“There were no fat people in concentration camps…”

This controversial quote was said live on LBC (radio) last week by a woman who prefixed it with, ”I’m Jewish so I can say this.”  But that’s not what’s really controversial here…

Blue Badge

I imagine the LBC producer must have fallen off his chair, the presenter was certainly taken back, but the woman was not about to make an apology as she wanted to make a point about the recent story that being fat could be classed as a disability.

Her, and most of the callers, all agreed that obesity should not be classified as a disability and in fact it was “an insult to genuine disabled people”. But the recent story in the press has ignited a debate which revolves around a number of recent stories including IT Manager John Walker, who weighs in at 21 stone, and was sacked for taking 7 years off work.

Walker argued his weight was a disability and shockingly a high court judge (who probably was well rounded himself) found in his favour. No surprise, he had a series of health problems, asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue and knee problems that stopped him working. But how did he get to be 21 stone in the first place? He wasn’t born that way.

In another case, a 25 stone Dutch child minder was sacked because he could not do his job properly. In his case the European Courts of Justice agreed that obesity could be disabling, if it hinders ‘full and effective participation’ at work. Though under EU laws it isn’t actually classified as a disability (though some papers have spun the truth differently to make headlines).

The outcome is that this could result in companies having to make special provisions for obese people. It could, as implied by some media, mean they could get blue badges, “Which will lead to a queue of blue badge vehicles trying to park outside the cake shop,” as one Tweeter commented.

In the UK, 64% of adults are classed as being overweight or obese. Globally, the percentage of adults who were overweight or obese  – having a body mass index of greater than 25 –  grew from 23% to 34% over the last 20 years, with a total of 904 million people in developing countries now being classed as overweight.

America tops the charts for the greatest number of overweight people but Europe, North Africa and the Middle east come second equal, closely followed by East Asia.

Is advertising to blame?

Steve Wiggins, of the Overseas Development Institute who co-wrote a report by a UK Think Tank commented, “People with higher incomes have the ability to choose the kind of foods they want. Changes in lifestyle, the increasing availability of processed foods, advertising, media influences… have all led to dietary changes.”

One of the issues is in emerging economies, where a large middle class of people with rising incomes are living in urban centres and not taking much physical exercise while eating less healthy diets. Consumption of bad fat, salt and sugar, has increased globally and is a significant contributor to growing cases of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers. In short, we are eating ourselves to an early death.

Despite a growth in ethically and health conscious consumers, many blame food and drink brands, fast food retailers and of course advertising. When you see the end of any KFC ad it has the line ‘So good’, how that ever managed to get past Clearcast remains a mystery to me, when it implies it’s healthy to anyone you ask and it certainly isn’t.

The debate, “is obesity a disability?” has sparked an outcry and stimulated many to demand action. It’s not unfair to say that 95% of it is self induced (but it also wouldn’t be fair to dismiss the real medical cases like Thyroid conditions that cause obesity) so who is to blame – the food and fizzy drink manufacturers? The fast food retailers? The supermarkets who encourage two for one? Or the consumer?

Ironically, the problem seems to be society, who wants to blame others and not take responsibility for themselves, I’ve read many comments about blaming corporates, politicians and even the NHS, schools and of course… advertising.

As it seems the consumer is unable to take responsibility the only way forward is tougher action and that may well require banning ads that encourage unhealthy eating – top of my list is KFC, Personally, banning their ads would really be ‘so good’.

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  • Chris Arnold

    I had an email asking if I was worried that the headline may ‘offend’ someone. Well I did run it past several Jewish friends and they said it didn’t. However, the email does capture a problem with today’s PC society, that we constantly fear ‘offending’ someone. Just look at the silliness over Christmas and people worried that a Christian Christmas will offend other religions – yet no other religion has to date ever complained, why should they? A leading Muslin commented that this attitude was actually racist as it “portrayed other religions in a negative way”. Discuss…

  • /pkj/

    lol u r racist punk