Friday, 8 August 2014

Obesity Epidemic: A Fatuous Phrase

“Is stoutness as big a problem as you’re making out?” “Yeah, it’s huge…”

But is it an epidemic, we may ask?

Yet another example of yesterday’s satire becoming today’s reality can be found in the Not The Nine O’Clock News ‘Stout Life’ sketch, with presenter Janny Shtrait-Pawuh interviewing George Fletcher from Proud To Be Stout, while the organiser of plump discos Reverend Tubs Wiston looked on. Little did they know that thirty years later, health experts would be gravely warning about the ‘obesity epidemic’ and how it threatens all of us…

Let’s go back to first principles. ‘Epidemic’ is one of many medical terms deriving from ancient Greek. ‘Epi’: upon, ‘demos’: people. Quite a sensible illustration of what happens when a contagious disease goes beyond a mere outbreak and descends upon a far greater section of the population than could have been expected. And just to complete the picture, the more serious ‘pandemic’ is reflected in the fact that in Socrates’ times, ‘pan’ meant ‘all’.

Here and now, there is no denying that obesity is a condition. The condition may indeed be widespread (no pun intended). Equally, the unthinking use of body mass index (BMI) formulae may have served to exaggerate its prevalence, by unfairly tarring the naturally large framed with the same brush as may be quite rightly used upon those who treat a KFC Bargain Bucket as a light personal snack between meals.

But how on earth did we ever reach the point where the World Health Organisation formally recognised obesity as a global epidemic? What a gift to those in desperate need of more research funding at the taxpayers’ expense, and to the strident voices of the nanny state calling for more regulation of food consumption and more levies on taboo products. The casual twisting of language is just insult to injury.

With all due irony, Jim from the Royle Family would almost inevitably have reacted with “obesity epidemic my arse”. A more balanced view would perhaps be to file it alongside Christmas shopping, carbon footprint and Labour government as a new entrant to the Top 10 most irritating two word phrases.

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