Belfast Telegraph

Time we heard the truth: fat’s fat and that’s that

By Janet Street-Porter

If I call you fat, is it kind or cruel? A plain-speaking Government health minister says describing the overweight as ‘obese’ isn't direct enough to make them lose weight.

According to Anne Milton, if a doctor uses the F-word, we're more likely to realise it's our responsibility to shed surplus poundage.

She's expressing a personal view and not Government policy but this no-nonsense approach has found support in the medical profession.

Obesity has become a meaningless word. It sounds as if you're suffering from a social disease, not a condition that's clogging up your arteries and hastening your date with a coffin.

This modern blight isn't confined to the two-legged either — a charity report claims half our dogs are obese and will suffer early deaths. We're killing our pets by overfeeding them, human-style.

Like a lot of words used by the last government, obesity sounds rather decorous and seems to deflect blame from the individual who is generally fat through their own choice of behaviour.

Regularly under Labour, no one was to be blamed personally for anything unpleasant that happened to them in life — obesity was thought to be a condition you had somehow magically arrived at and therefore needed ‘help’ with, and the nanny state would be there to hold your hand, with leaflets, vouchers, and lots of little rewards along the way.

In the supportive world of Labour, we rarely took the blame for our life choices. If our kids didn't read or concentrate in lessons, they were described as ‘challenged’. If people couldn't get off their backsides to find a job, they were said to need a ‘fresh start’.

If badly behaved youths made residents' lives a misery, they were described as ‘antisocial’ and issued with an Asbo. Almost half of us completely ignored these worthless directives.

So, time for a back-to-basics approach, where the corpulent are tagged as fat.

In the past decade, we've had health directives aimed at getting us to exercise, expensive ad and online campaigns ‘educating’ us to consume the right number of fruit and veg a day and initiatives directed at reducing our alcohol consumption.

We've been showered with statistics, told what our BMI should be and how many units of booze we should drink a week.

In spite of the millions being spent, we've got fatter and we drink more. Our kids have bulked up and become lazier.

They're so inactive that a couple of ugly Olympic mascots are touring schools to encourage the pupils to take up sport.

The average size of our backside has expanded under Blair and Brown. We sank into debt, but we didn't cut back on what we ate.

The coalition has used our financial woes as an excuse to cull Government advertising, cut quangos, reduce spending on health education.

But if Labour's nanny state didn't get us fit, will Mrs Milton's direct approach work any better?

I don't agree with Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's decision to reduce the money spent on the Change4Life campaign — designed to encourage healthy eating and exercise — and ask the food industry to fund it instead.

His decision to drop the more stringent, ‘traffic-light’ labelling system on food is also questionable. Food labelling is highly confusing and the industry can't be trusted to self-police.

What overweight voters don't need is air-headed ministers like Lynne Featherstone opining about size-14 role models like Christina Hendricks in Mad Men.

The Equalities Minister, like the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is one of those new brooms that seem to rely on a constant injection of media coverage to validate their existence.

The fact is that most women in the UK are much larger than Ms Hendricks, and several dress sizes bigger than their mums and grannies were.

I'm no different. I think telling us we're fat is a good idea.

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