HomeLifestyleDr MAX PEMBERTON: Sorry, we shouldn't be afraid to use the F(at)-word
Dr MAX PEMBERTON: Sorry, we shouldn't be afraid to use the F(at)-word
Sorry, we shouldn’t be afraid to use the F-word: Dr MAX PEMBERTON hits back at ‘nonsense’ claims that calling people fat is akin to racism or sexism… as he says hard truths may be the only way to tackle our growing obesity crisis
When did the word ‘fat’ stop being a description of someone’s body and start to become their identity?
Being fat is now a choice that should be celebrated — a characteristic that deserves respect from others.
To suggest otherwise — that, for example, being overweight is a fundamentally unhealthy state and might be something that an individual tries to address for their own benefit — is considered ‘shaming’.
And now doctors and healthcare workers are being warned against calling patients fat in case it offends them!
In fact, a group of academics at King’s College London — and 100 organisations that support them — have gone one step further. In a statement worthily entitled ‘Pledge to Eradicate Weight Stigma’, they outline how calling people fat is akin to racism and sexism.
Have we all gone stark raving mad? Discriminating against people because of the colour of their skin or because of their gender is very different to stating a fact about someone’s physical state which is putting them at risk.
Have we all gone stark raving mad? Discriminating against people because of the colour of their skin or because of their gender is very different to stating a fact about someone’s physical state which is putting them at risk
And I worry this hyperbole and, quite frankly, nonsense from hand-wringing liberals falling over themselves not to upset people at every turn, helps nobody, least of all those battling with their weight.
Last year, a Freedom of Information request showed the NHS receives hundreds of complaints every year from patients who object to having health professionals suggest they lose weight. This ‘pledge’ will only encourage more complaints at a time when the consequences of obesity cost nearly half the entire NHS budget.
It’s not old people or dementia or cancer that will cripple the NHS, it’s fat people. Being overweight is linked to a host of conditions, from cancer and heart disease to strokes, joint and breathing problems, and diabetes, to name but a handful.
Managing type 2 diabetes alone costs us £10 billion a year, and the situation is escalating out of control.
Of course, being fat or obese is not something one should be mocked or bullied over. But equally, nor is it something that should be ignored.
And it’s certainly not something that we should pretend isn’t linked to a shortened life expectancy.
To me, as a doctor, it seems bizarre that I’m now being urged to turn a blind eye to the waistlines of my patients.
Managing type 2 diabetes alone costs us £10 billion a year, and the situation is escalating out of control
Because this is not an issue that we need to debate, nor is it a matter of opinion. It’s a simple fact: being fat can kill you.
I’m sure this is upsetting for some overweight patients to hear, but it doesn’t make it any less true. I view it as my duty as a healthcare professional to warn them of it.
So how did we get to this point? Like so many trends, it started in America — a country which is decades ahead of us in the obesity epidemic.
There, people with weight issues have adopted the language of persecuted or marginalised minorities, such gay or black people, to justify their size and shape and deflect criticism. Now they are ‘proud’ of their fatness and ‘celebrate’ in what has become a ludicrous cult of ‘body positivity’.
But what is there to celebrate if you are so fat you can only wear tent-like clothes, can’t fit into airline or theatre seats, and you need a reinforced bed and reinforced ambulances to ferry you to hospital for treatment for the myriad health issues you suffer?
Where’s the pride in being unable to walk without a stick or having to sit on a mobility scooter?
All this ‘body positivity’ movement is doing is facilitating a delusion. It stops people from attempting to make the lifestyle changes that will save their lives.
Our attitudes towards weight are a major factor in the scale of the problem we face, as illustrated by a fascinating survey by the Department of Health, which compared data collected in 1967 with that from 2010.
Although the Sixties diet was high in fat and there was far less access to gyms, people were considerably slimmer than they are now, a fact attributed to greater daily activity.
For example, fewer people had cars, and there was more manual work compared with our relatively sedentary lives.
But the 1967 survey also found that nine out of ten people had attempted to lose weight in the past year compared with 57 per cent of adults questioned in 2010. Even more telling is the finding that, in the Sixties, of those who thought they were fat only 7 per cent failed to do anything about it. That figure compares with nearly 50 per cent now.
To be blunt: people just aren’t bothering to lose weight any more.
In part, this may be because so many more people are now overweight, it is becoming viewed as ‘normal’. But I think increasingly people just refuse to take responsibility for their behaviour.
In part, this may be because so many more people are now overweight, it is becoming viewed as ‘normal’. But I think increasingly people just refuse to take responsibility for their behaviour
Instead of acknowledging that they are fat because they stuff their faces on a regular basis, they prefer to blame the Government, the food manufacturers, their genes etc.
And if someone is confronted with the reality of being fat or obese, they fall back on the insidious language of identity politics and claim they are being victimised or picked on.
Some activists argue that being overweight is not a choice. Sorry, but it is. There may be complex reasons why someone is obese — poverty and poor education are factors — but this doesn’t absolve people of responsibility, of choosing to eat more food than their body needs.
There is undoubtedly a group of obese people who have deep-rooted underlying psychological problems — they may use food as an emotional crutch —and I meet many of them in my outpatient clinics. They need help and it pains me that we are so lacking in adequate services for them.
But I also know that the majority of overweight people simply don’t care. When their joints crumble because of their bulk, or they need surgery to clear out their blocked arteries, or they develop diabetes, they know the NHS — that is us taxpayers — will pick up the tab.
It is incumbent on all of us to change this attitude — to make being overweight socially unacceptable, just as smoking is because of the risk it poses to health, and to the rest of us.
We could sort out all the NHS’s funding problems in the bat of an eyelid if only people would take responsibility and lose pounds by eating less and moving more. What is at stake is the future of the NHS.
And as a doctor I will continue to make patients aware of that fact, whether or not it hurts their feelings.