Nicholas Goodchild

Historic and Pared Down

Obesity

7 June 2012 by Nicholas in Current Events

As it is now Summer, and we are in the midst of the silly season, the news cycle is now picking up on odder stories to run with and tie together to create a tapestry out of. One of these, apparently, is the mega obese in this country and the fact that people have resorted to partially demolishing their homes in order to get them medical help.

Now obesity is something that is on the increase across the civilised world, and especially so in the UK and US. Beyond the problems it causes those who are obese, it will also cost the health system dearly. Obesity is linked to diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart attacks. It is also statistically linked to strokes and there are correlations with some cancers.

But the news cycle is full of mixed messages about obesity: apparently we’re cutting down on unhealthy breakfasts of bacon and eggs. This at the same time we’re getting fatter. There is a debate afoot on what language to use with the very fat to encourage them to lose weight, with a suggestion that it is moderated and made less judgemental. Taken together these are all confusing and show that we don’t really have a handle on obesity or how best to approach it.

Between 17 and 23 I was always at the upper edge of my “healthy” bmi, but at 23 I went over it into the range classified as overweight. I started dieting and read up on various ways to lose weight, finding that the Atkins and South Beach diets both appealed to me. I overdid it, as I tend to, and lost more weight than I needed to inside my first fortnight and actually ended up considerably below my target weight. I also lost muscle tone and ended up slightly ill.

But I ended up with a belief in two things: bmi is a really lousy indicator of health and carbs and trans fats are far more dangerous than fat, with white bread being worse for me than steak. I have read and believe that carbs tend to be easier for the body to convert into fuel, which means that it needs fewer calories to digest them and is therefore more likely to store calories in carbohydrate as fat. They also have a tendency to make people feel more bloated (that is anecdotal).

The last time I went to the doctor’s they had to add me back onto their register as I hadn’t needed to go for about a decade. This was obviously my fault and it was apparently quite reasonable for them to strike me from their database because I hadn’t bothered them. In the process of signing up I had to have my weight and height measured. Near the top of an overweight bmi, bordering on obese. I got a lecture about eating healthily I corrected in places. I got told to do an hour’s walking a week. Informed them I did more than that each day. I had to have my lung capacity checked twice because I obviously couldn’t have as large a result as they first recoded. I didn’t fit the overreaching narrative on obesity.

We need to work out how we treat the obese, how we tell them they are, how we measure it, how much we listen to their claims about what they eat and how active they are, what evidence we actually trust and what is causing it. It could come out of the current news cycle, but it seems the message and reasoning is massively confused and it is something we all need to face.