This site is intended for health professionals only

Fat is a human issue

‘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