No. 15

STONE the crows! What would the self-righteous do for fulminating fun without fatties? Or ambitious social engineers do without obesity?

Recently a health insurance fund reported research that obesity surgery did not work as well as much cheaper drug treatments.  And faster than you can say saturated fats, being overweight is now less a personal challenge or choice than a medical condition where the issue is the most cost effective treatment.

This allows the commentariat an opportunity to parade its sense of superiority. Their own ill discipline indicts the obese. Stoutness signifies a corrupt character. Eating less and exercising more is a sign of sanctity.

These are arguments straight from the 17th century; thinness is next to godliness and the fat are sinners damned.

But they rather miss the point that our body image ideals don’t relate to the way we live now. This has nothing to do with old-fashioned feminist dogma (what does?) that male lust dictates the female form divine. Have a look at the weight loss TV series; the men are just as sad as the sheilas.

The problem is our prehistoric ancestors were genetically hard wired to get as much fat and sugar into them as they could, with Cro-Magnon McDonalds being few and far between. People looked lean and hungry, basically because they were semi-starved. Now we are the victims of our own success, living on a diet the envy of humanity throughout history, demonstrated by the way meals in paintings of the last supper have kept getting bigger across the centuries. Even better, we do not need to bust a gut to get dinner.

So, as every Australian over 11 knows, it is easy to stack on the weight without noticing and very hard to take it off when you do.

Which is why obesity is such a winner for the social engineers. Turning over-eating into a disease absolves people from taking responsibility for their own behaviour. The price they pay is allowing the regulators to boss them around. And there is lot of bossiness about. There are calls for advertising restrictions on fast food advertising, demands that it be made more expensive and a general sense that as the fat and foolish do not know what is good for them they should obey the slim smarties who do.

And, what a surprise! Speakers at the recent National Obesity Summit called for more funding for programs so they could lay down the law about what is good for us.

Of course this new industry presents itself as a public service, with warnings that obesity is sending us all to hell in a very large hand basket. Claims children are fat, and getting fatter, and that obesity is an expensive epidemic, are seen as settled fact.

Except they aren’t. Last year, University of South Australia researchers found that the percentage of overweight (24 per cent) and obese (6 per cent) kids had not changed for a decade. Granted this is not good, but it is a long way short of a case for banning burgers.

And the oft-quoted claim that obesity costs the economy $58 billion a year is bunkum. Sure the figure appeared in a 2009 parliamentary report, but $49.9bn of the supposed cost came from “the net cost of lost wellbeing”, which presumably puts a hefty price on people feeling off their game (if not food) because they are uncomfortable at being over-weight.

By turning obesity into an illness and its proliferation into a moral panic the waistline watchers are creating career paths for their pals and acting on their core belief, that because they know what is best for the rest of us we all should do what we are told.

Or be laughed at for being weak when we don’t.

Anybody still wondering why it’s called comfort food?

'2012