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Independents' Day

Fat is a human issue

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‘Evicting benefit claiming, morbidly obese, height-challenged, ethnic minorities with ambiguous genitalia.’

No that’s not actually the title of a TV show yet, but if the depths to which reality television has sunk in recent years is anything to go by, this sort of programme is not far off.

Clearly many hours of filming and editing go into depicting some of the most desperate and marginalised in our society in the worst possible light in these ‘benefit scrounger’ type documentaries. The usual formula seems to be to show footage of a dangerously overweight individual railing against benefit cuts and claiming (contrary to the visible evidence) that they can’t afford to feed themselves.

Obviously this type of programming is designed to increase the ratings and the fact it fuels hatred towards those on state benefits is presumably an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence as far as the production companies are concerned.

Seeing quite how obese people on low incomes can become, does though, raise the very important question of why bad food is so cheap.

Medicalisation of fatness does not work. Let’s face it, as doctors we have failed miserably at trying to get people to eat less and exercise more. There’s no point us pretending that more and more begging and cajoling of the ‘over-nourished’ to change their ways is going to have any significant impact on the obesity epidemic.

Nye Bevan said ‘freedom is the by-product of economic surplus’. I wonder, were he alive today, would his quote be more along the lines of ‘obesity is the by-product of food surplus’?

No, we need to rethink this one and I would propose hitting people where it hurts most - in the wallet. So my suggestion would be a reduction in income tax and instead a graded tax on all food and drink, a sort of more sophisticated VAT. Healthy food would be subsidised to make it dirt cheap and the more unhealthy the food the higher the tax on it.

Obviously this wouldn’t stop the hardcore junk food addicts but it would make healthy food the first choice for those on low incomes and junk food an expensive luxury.

I’m not naïve enough to actually believe that a suggestion like this, even if floated by a brave MP, wouldn’t be smothered by the overwhelming power of the food industry, but for what it’s worth I do think it would work.

So I guess all we can do is wait for climate change to ruin our harvests and for ‘slenderness to become the by-product of food scarcity’.

Dr David Turner is a GP in west London

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Readers' comments (11)

  • So long as someone make Jamie Oliver disappear (preferably to North Korea) I will live a happier life

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  • Cobblers

    I have a problem with the "Healthy Food" definition.

    A few years ago would butter and eggs have been on the healthy food list? I suspect they would now.

    Isn't this just a middle class bullying tactic on the lower classes? You will eat quinoa, taramasalata, gluten free crispbreads and whatever else Miss Paltrow recommends?

    It's the same thing as adding Vitamin D or Folic Acid into food. The "We know best for your Health" brigade. Only we don't really do we? Todays manadatory guide is found to be harmful a few years later?

    Prima Nil Nocere. Don't just do something, sit there.

    Maybe just advising and giving people free choice is the better way even if it does seem to shorten their lives.

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  • I think the problem is mainly a lack of education about how to prepare food.

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  • While I am at it ... can someone attempt a practical workable definition of "junk food" which lazy journalists trot out as a term assuming everyone knows what is meant. No, I DON'T know what it means!!

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  • Junk food (my definition): Highly processed food rich in fat and/or sugar with little or no other nutritional value.

    People are and would (under my proposed food tax) be free to eat exactly what they like. However, where the bills for health problems caused by their obesity are being paid for by the tax payer, then the government does have an obligation to encourage people to eat a bit healthier and lose some weight.

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  • typical thin persons view of the overweight. its all their fault. while yes - there are some people eating macdonalds three times a day and if only they ate sensibly theyd loose weight there are lots of "fat" people who eat well but struggle. keep up with research GLP-1 levels play a huge role. there is a huge genetic / metabolic role here that yes sedentary lifestyles and access to high calorie food has accentuated. stop blaming people and help them. why does bariatric surgery work? why would someone even go through that if just eating a bit less was easy.

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  • Cobblers

    That's the problem DT. Whilst we may agree on some of the list there is a large grey area. My point was that you may have taxed eggs and butter as useless calories harmful to the cardiovascular system back say 10 years ago.

    Modern evidence suggests that they may not be harmful at all.

    You will fail in your ultimate aim. Taxing alcohol and tobacco hasn't really worked. Dodging the taxes with a booze cruise like P&O-Pizza or Pepsi-Popover would proliferate. Dodgy tax free Eastern European lasagne would do the rounds in pubs.

    It is seriously tempting to take that power to tax food with the altruistic aim to slim people down. Politicians do not need encouraging. Before you know it your standard veggies and fruit will have VAT on them.

    Just enjoy your own life, your own low BMI and your own tastes in food. Let others do the same and if it shortens their life think about all the pension payments the country has saved.

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  • Eggs and butter are not highly processed so would not fall under my definition of junk food,but it's not that we should NEVER eat 'junk' food ( for the record I do eat it myself sometimes) it's just that unhealthy food should be expensive enough so that we see it as an occasional treat not a normal part of a daily diet.

    Tax on smoking and smoking bans have helped to vastly reduce the number of smokers in the UK, but if you want to smoke you still can.

    My BMI is 25, so I wouldn't say I'm particularly thin. A few years ago it was nearer to 30 and I only got it down by eating less overall.I don't claim weight loss is easy-but it can be done.

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  • I think the whole issue requires the getting-together of minds from a whole range of disciplines to understand the factors which lead to obesity. I personally think these are (but not limited to) education, metabolic issues in the face of surplus calories, psychological considerations, time pressures and financial imperatives. I doubt any posters here are versed enough in all these angles to offer firm solutions.

    IDGAFs manifesto for the upcoming election includes tax breaks throughout life for those who choose willingly to indulge in 'bad things' ie excess drink, any drug they choose beyond tobacco and ethanol, excessive food intake of any quality they wish with the proviso that at the age of 70 they become subject to the imposition of the Liverpool Care Pathway immediately ( or perhaps the day after their 70th birthday). Of course, being the compasionate upstanding transparent individual I am, I would have to sell my shares in the pharmaceutical firms who make diamorphine, midazolam and glycopyronnium. For some reason, my manifesto does not seem to be getting the air-time it clearly deserves, especially when we have a growing elderly population. Radical thinking is required. /s.

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  • Laziness and easily available fast food at every corner. Excuses

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