer a thoughtful article by David Smith that for once dealt with some of the real issues underlying the rise in obesity poverty and disadvantage. It has become fashionable to believe that in the modern Blairite Britain such features of British society are no longer with us that we are all now 'middle class' and that the old social and economic distinctions that were once an intrinsic feature of our culture have been consigned to history. Not so, sadly, for the people of Glasgow's East End where life expectancy is around 60 and falling and where the average diet is about as unhealthy as it can get. Obesity is but one of the symptoms of the impoverishment that plagues their lives.


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