Wednesday, January 10, 2007


A line from the comedy troupe the Doug Anthony All Stars has long stayed with me: "People are poor and ugly because they choose to be poor and ugly." Its cruelty got a few laughs but for some reason it struck me as a particularly nasty view of the world. Throw the word "fat" in with poor and ugly, and this mockery of an underclass has launched a legion of reality TV shows. In You Are What You Eat, shame is part of the game. Not only is the particpants' weekly diet of junk spread out on a buffet like a gooey, sick-making reproach but their faeces are examined and ridiculed by a prim and thin host. In Britain these shows are plentiful, cheap to make and have no shortage of "talent".

In Honey I Killed the Kids, parents are put in the metaphorical stocks for feeding their children junk food and are shown a computer simulation of how those children will age if they are kept on a diet of processed food. The parents gasp and reel with horror as their little Augustus Gloops morph into grotesque, mean-looking chavs, old before their time because they are rotting from the inside out from all those additives.

In Too Fat To Walk, the camera angles are reminiscent of a cheap porn film, but instead of stimulating our desire, these shows are designed to provoke our disgust. There are startling and lingering close-ups of cellulite, stomach rolls, chafed inner thighs and, of course, tears. Contestants are not only exhausted from walking up mountains but are filled with self-loathing and disgust. This show is their hairshirt - a humiliation or atonement for lacking self-discipline. As for the viewers, the only reaction can be disgust. These shows make us feel smug and self-congratulatory about our lifestyles. It relieves us, for the briefest time, of the relentless pressure to conform to the unrealistic images that flood us from more aspirational lifestyle shows.

But these shows carry other odious undertones - they encourage us to sneer at poverty. As well as being fat, most of the contestants on these shows are white, poor and working-class. They are torchbearers of an emerging new class system based on nutrition. Before the hysteria over the obesity epidemic there were other indicators that measured class such as accent, education and profession.

Now such elitist snap judgments can be made by observing what goes into your gob or shopping trolley. A survey released in Britain yesterday found the fatter you were, the less you earned, with lower-paid clerical workers nine times more likely to be overweight (75 per cent) than those at upper-management level (8 per cent).

Lack of money can lead to poor diet since the fat underclass work night shift, or double shifts in low-wage jobs, or they don't work at all. They buy frozen or takeaway food, they do not know how to cook and their children are fussy eaters. They line up under the fluorescent lights of McDonald's unable to resist the offer of an upsize. They buy the wrong cuts of meat in the supermarket and they load trolleys with processed food such as chips and frozen pizzas that not only contain an environmentally unsound surplus of packaging, but enough additives to give their children attention deficit disorder.

The middle classes, meanwhile, have developed an almost religious fervour around exercise and nutrition, none of which comes cheap. Look in their shopping trolley: artisan bread ($10) that weighs a tonne, soups in cartons from chilled shelves instead of in tins on shelves, anything labelled "organic" or "free range", freshly squeezed juices and anything marketed as fresh, from pasta to seafood to sauces. It costs a lot to follow this lifestyle.

In a recent article in The Spectator magazine Allister Heath explored the link between fast food and crime and between the haves and have-nots. He observed that a section of society raised on violence and fast food is drifting away from the rest of Britain. Nutrition has become destiny. "Of all the shootings of the past few days, those in the Brixton McDonald's were the most dramatic because they highlighted the divergence between the values and habits of the modern, health-obsessed, metropolitan middle-classes and those of the underclass," he wrote. "The two groups now live in completely different worlds."

But the piece contained a warning for the middle classes, so in the thrall of healthy, organic produce, so willing to squeal with disgust at the fatties on TV. If we say "let them eat cake", we are condemning a generation not only to chronic health problems but also to an inequality which is measured not just by where you live, but also by what you eat.



Though not admitted as such

Girls as young as nine show an increased risk of heart disease as a result of being overweight. Higher blood pressure and unhealthy changes in cholesterol and triglycerides in the bloodstream suggest that the long-term consequences of puppy fat could be serious. They also show that the years between 9 and 12 are a crucial period for becoming overweight and that once the weight is on it is hard to shift.

Girls who were overweight at the age of 9 were nearly 15 times more likely to be overweight as young adults than those who were of normal weight at 9, a study shows. The authors, from the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, give warning that childhood obesity may have serious short and long-term consequences. "Girls who were overweight were three to ten times more likely to be assessed in the risk range on four out of six health indicators, and had three times greater odds of having elevated levels of LDL cholesterol," the team concludes in The Journal of Pediatrics.

More than 2,300 girls aged 9 or 10 were enrolled in the study and followed for more than ten years. The team measured their height, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol every year until they were 18 and had extra measurements made when they were 21 to 23. The study also compared white girls with those of African-American origin. It found that black girls were 1.5 times more likely to become overweight at any given age than white girls. Being overweight was also about twice as common in black girls between the ages of 9 and 18 (17-24 per cent).

A second study has shown that men who are overweight or obese are significantly more likely to die of prostate cancer. Obesity is known to increase the risks of a range of cancers, including breast [False!] and bowel cancer, but this latest study produced a puzzling result. The risks of dying from prostate cancer may be increased by being obese, but the risks of getting it are actually decreased. [Hooray for fat!]

A team led by Margaret Wright of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, followed 287,760 men aged between 50 and 71 as part of a diet and health study. It reports in Cancer that there is a clear link between weight and death from prostate cancer. Men who were severely obese had a doubled risk. But neither overweight nor obesity increased the risk of getting the disease. The authors explain this by suggesting that overweight and obese men have lower testosterone levels.



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter? It is just about pure fat. Surely it should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

Trans fats:

For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.

The use of extreme quintiles (fifths) to examine effects is in fact so common as to be almost universal but suggests to the experienced observer that the differences between the mean scores of the experimental and control groups were not statistically significant -- thus making the article concerned little more than an exercise in deception


No comments: