It’s part of my morning routine now. Wake up, roll over, check phone for emails and then flick straight onto Twitter to check for any breaking headlines or, better still, some insane celebrity gossip. On this particular morning I was faced with a lot of ranting and hysteria about a new local government report and intended initiative as reported in the Guardian regarding a popular media discussion point, obesity and our ‘obesity crisis’.
In basic terms the local Government in Westminster have had some thinktank come up with the idea that obese people who are claiming benefits should have them cut if they do not exercise. Exercise regimes for the obese will be put together by doctors and when rolling up for their dosage of sporting activity they’ll have to use special ‘smart cards’ to swipe in and out so that, presumably, the benefits office can check that they have been good and turned up for their prescribed work out.
Unsurprisingly below the Guardian article the comments section was full of people who had seen the word ‘obese’ and assumed that as usual these people were fair game and should be forced into moving.
The problem is when the media uses the word ‘obese’ the image conjured up is of that of someone totally immobile, munching on pies and in front of the TV 24/7 – very much like a Channel 4 documentary. But the reality is, according to the flawed system with which we measure obesity – BMI – the term ‘obesity’ can be flung around much more easily.
It seems that someone’s pressed the red panic button up at Whitehall and as political figures try desperately clutching at straws and the need to appear to be doing ‘something’ here are my top 11 reasons why this idea is totally bonkers.
1. HAES – Health at Every Size. The American movement supported by Linda Bacon recognises that our bodies are different and that it is the fixation on size that is the problem and that we need to focus on achieving HEALTH not a size solution. Health at Every Size would obviously go against the media’s desire to witch hunt the fat person but if we stopped chasing an ideal figure and focussed more on achieving a healthy and balanced diet, with an active lifestyle alongside body acceptance, society would have improved physical and mental wellbeing.
2. The cost of giving every obese, benefit claimant a free gym pass is really not how I want my tax money to be spent. If the government is set on this, let’s have local leisure centres throw their doors open to everyone then. Furthermore, surely our overworked NHS has neither the time nor the resources to start and continue these assessments on a regular basis. Aside from swipe cards to show you turned up, how are we truly measuring the success?
3. Size isn’t the decider on health and as BMI – the common guide for deciding who is ‘obese’ – doesn’t completely separate muscle from fat; you can be healthy and active and still be classed as obese. Equally you can be inactive and have a poor diet but be classed as ‘normal’ or ‘not obese’.
4. The very reason for this knee jerk reaction is due to the panic of the ‘obesity crisis’ and the drain on the NHS – In which case surely this initiative needs to encompass people on benefits who smoke, drink above the recommended units of alcohol or who dabble in legal or illegal highs.
5. As I write this, the Opposition, Labour, have said that foods aimed at children with high contents of fat, salt and sugar should be made ILLEGAL – just picture having to hustle a box of Frosties from your local cereal dealer. At what point is it our responsibility to look after ourselves?
6. In order to truly tackle an unhealthy society we need to look at the cost of food, I recently did a vegetable shop; the cost was extortionate. Fast food is far cheaper and while it is more unhealthy, if government take away more benefits, they are simply fuelling the problem by forcing people to eat cheaper, more unhealthy snacks. We need to encourage healthier cooking and better and more cost effective healthier options. This also encompasses the need for food and body image education in schools and the recognition that it is nutrition and exercise that makes us healthy, not a dress size.
7. Realistically the government should be leading by example. Who did we have sponsoring the Olympics? McDonalds, Cadburys and Coca Cola! Oops. Yes as usual it all comes down to money. If we were really serious wouldn’t we make like NYC and limit the size of fizzy pop, ban cigarettes or go back to the years of prohibition? Oh, wait, that would reduce the government’s revenue – best leave that alone.
Why does the government seem to think that smokers, alcoholics or those with a 20+ a day habit are so much more responsible and healthier than the obese? I hate to disappoint but not every fat person spends all day eating donuts.
8. There are of course more ways to exercise than hitting the local gym. By having a swipe card system you are discounting all other forms of possible exercise. On top of this, I know from our readers [of SLiNK Magazine], that some people are too intimidated to go to the gym because of their size; forcing them to don Lycra and get on with it is mental cruelty. No one will be encouraged to exercise and live a healthier lifestyle if they feel intimidated, belittled and depressed.
9. Essentially this is an incentivised policy (apparently). But from here it looks like a punishment. Why are we limiting this to those on benefits? If the government were serious about tackling this shouldn’t they be implementing it across the board. Maybe forcing working obese people to pay higher levels of tax? (Picture Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles forced to the gym with his special swipe card – he’d love that).
10. What happens if you follow the exercise plan and your fat turns to muscle and then according to BMI you remain obese? Are there consequences? If you then fall into the category of ‘overweight’ or ‘normal’ or come off benefits, do you lose your free gym pass? Presumably you will then fall back into the dreaded obese category? Is the government then essentially encouraging a form of yo-yo dieting? Yo-yo dieters have a higher risk of heart disease than those that remain fat – sorry Government – I’m just saying.
11. Is there an age limit for this? Often if you struggle with weight as a child statistically you remain an obese adult – does this policy have an age limit? How are the government tackling poor diet and lack of exercise in children – maybe we should ban tv and computers too?
Well as you can see there are a few issues that need to be ironed out but aside from that I’m sure the policy will be just fine. When I started SLiNK I felt very strongly about not featuring diets, weight loss encouragement or plastic surgery adverts. While we do feature recipes they focus on great cooking using balanced, fresh and in season ingredients.
We talk about body image, health and fitness because it is being active and eating a balanced diet alongside accepting yourself that will improve your body and mind. Cutting out food groups, or food altogether, having fasting days or limiting calories to the point of extreme is an unhealthy and impossible diet to sustain.
We need to strive for a society that accepts that there is no perfect body, one that values health and happiness through a balanced diet and active lifestyle. It seems that the Olympics of 2012 really did teach us nothing!