Features

The big fat myths of our ‘obesity epidemic’

Childhood obesity is falling. Adult obesity is flatlining. And it’s longevity that really costs the NHS

6 June 2015

9:00 AM

6 June 2015

9:00 AM

Like all failing projects, or popular cults, the NHS needs scapegoats. Britain’s health service is plagued by an endless stream of deviants who are a ‘burden’ on its resources. Otherwise known as patients, they are the drinkers, smokers and fatsos who, we are told, will bring the NHS to its knees unless lifestyles are regulated by the state.

Smokers were a useful scapegoat for a while. Now it’s the obesity ‘time bomb’. As Simon Stevens, the chief executive of the NHS, recently put it, ‘The new smoking is obesity.’ He claims that fatties will cost the NHS far more than the £8 billion he wangled out of George Osborne before the election.

Much of the fear about obesity rests on the belief that it is a spiralling epidemic. Properly defined, an epidemic is a temporary outbreak of contagious disease in a specific community. The gradual rise of corpulence in Britain in recent decades is neither fleeting nor infectious nor localised. The term ‘epidemic’ has been adopted to stoke the illusion that being fat is an issue of public health requiring government action when it is really an issue of personal health and private behaviour.

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Whatever we choose to call it, obesity is not spiralling. Rates of childhood obesity are in fact falling. Adult obesity is flatlining. So the hysteria can only be maintained through predictions of a future catastrophe. In 2006 a Department of Health report predicted that 28 per cent of women and 33 per cent of men would be obese by 2010. The fateful year came and went with obesity rates of 26 per cent for both sexes.

In 2007 the Government Office for Science issued a report predicting that ‘by 2015, 36 per cent of males and 28 per cent of females will be obese’. At the last count, the rates were 26 per cent and 24 per cent respectively, which is to say that they had fallen slightly since 2010.

A few weeks ago campaigners had the good sense to make a prediction for the more distant future when they claimed that three-quarters of Englishmen will be overweight or obese by 2030. Considering that there has been no rise in this category since 2001, this seems as unlikely.

If Britain does not feel as if it is in the grips of a fat epidemic, these wild predictions are designed to make us believe that it is only a matter of time. Since obesity is linked to a number of diseases, it is easy to believe that fat people take more than their fair share of NHS resources. But this is a fallacy. Without question, some people wind up in hospital for ailments that can be attributed to their girth, and there are costs attached to such admissions. But it is equally obvious that if someone does not die from one cause they will die from another. The real question is whether the diseases that afflict slim people are less expensive than those that afflict the obese. The evidence suggests that they are not. Moreover, slim people tend to stay alive long enough to endure cataracts, broken hips, dementia and all the other blessings of old age that place a strain on the NHS.

In a 2008 study of lifetime medical costs, Pieter van Baal and colleagues found that obese people cost the health service less than the ‘healthy living’. Smokers cost even less. In that sense, obesity is the new smoking. Like smoking, it saves the state billions of pounds in unpaid healthcare and pensions. This has been established in numerous economic studies over several decades, but nobody wants to admit it, least of all those who run the NHS.

It is longevity, not premature mortality, which places a burden on public finances. If the NHS ever collapses, it will be because we are living too long. When the NHS was created, life expectancy was 68. It is now 81. Despite all the ‘time bombs’ and ‘epidemics’, life expectancy is predicted to be 87 by the end of the next decade. The day may soon come when the average citizen spends more of their life in education and retirement than they do in work. This may well be unsustainable, but it is not the fault of drinkers, smokers or fatties. No one is doing more to save the NHS than them.

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Show comments
  • Rik

    As a chubby smoker who likes a drink i am relieved to hear i am doing my duty to the state.(sarc)
    You know what?? even if i slim down,give up smoking and become teetotal i am still not going to live for ever(it would just feel like it) so thanks i will go to hell in my own handbasket.
    Oh and before the health nazis start whining i have paid millions in tax and have health insurance so you lot can STFU as well.

    • KingEric

      Well said sir! Apart the fact I don’t smoke, we are as one on this issue in that I am chubby and also like a drink. One of my wife’s friend’s has gone on some nutty extreme diet saying she wants to live past 100 years old. It will be fun telling her what a burden on the state she will become.

    • ramesesthegrumbler

      I’d rather live to 65 and be happy than 90 and be miserable.
      NB Given the NHS’ penchant for murdering the elderly the point is becoming increasingly moot.

      • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

        Not if you are 63.

        • ramesesthegrumbler

          61 😉 Might change my mind at 64.9 but I doubt it.

          • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            At 64.9 you’d have 36 days to live.

          • ramesesthegrumbler

            Oh dear. Don’t worry that nice nurse will be doing her rounds soon …

    • xDemosthenesx

      It isn’t self aware people like your good self that grate, it is the brigade of deranged fat apologists who try to pretend that you can both be obese and healthy and that ‘big is beautiful’. Woe betide anyone who ‘fat shames’.

      It isn’t healthy and it isn’t ‘normal’. If you know and don’t care and it doesn’t affect anyone else then all the power to you, enjoy life any way you can; but deluding ourselves that fat is normal or benign is crazy.

      • http://owsblog.blogspot.com Span Ows

        but…but…it’s a disease! You must spend millions to save us!

    • Israel Campos

      Amen!

  • http://paellataffy.blogspot.com/ KJ Elsdon

    It is madness to blame the current parlous state of the NHS on fatties or smokers. Look at the situation – the concept of ‘a job for life’ is a thing of the past, fewer people can find gainful employment, the population of Britain has exploded and far more expensive procedures and treatments are now available on the NHS – but it’s all the fault of the fatties?! Don’t make me laugh! This is just institutionalised bullying.

    • Hironimous Nostril
    • Mr TaxPayer

      The concept of a ‘job for life’ is gone, but there is nothing to stop a person being employed for life.

      The British population is largely stable; the population of Britiain has grwon owing to uncontrolled migration and a third-world birth rate among the new immigrant population.

      The cost of new healthcare treatments, like the cost of defence equipment is only ever going to go up. However, many healthcare treatments will become cheaper in relative terms as the echnologies mature, the skils spread and the drugs come off patent.

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      • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

        Rubbish UK population is up by 9 million in 20 years , mainly due to ageing. 800,000 births vs 500,000 deaths per year for 20 plus years.

    • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

      They like to blame fatties, smokers and drinkers as they have contempt for the working classes.

    • GraveDave

      It’s the fatties, it’s the smokers, it’s all them serial breeding chavs and their welfare scrounging brats… They all want to be on X Factor or Benefits Street. Let’s be honest though, it’s often mostly the Right adopts these targets because it’s far less taboo and easier to blame your own then get into an argument about immigration and what Nigel Farage called ‘The International Health Service’.

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  • SteveGJ

    Sir Humphrey nailed the misleading cost of smoking argument very neatly. The problem is, people thought it was a joke…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AdVfv6ki54

  • Gilbert White

    Macrothought you obviously do not share the space with two fat Caribbean ladies pushing chubby babies to the waiting room on the #12 bus.

    • Shazza

      Elephant in the room. Immigration.

      • IainRMuir

        Don’t be silly. I’m no fan of immigration, far from it, but to imply that it is confined to immigrants is absurd.

        • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

          Immigration is entirely confined to immigrants.

          • greencoat

            If only the immigrants could be entirely confined – to their own countries.

          • Pacificweather

            We would have to train our own doctors and nurses.

          • SocratesWept

            Which would be a good thing.

      • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

        Largest immigrant group in the UK is indeed the Irish.Along with Germans , Aussies and Yanks.

        • Hugh

          No, it’s not. The top three largest groups are Indian, Polish and Pakistani – then Irish and German.
          http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/migration1/population-by-country-of-birth-and-nationality/2012/sty-population-by-country-of-birth.html

          • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            You quote only foreign born ,not ethnicity/culture. There are 2 million Irish in the UK and 700,000 Germans. You need to look at which soccer nation they qualify for….who the grandpa

          • Hugh

            Yes, in determining “immigrant groups” in the context of a discussion about immigration I have focussed on immigrants.

            But to consider ethnicity a moment: your 700,000 Germans (wherever this figure comes from) is still fewer than the number of actual foreign-born Indians (excluding their children) living in the UK. Meanwhile, those identifying as Indians and Pakistanis in the 2001 census make up 2.5% and 2% of the total population, respectively – so much more than your Germans. And much more than those identifying as Irish or Irish traveller, who collectively make up about 1%.

            http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_290558.pdf

            Basically, unless you’re including everyone who is partial to sausage and Guinness there is no way the largest immigrant groups are Irish and Germans. And they’re certainly not Australian and American.

          • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            The debate is about obesity.

    • Hermine Funkington-Rumpelstilz

      Fat women on buses? I only ever get to see big ladies who I believe must be of Irish descent shouting: “Shazza, come ‘ere! I’ll smack you if you don’t listen now!”

  • Precambrian

    “Much of the fear about obesity rests on the belief that it is a
    spiralling epidemic. Properly defined, an epidemic is a temporary
    outbreak of contagious disease in a specific community. The gradual rise
    of corpulence in Britain in recent decades is neither fleeting nor
    infectious nor localised.”

    That’s a matter of semantics really though. Although emotive language is seldom helpful, “epidemic” does generally get the picture across quite accurately regarding the scale of obesity in Britain today. It used to be that fat was the exception. It is increasingly becoming the norm.

    “The term ‘epidemic’ has been adopted to stoke the illusion that being
    fat is an issue of public health requiring government action when it is
    really an issue of personal health and private behaviour.”

    This is a more fair point though. Yes, being overweight is more a matter of gluttony and sloth than public health policy. Although the use of sugar and HFCS has some responsibility as well.

    • Mr TaxPayer

      Watch any TV game show from the 80’s and look at the size of the audience and contestants, and then change channel to a current show. Unless you’re watching Total Wipeout or that Ninja show, it just a stream of fatties. Even the some of girls on ‘Take me out’ are pushing the limits ‘chunky’.

      • goandplay

        So true – I watched an old episode of Bullseye (why?) and the contestants, male and female, were skeletal compared to today’s chubsters.

        • GraveDave

          male and female, were skeletal compared to today’s chubsters.

          Not the darts players though, eh?

      • GraveDave

        The TV shows were less inclusive back in those days. Hence you didn’t get to see many Asian or black contestants either. But nowadays it has to be more representative.

    • Kate217

      Rubbish. The average of the population is now 10 to 15 pounds heavier and an inch taller than it was in the 60’s. It’s almost like if one gets taller, one gets a few pounds heavier. There are health consequences directly related to height, too, but one never hears moral panic over the “height epidemic.”

      The “skyrocketing obesity rates” can be attributed almost exclusively to the lowering of the categories in 1998, and the “skyrocketing diabetes rates” (especially in children) comes almost exclusively from not only lowing the threshold numbers, but from the automatic screening that happens now as opposed to the checking only in the presence of symptoms that used to happen.

      • Precambrian

        An extra inch in height, and the lowering of categories, does not explain the proliferation of muffin-tops that seem to dominate the female populace and beer bellies on the men.

        You’ll find more cause in cheap wine and a sedentary life.

        • Kate217

          Just because the muffin tops were previously stuffed into girdles doesn’t mean that they weren’t there.

          There is also a difference between fitness and health. There are plenty of people who are sedentary and eat crap and remain thin, and nobody thinks twice about that’s being the result of a fast metabolism, but suggest that a person might be fat because of a slow metabolism, which is an evolutionary advantage during lean times, and people’s heads explode. Poor eating and sedentary lifestyle are bad for one’s health, but one’s size is not an accurate indicator of what one eats or how one exercises. Just because you believe that doesn’t make it true.

          • Penny

            I quite agree with you, Kate. Not every case of chubbiness is down to bad choices. I remember my aunts and grandmother who were, in their younger years, whippet-thin, progressed to being corset wearers in middle age before reverting back to being quite tiny in their winter years – and without once adjusting their way of eating (mostly plain, bland, war time-type stuff). In addition to your comment about metabolism, I would suggest that there are quite clearly bodily-shape changes that arise through changing hormone levels.

            Anorexia appears to be on the rise but seems to generate concern rather than social censure. Both are issues of weight and both may require NHS care but perceptually, we see one (fat) as being far worse than the other.

          • Precambrian

            Thin doesn’t guarantee health. Fatness does guarantee its absence.

          • Buttercup Rocks

            Bullshite.

          • Pacificweather

            Which is why my fat uncle died at only 89 when his thin brother died at 91. Fat cost him two years of his life.

        • Buttercup Rocks

          Personally I put the proliferation of muffin tops down to the popularity of low-rise and skinny jeans but nil desperandum, old thing. The return of high-waists and flares should save your eyes from future horror. With regard to cheap wine and a sedentary life, it looks as though you could stand to learn a thing or twelve.

          Certain medications, (including some commonly prescribed antidepressants, birth control pills and implants, and steroids); thyroid or endocrine disorders, such as polycystic ovary syndrome and insulin resistance, can all have an impact on weight gain, how and where that surplus weight might be stored by the body and whether or not it’s retained, regardless of diet and/or exercise. Numerous other factors, such as disability, long-term illness, extended deep sleep deprivation, (as experienced, for example, by sufferers of fibromyalgia, depression or sleep apnoea), poverty, genetics and menopause.

          Serial-dieting and eating disorders can also have an impact on body-size; as can a combination of several of the above. It may also interest you to know that most eating disorders are kickstarted by dieting and that all it can take is one to start the ball rolling. Of course poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle can be contributors too, but these are by no means the exclusive province of the fat – any more than death or disease are. In other words, you too will kark it and maybe even kark it young regardless of having the good sense and moral fortitude to have avoided being hit with the fat stick.

    • Pacificweather

      Thank providence for semantics or life would lose its meaning.

  • Diggery Whiggery

    Ban Sugar I say!

    It is the foodstuff of the anti-chirst I tell you!

  • IainRMuir

    Of course obesity is a problem. You only have to walk down your nearest high street to see that.

    If you want a slightly more empirical approach, compare what you see with photographs and film footage of ordinary people taken 20/30 years ago.

    I dare say the NHS does look for scapegoats but it doesn’t automatically follow that their comments on obesity are wrong.

    • Buttercup Rocks

      I’m 56. We had fat people back in the old days too.

      • IainRMuir

        I’m not saying you didn’t.

        • Buttercup Rocks

          Them what, pray, did you mean by this?

          “…compare what you see with photographs and film footage of ordinary people taken 20/30 years ago.”

          • Carved In Stone

            I imagine he meant there are more fat people now than there were then. When I was growing up fat people were quite rare, and the fact that they were fat was memorable.

          • Buttercup Rocks

            Well, if we’re going the anecdata route, they were no rarer in my life, (or indeed, my family), than they are now. When I walk down my local high street at the end of the school day, I see droves of kids – almost exclusively adolescent boys since most of their female counterparts will have been angsting about weight since kindergarten – spilling out of innumerable fast food outlets and almost none of them are noticeably fat.

            Furthermore some of the average sized kids you might remember from your own schooldays would now be categorised as overweight since the markers have been lowered since the BMI was first introduced to replace the old insurance company height/weight charts . Most people have little idea what BMI-defined “overweight” or “obese” even looks like yet globesity hysteria as presented by the media is entirely predicated on BMI.

          • IainRMuir

            “Furthermore some of the average sized kids you might remember from your own schooldays would now be categorised as overweight”

            No they wouldn’t. I have school photographs – that’s the point.

          • Buttercup Rocks

            No, the point is that most people have no idea what “overweight” or “obese” as defined by the BMI scale, (the markers of which were lowered after its adoption by the WHO), actually looks like.

            When people start frothing about the fauxbesity epi-panic, they like to evoke images of extremely large people who would be fat by anyone’s definition, when in fact those people are actually a minority. My point is that some of those kids you went to school with who didn’t look especially overweight to you and would not have been categorised as such at the time, would now be categorised as overweight using the lowered BMI markers.

          • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            Kids are much taller too due to too much protein in their diet.There will be huge cost in adapting our houses, offices, furnishings, vehicles etc to accommodate the huge numbers of 6 ft 5 inch men and 6 ft ladies.

          • Carved In Stone

            I didn’t mention BMI. The fact that you have a different recollection from my own doesn’t make you right.

          • Buttercup Rocks

            Right back at you, sir.

          • IainRMuir

            Exactly.

            My wife, who is not from here, has noticed a significant change in the last 20 years.

          • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            Only toffs got on the telly and toffs are rarely massively fat. They see it as a class distinction to be slim.

    • GraveDave

      He’s not saying obesity doesn’t exist or isn’t an ongoing problem.
      Why dont you people never read the whole article before you hit the keys.

      • IainRMuir

        He says the problem is not getting worse. I don’t believe him.

        • Rhoda Klapp8

          Government data says it’s not getting worse. I’ve been saving the annual press releases for a few years. There is no trend, and the headlines are edited to point out any figure which does show a change in the alarmist direction.

          If obesity is a problem, it is a personal one. Those fat folks are not hurting you in any way, not even by their use of the NHS. Unless you are in an airline seat..

  • stephen

    The punch line is surely life expectancy.This trend represents a huge disruption to established patterns at both the State and individual levels.The demands generated in keeping thousands and thousands of physically and mentally frail 80+ is becoming an enormous and probably unsustainable task.

  • davidofkent

    We have been told on many occasions that diabetes, in particular Type 2, is rising. Type 2 diabetes is most often the result of obesity, so I think our national obesity is a problem either for now or later. Looking around town, the only slim women I see are the young women migrants from Eastern Europe. They clearly know what should not be eaten in large quantities.

    • GraveDave

      the only slim women I see are the young women migrants from Eastern Europe.

      Give it time. I remember when the Indians and Pakistanis and the west Indians came over here All were like stick insects to begin with.

  • Bertie

    What is really costing the NHS is the fact that each year, more and more people are calling on its services in unison.

    Whether that be from the extra 600,000 who migrate to these shores(offset by 250-300,000 who leave – net gain however of 300,000+) or the number of people who expect cosmetic surgeries to solve their self esteem problems(eg boob jobs, tummy tucks, stomach stapling) – all non emergency/all arising from their own life style choices rather than genuine accidents/ailments not of their own making for which they dont have to pay anything towards.

    Make such things free and it takes away personal discipline and self control, both from the activity youve clearly engaged in(eg stomach stapling requirement for over eating) and from pursuing the free solution.

    Boob jobs, Stimach stapling, tummy tucks should all be PAID for by the individual seeking them. They should not be free. Perhaps then we can focus more on making sure people dont have to wait months for hip replacements etc etc.

    There’s also the requirement to stop abuse of the A&E system by those who clearly are in need of emergency treatment or those who abuse alcohol friday/saturday nights and need tobe scraped off the pavement.

    “Oh and before the health nazis start whining i have paid millions in tax and have health insurance so you lot can STFU as well.”

    And it is well known that Smokers pay far more in excise duty than they consume in Health costs. Added to that they die younger so they dont act as a drain on the state pension front!!! (Disclosure – Ex smoker 2011?2010? Cant remember)

    • Buttercup Rocks

      Boob jobs are the result of lifestyle choices?

      Oookaaay then.

      • Kate217

        Well, it would certainly affect the lifestyles of some. 😀 Kind of a modern-day “blondes have more fun.”

        Of course, the comment to which you refer totally erases women who have reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy, which may actually prevent osteo issues caused by misalignment.

        • Buttercup Rocks

          …and also women suffering from chronic back pain who need breast reduction surgery.

          • Kate217

            Absolutely. I fall into the fallacy of thinking “augmentation” when I hear “boob job,” but that isn’t always the case.

      • Bertie

        Depends if you’re talking about blokes, in which case the asnwer is yes. If its women, then there choice is equally a lifestyle one as you’re choosing to alter what you’ve been given to boost your esteem.

        Why should someone who needs a hip replacement, a cataract op, have to wait several months so that you can have a boob cup size alteration?

        NHS resources are scarce – it should be used for real issues. having low esteem because your tits are too small, or too big, isnt a real issue. Pay for it yourself.

        • Buttercup Rocks

          Women who need reconstructive surgery after mastectomies and those who require breast reductions because of spinal problems have bona fide medical issues, bub, as do men with Gynecomastia.

          And, lest you think you’re speaking to me directly, I’m more than happy with the size of my tits, thanks.

          • Bertie

            Clearly those that need “reconstructive surgery” or have spinal problems are genuine users.Most however are “cosmetic users” for whom no breast enlargement would make much difference in the big scheme of things.

            I wasnt speaking to you directly. Glad you’re happy with what youve been given!

    • Hironimous Nostril

      “Make such things free and it takes away personal discipline and self control, both from the activity youve clearly engaged in”

      So as a smoker you surely can’t expect the treatment of your smoking related illnesses to be free of charge. Shouldn’t you exercise some personal discipline and self control and give up?

      • JeSuisClarkson

        This is exactly the reason why the whole thing is a bad idea. It gives everyone, and especially the state, a “legitimate” interest in how everyone else lives their life.

      • Bertie

        “So as a smoker you surely can’t expect the treatment of your smoking
        related illnesses to be free of charge. Shouldn’t you exercise some
        personal discipline and self control and give up?”

        Did you read all the way through? Clearly not!

        At the bottom –

        And it is well known that Smokers pay far more in excise duty than they
        consume in Health costs. Added to that they die younger so they dont act
        as a drain on the state pension front!!!

        ****—->>>>>>>>>>(Disclosure – Ex smoker
        2011?2010?
        Cant remember)

        I did – I quit after having paid far more into the NHS system than I’ve currently consumed.I also quit cold turkey so didn’t consume any resources by using Nicotine patches, and all the other freebies given by the NHS!

    • GraveDave

      What is really costing the NHS is the fact that each year, more and more people are calling on its services in unison.

      Good point.

      Boob jobs, Stimach stapling, tummy tucks should all be PAID for by the individual seeking them. They should not be free. Perhaps then we can focus more on making sure people dont have to wait months for hip replacements etc etc.

      And you’re right, vanity makeovers shouldn’t be stumped up by the NHS .

      • Pacificweather

        If vanity makeovers are paid for by the NHS how do all those private clinics stay in business? Correcting the corrective surgery perhaps.

      • Damaris Tighe

        Nor should fertility treatments. Infertility is a misfortune, not an illness.

  • Fred Uttlescay
  • AQ42

    While anecdote can’t trump evidence, it can at least supply some scepticism. If you are over 40 you will know that there are a lot more fat people now than there were. So suggestions that there aren’t do raise an eyebrow.

    • van Lomborg

      The incompetence and inability of the mostly indigenous clientele here to make a coherent comment on this matter is indeed baffling.

      • Dogsnob

        And this from the Eric Morecambe school of writing – all the right words but not necessarily in the right order.

    • Alida Jones

      AQ42, you may want to add to your anecdote that older people are heavier than younger people— thus if you are not associating with only teens and 20 somethings, you are automatically associating with people who weigh more than they did 20 years ago. Add to that the median age of the culture rising, and that also explains the bump in weight.

      • AQ42

        Hmm. I looked out of a window in a shopping park this afternoon and saw a family – father, mother and child. The mother appeared to be in her thirties and could only be charitably described as enormous.

        Whenever I go round a public place such as a supermarket I see people of a weight that, in my long distant youth, would have been rare as rare, to the degree that children would have pointed them out. When I was at school there was a fat kid in every class, but looking at the children I see coming and going from the local schools there’s a lot more now.

        And my work brings me into contact with a lot of 20 somethings, has done now for 20 odd years, and they are getting heavier too.

        • Pacificweather

          It’s an interesting observation. There always was one fat kid but there isn’t a single fat child in my grandaughter’s school yet 5 miles away there is a school with many fat children. Could it be education policy to gather them all in one school?

          • adambagpuss

            Gravity more like.

          • Pacificweather

            Yes, I always doubted the theory that gravity is a weak force.

          • http://owsblog.blogspot.com Span Ows

            this is very cruel… and extremely funny.

          • xDemosthenesx

            Same dynamic that results in a twenty year life expectancy swing a few miles apart

          • Pacificweather

            The fat kid’s live in a larger town and their parents probably have a lower income but their school doesn’t have a playing field which might be a factor. People dying 20 years earlier would certainly please the goverment. Perhaps that’s why they don’t interfere with the processed food industry. The trick is to get them to drop dead before they get to hospital or it’s counterproductive.

          • mikewaller

            It has been widely observed that this is the first civilisation in which being fat is most commonly associated with poverty and slimness with wealth. This has much to do with the processed crap the poor are expensively encouraged to consume. It would be interesting to know whether there is a marked socio-economic difference between the intakes of the two schools mentioned.

          • Pacificweather

            I would think the fat kids school had lower incomes but it also has no playing field and, of course, 90% of the kids in that school aren’t fat. The ‘no fat kids’ school has a lunch time sports club and the playing field is in use every day. But it is interesting how children change. The fat kid in my class is now thin and the very thin kid (me) is fatter than he is.

        • Mary Ann

          I must have gone to school before you did, a few people were plump but there was only one fat girl.

        • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

          Ridicule helped them slim. Political correctness protects their dumb lifestyle choices. Whenever the fat boy sat down at my grammar school we were encouraged to leap up as if propelled from a seesaw by his bulk. Oh how we laughed and eventually he put the fork down.

        • mikewaller

          Although the core of the article is sound – longevity is the biggest threat to the NHS and the public finances in general – it still contains a cunning sleight of brain. Being not as bad as had been predicted, does not men mean the problem has gone away. If the figures he gives are reliable, around 25% of the UK population is obese which I should have thought a pretty shaming statistic. And if it is falling, I would think that much of that should be credited to the health lobby which has kept battling away in spite of the complete “gutlessness” of governments of all stripes when confronted by the massed ranks of BIG food and drink.

          Another issue the author ducks is that of productivity. The obese would certainly be unfit for military service so one has to ask in how many other spheres would their sheer size make them unsuitable for employment? If that is a serious consideration, as I suspect it is, we need additional data concerning the longevity but increased productivity of the lean and hungry weighed against the reverse pattern amongst the obese. Until that is done, the above has to be treated as just another NHS knocking piece from a jobbing hack.

      • xDemosthenesx

        Wife and I are both teachers – you should see the enormous, swelling, waddling lumps that wheeze into the classroom everyday. Worse and worse. The staff room is nearly as bad and our PE teacher is a pork-pie away from needing a mobility scooter.

        • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

          One of my wife’s colleagues visited the Krispy Kreme factory for her birthday! She is so big she HSS time zones. I have successfully circumnavigated her only once, and was trapped briefly on the dark side of her.

        • Deidre Miller

          You think of your students as “enormous, swelling, waddling lumps that wheeze into the classroom?” Really? That doesn’t say much for you as a teacher. I wish you’d posted the school you work at so parents could avoid the catchment area.

      • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

        Fastest growing age group us over 80s, most of whom are much lighter than they were 20 years ago.

    • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

      The NHS make the lazy assumption that we will follow American trands.But we are Europeans. Europeans tend not to be fat.

      • GraveDave

        Even in America it appears the blacks have the obesity problem.

        • Gilbert White

          Can the bus company CEO be prosecuted they let our benefit blacks with either fake or real Versace on our London buses fair enough but what about those wheeled things that block the isle? Benefit blacks apparently need these to cart the mealy meal from Iceland to camber well green. They block the isle for wheel chair users or push chairs, get the drivers to enforce this elf and safey please.

        • Pacificweather

          John Candy agrees with you.

      • Gilbert White

        Typical stereotypical drone like thinking of our young socialists with anti American big Mac with French fries.

      • Pacificweather

        Montalbano’s girlfriends would never get a job on the catwalk.

    • ButcombeMan

      If tempted to treat Snowden as a serious commentator, look him up linked to “tobacco tactics”.
      Quite quite nutty.

      • Zaphod

        Snowden challenges any control propaganda that he encounters, and he does it very well. Don’t read him if you’d rather be comfortable in your ignorance.

        • ButcombeMan

          I read him and challenge him. A perfectly reasonable proposition.

      • http://www.virtual-pub.com/SMF/index.php Barman

        Perhaps you could point out any of his comments on tobacco that you consider to be inaccurate…?

        • ButcombeMan

          He has a long history of polemical discourse supporting the tobacco industry, much of it in my view slanted, unbalanced and inaccurate. The most obvious is his reported 2012 suggestion that “plain packs” suit the counterfeiters better than the current branded packs.

          To counterfeiters the design of the packs is irrelevant.

          I suggest you read what tobacco tactics say about him.

          Of course he reportedly claims no association with big tobacco. Yet the IEA is reportedly supported financially by Big Tobacco.

          • http://www.virtual-pub.com/SMF/index.php Barman

            I suggest you read what he has written… and then read the links he always posts to the research that backs up his claims….

            …but then you believe that he is a billionaire funded by ‘Big Tobacco’ because Tobacco Tactics say so. No doubt he is also funded by Big Salt, Big Sugar, Big Soda, etc…?

            There is little point trying to reason with you….

          • Zaphod

            Snowdon supports smokers, against their government-funded attackers, by exposing the deceitful propaganda. “A perfectly reasonable proposition.” (See below.)
            It’s hardly surprising that Big Tobacco rather like him, even if he doesn’t like them.
            It’s also not surprising that Big Tobacco Control attack him. He attacks them, very effectively, so they fight back. They get paid to do so, as do all the State-funded “fake charities” he exposes. I don’t think you will deny that. Does that taint their arguments in your view? It does in mine, but it’s the arguments that Snowdon usually ridicules, not the arguers.

            To smokers the design of the packs is irrelevant. But the issue serves to show how unhinged the anti-smokers are. This is your best example?

      • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

        No he is worse than that. He is a sinister creep working for the establishment, big business and the 1%.

    • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

      Snowdon doesn’t let little details like fact or statistics get in the way of his meanderings. He is in the pay of the 1% ‘s think tank the IEA. Other luminaries being half a brain David Willetts whose book Pinch is one of the most inaccurate badly researched bits of propaganda ever to masquerade as information. Shame on all these devious beggars for cynically misrepresenting the truth.

      • Dominic Stockford

        So the statistics he quotes are shamelessly wrong?

        No, they’re not. As with most things today the increase in the population makes a difference. If 25% of 100 people are obese that makes 25 obese people. If the population increases to 150 that same 25% makes 37.5 obese people – which also means that there are more obese people to be seen, but not that the % of obesity in society has increased.

  • Ambientereal

    Instead of free stomach stapling give the fatties free food and they will soon be gone. The same with heavy drinkers/smokers. And reduce taxes to people that keep their body mass index between 20 and 24.

    • GraveDave

      Another one reading the grown up comics too soon.

  • RobC(UK)

    The “Obesity Epidemic” and the associated “Diabetes Epidemic” are a direct result of government health policies. For the last three decades it has been their policy to demonize fats and insist that people obtain the majority of their calorie intake from carbohydrates. Even now, when the consequences of this disastrous diet are well documented the “experts” are still insisting that we cut down on fats.

    • Buttercup Rocks

      Type 2 Diabetes is more attributable to age and heredity not carb consumption or government health policies. The current demonisation of carbs is simply another fad no less risible or transient than the previous demonisation of fats. In fact it’s the second coming of carb demonisation; it was all the rage when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s along with Atkins and various other fashionable metabolism-wrecking modes of weight loss.

      Diabetes runs on three sides of my family. It might interest you to know that I eat a ton of carbs (mostly complex) along with fruit, veg, oily fish and other delicious things. And I’ve successfully controlled my blood glucose through diet alone since my diagnosis three-and-a-half years ago.

      • RobC(UK)

        I am not a faddist and have never been on a diet in my life, everything in moderation. I agree with what you say, but the incidence of T2 is soaring in a way that cannot be attributed to genetics or an ageing population.

        • Rhoda Klapp8

          Changing the threshold of glucose levels and testing people who have not presented with symptoms have both contributed to the ‘epidemic’. In effect, they are looking very hard to find diabetics to put into the statistics.

          • Mary Ann

            Work Medicals.

          • http://owsblog.blogspot.com Span Ows

            Yes, everywhere that I have worked and lived abroad there were obligatory work medicals.

          • RobC(UK)

            So maybe it should be the Pre Diabetes Epidemic then?

    • GraveDave

      Kraft durch Freude

  • Deidre Miller

    Good article, but why does every single news piece that mentions fat people have to show someone with their belly hanging out? I’m sure there are fat runners out there who own tee shirts that fit them.

    • Kate217

      At least they let him keep his head.

    • GraveDave

      And like all the other ‘costly problems’ to the NHS, they’re always white.

    • Marsha Coupé

      Smart well written article. Agree about the photo and headless comment. Surely there are photos of fat folks riding a bike, going for a swim, dancing or strolling about looking like we care about our appearance as much as anybody else. That would be a major break through.

      • Pacificweather

        There is a great one of Eric Pickles dancing the Hokey Cokey.

    • MichelleCanada

      it’s like science journals’ paintings of Neanderthals: always dirty like they haven’t taken a bath in a decade, and with dreadlocks.

    • Mary Ann

      You all too frequently see fat people wearing clothes that are too tight for them, don’t they realise that it just makes them look fatter.

      • Deidre Miller

        Really? I rarely see that. The fat people I know tend to be pretty fastidious about their appearances, because they know that it’s open season on them every time they step out into public.

  • statechaos

    Epidemic or not the fact is that a quarter of the population is obese, not just overweight, but clinically obese. These people will have mobility problems and vital organs will be put under unnecessary strain. I see them every time I go to the supermarket or shopping in the town centre and wonder how they have managed to get that way. The health of the NHS depends on the adopted attitudes to personal health of the population and articles like this do nothing to help anybody.

    • GraveDave

      I see them every time I go to the supermarket or shopping in the town centre.

      He’s not saying a problem doesn’t exist. Just that they’re not responsible for the crumbling NHS.

      The health of the NHS depends on the adopted attitudes to personal health of the population

      Yes brother. We hear you.

      • statechaos

        I’m a sister not a brother. And he claims the effects of 1 in 4 of the population being obese is not the cause of problems in the NHS. Obesity is a problem with the young and middle-aged. At least those who are not obese have the decency to get old before they become a burden on the NHS – is that it?

        • GraveDave

          In Big Brother World, we’re all brothers.

  • Chris Hobson

    I’m sorry but In the street all i see is chubsters.

    • JeSuisClarkson

      Open your eyes.

    • GraveDave

      That’s because you want to.

    • Pacificweather

      Should have gone to …..

      • http://owsblog.blogspot.com Span Ows

        MacDonald’s

  • Yorkieeye

    Isn’t it strange how resistant to logic and cold hard facts the emotive NHS has become? Perhaps the statistics do not fit the smug narrative and meddling tendancies of the healthiteriat.

    • Pacificweather

      It’s easier to do key hole surgery on thin people. If surgeons got a fat patient bonus there would be no complaints.

      • http://owsblog.blogspot.com Span Ows

        Blubber bonus, tub tax, lypo-lucre,

  • ‘ere we go

    On behalf of older people may I point out that after maybe 50 years or more of paying NI we perhaps merit our treatment.

  • Terry Field

    When the British grow up about health care, and accept a blend of Insurance and general taxation as the source of finance, together with a massive ramping up of private capacity supply, the choice of spending more on healthcare and less on other types of consumption will then kill stupid articles like this one. (see all civilised states with much better healthcare systems than in the UK)
    Clearly fags kill the great majority of those who use them; so let them die! they become more cost-effective citizens then!!!!
    STOP THIS SELF-RIGHTEOUS BLUDEE WHINING!!!

    • Pacificweather

      Why on earth do you think we read the papers? If they stopped the whining they would go out of business.

  • cartimandua

    Diabetes is taking 10% of the NHS budget now.

  • GraveDave

    Like all failing projects, or popular cults,

    the NHS needs scapegoats. Britain’s health service is plagued by an endless stream of deviants who are a ‘burden’ on its resources. Otherwise known as patients, they are the drinkers, smokers and fatsos who, we are told, will bring the NHS to its knees unless lifestyles are regulated by the state.

    You wonderful brave man you. I’ve been saying the same thing for the last eighteen months.

  • rob232

    What a sensible article

  • Ivor MacAdam

    Couple of points: firstly, it seems as if the IHS only wants to treat people who are fighting fit, nothing wrong with them. Hmmm. And secondly, seems to me that if you declare everybody over four ounces as clinically obese, you have just created for yourself a (useful) obesity epidemic. Result!

  • Mr B J Mann

    Didn’t we start getting really fat when they convinced us to stop paying so many times more than we cost the NHS in tobacco duty?!

    But aren’t “fat” people (as opposed to grossly obese ones) much healthier, longer lived, resistant to disease, and able to recover better from illness, than thin or even “normal” weight people?!?!?!

    (No, I don’t really smoke, nor have I ever done!)

    • http://owsblog.blogspot.com Span Ows

      “fat”…yes. Every single rugby player would be obese, probably very obese or whatever the terminology is. The BMI is crazy and puts about 90% of the population overweight or at least not in ‘ideal’.

  • jack

    Epidemics can be caused by environmental factors. For example, the epidemic of childhood mental retardation that was caused by lead paint, and which was ultimately was only ended when lead was banned from household paint. It could well be that something in our food supply is causing the obesity epidemic. For example maybe some one of those endless additives we read about on the label. I say, even if it is a mild epidemic it is still a fact and it is interesting and it must have an explanation. People are fatter these days by godfree!! Lets find out why and see if it can be easily fixed. It would not be that expensive to hire a few scientists to poke around in the chemical list and see if there is something that reacts with fat cells. if we can find a unitary cause then the problem is solved.

  • Sean L

    *The term ‘epidemic’ has been adopted to stoke the illusion that being
    fat is an issue of public health requiring government action when it is
    really an issue of personal health and private behaviour.*

    But what do you mean by *public* other than *persons*? Surely public health must encompass personal health and private behaviour. I might stuff my face in private but in the process I get so fat that wherever I park my backside requires reinforced furniture to bear the load… I don’t really see the argument here other than health fanatics using obesity as a pretext to throw their weight around so to speak…

  • waltcody

    Here’s the elephant in the room: obesity has increased in direct inverse proportion to the decrease in smoking. US CDC stats show this. An unintended, but predictable, consequence of Public Health’s war on smoking/smokers. And now, having demonized and banned smokers, and demonized and exorbitantly overtaxed tobacco , Public Health is about to demonize the overweight people they helped create ant to demonize and overtax food that tastes good. And so it goes.

  • Teacher

    I have seen a few illustrations of how weight has risen over the decades. As an English teacher I used to show the sixties film, ‘Lord of the Flies’ to my classes. In it, Piggy, the fat character, would scarcely raise an eyebrow now as he seems merely a little chubby while the other boys are alarmingly thin. Also during the terrible siege of a school in Beslan by militant Chechens the Russian children were seen in news footage to be as thin as whips. I also saw some films of my school in the sixties and every single person portrayed, staff and pupil alike, was, to today’s view, incredibly slim. And on a recent trip to Lyme Regis, a seaside resort in Dorset, I noticed that almost everyone was overweight. An incredible change. And it is not attractive!

    • Buttercup Rocks

      Cheers for admitting that fat phobia has nothing to do with concern for public health and everything to do with aesthetics.

      • Teacher

        I think that the aesthetic dimension is pointing out that there is a problem with the nation’s health. There is not a total correlation by any means since, when everyone was whippet thin, many were smoking themselves to death. However, it is probably the case that the thinner you are the more likely it is that you are eating healthily and getting exercise.

        • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

          Like those Ethiopians in1985.Eating healthily and getting exercise. Rubbish. You write likec some latter day Puritan who worships at the gym.

  • JonBW

    The article hits the nail on the head and it is important that this case is made, not least because of the prevalence of the myth that ‘healthy living’ can ‘save’ the NHS when in fact it is putting it under greater strain (and leading to misery for older people as a result).

    It might also be worth noting the burden placed on the NHS by ‘healthy lifestyles’ in the short term: why is the huge cost of treating sports injuries never mentioned? Why doesn’t the NHS even mention it?

    Because, of course, Public Health is now a judgemental moral crusade rather than a service to the public.

  • Pacificweather

    I wonder who came up with “epidemic” in relation to obesity. Could it have been a journalist? Do journalists need myths or myths need journalist to build them?

  • Dogsnob

    Thank you. My full English with black pudding tasted so much better for having read this.

  • Cyril Sneer

    It’s easier to blame fat people, smokers etc than mention anything about the increased demand for services due to the increasing population much of which comes from immigration.

    • Mary Ann

      If we didn’t have immigrants the young would have to have more babies to look after you in your old age.

    • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

      Ageing……not immigration.

  • Jean Granville

    Good one.
    On the longevity issue, is there any reason why this problem cannot be solved by simply working longer?

    • Mary Ann

      They are already doing that.

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  • Dodgy Geezer

    …In 2006 a Department of Health report predicted that 28 per cent of women and 33 per cent of men would be obese by 2010. The fateful year came and went with obesity rates of 26 per cent for both sexes….
    ……….
    A few weeks ago campaigners had the good sense to make a prediction for the more distant future when they claimed that three-quarters of Englishmen will be overweight or obese by 2030. Considering that there has been no rise in this category since 2001, this seems as unlikely…

    Why am I reminded of Climate Change predictions…?

  • CynicalEng

    Glad someone else noticed that New Labour’s extrapolations have not come to pass. Obesity increased a lot in the 80s and 90s but lost momentum post millenium.

  • Augustus

    It’s no secret that obesity is mainly caused by eating an excess of processed and fast food. It’s just a matter of common sense. Healthy and moderate food/drink intake, and plenty of movement. And more home cooking – at least then you know what you’re eating.

  • Jim

    Obesity may well be the new smoking. But give it a few years with the current craze of marathons and fitness competitions, and osteoarthritis will be the new obesity.

  • ohforheavensake

    Sigh.

    http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB16988/obes-phys-acti-diet-eng-2015.pdf

    This report has far more statistics in it: Christopher, you’re simply wrong.

  • Dominic Stockford

    “it is equally obvious that if someone does not die from one cause they will die from another”

    Which is the obvious and undeniable debunking of most of the government health myths.

    • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

      Greatest health issue ignored is suicide. Now at 7200 per year .Ten times the murder rate and four times the road deaths.

  • Ed  

    Isn’t it impressive how rich we are, that obesity among the poor is a serious matter for discussion. The 1930s called; they want their fantasies back.

    • red2black

      Is this at least in part due to the least-well-off eat cheaper foods, which tend to be processed, convenience, high in sugar and salt, and nutritionally lacking compared with foods eaten by people who are better-off?
      Also, I imagine it’s far cheaper to microwave food than it is to oven-cook it or use gas or electric rings. Some people do have to prioritise counting the pennies from day to day, however well-off other people may be.

      • Ed  

        It’s far cheaper (and healthier!) to buy groceries and cook them yourself than to pick up fast food, or buy microwaveable food. This is one of the secrets of success of many in the middle class. Many poor people overspend on (poor quality) food, because they don’t follow this.

        The point is that food is so cheap and plentiful that even poor people frequently overeat. My grandparents, scraping by with three children in a basement flat in the 1930s would be floored at the wealth of the “indigent” today. Floored.

        • red2black

          I agree with you. The town where I live has a market where local working class people sell fruit and vegetables they’ve grown themselves, and I imagine they’re self-sufficient in these things as a result. Also, allotments are very popular, for which there are waiting lists. Some of these people also support food banks with their produce. I think the problem with a lot of cheap prepared food is that it’s very high in calories and very low in nutritional content.

          • Ed  

            Bingo. “Cheap” has more than one meaning.

  • Cyril Sneer

    Yes there are definitely more fatties around, but then there are more people, and they’ve become lazier and I’m (just) over 40 so I have seen the change in this country and I think I really need to end my sentence here.

  • http://www.zpub.com/notes/idle.html TNT

    Great article – thank you!

  • Mr B J Mann

    If obesity is such a problem, why aren’t they encouraging smoking to curb people’s appetite!?!?!?

    By the way, if Scottish bairns are mature enough to vote at 16:

    Does that mean that they can buy ciggies and booze at 16 too?

    And sharp and pointy things?!

    And guns?!?!?!

  • Rob Minto

    Regarding smoking, the idea that smokers do us all a favour and cost the NHS very little is nonsense. Ask any doctor: the costs of smoking are massive. Longevity isn’t a problem if we all live with good health until the last few years of life. The big cost is long protracted illnesses, like lung cancer. And that is where smokers stand out. Many cancers are simply bad luck, but smokers are increasing their chances hugely.

    Obesity may prove to be less of a problem. But the thesis behind this article that smoking is ok, with no social costs, is simply irresponsible.

  • http://www.mymanandme03.wordpress.com AquariusMoon

    Really? Where are the statistics?

  • Roger

    Do you really doubt that obesity is costing around 10% of the NHS budget? We now have over 3 million people with diabetes type 2, an entirely preventable disease, because people won’t stop eating cake.

    You claim that the obesity rates have flatlined but don’t publish your sources or even the figures. As it happens, I too have seen figures that support you. But that still leaves us with 3 million people who, on average, will die 11 years prematurely, having had some of the vilest illnesses and with a possibility of having to lose an arm or leg. 137 limbs are amputated every week for diabetes patients.

    I’d quite like to stop that and save £10 billion annually.

    Your argument that fit people live longer and require more care in the long term is perverse and not worthy of you.

    Just out of interest, what’s your BMI ?

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