Alice Thomson

The Times

Gerry Gajadharsingh writes:

“In a world of conflicting messages, this article I think tries to strike a balance between the right for people not to be demonised for being overweight but trying not to lose the message that being overweight is detrimental to health.

The author quotes thatin a recent study of 176,000 obese people, 98.3 per cent of men and 97.8 per cent of women failed to return to a healthy weight once they had crossed the threshold into obesity. This shows how difficult it is for people to achieve a healthy weight once they have become obese (usually defined as a Body Mass Index >30). The sad thing is that Great Britain seems to lead the world in prejudice against fat people. The definition of a successful weight reduction programme is losing 1 BMI in 1 year! This seems hardly worthwhile to many people and gives testament to the poor success rates of many weigh loss programmes.

I support many people aiming for weight reduction through an individualised Metabolic Balance nutritional programme, some people find it difficult, some easy, the majority do extremely well. The key is to NOT snack between meals, choose good quality dietary protein and fat with low glycaemic load carbohydrates. Supporting metabolism is the key to weight management, not starving yourself for a few weeks before the beach holiday and putting the weight back on again. It means understanding a bit about how metabolism works, choosing foods which support your metabolism and sticking with it until it becomes a new healthier habit.

The new drug mentioned may well become licensed and controlling appetite seems to be better than targeting fat absorption and may eventually play a part in weight management, but it’s up to individuals to also help them-selves and not rely on the HNS to solve all of societies health problems, which it simply cannot do”

Moves to stop stigmatising the overweight are welcome as long as the message gets through that their health is at risk

This month’s Vogue showcases a stunning new model dressed in pink and gold silks, organza, brocades, velvet and satins, flaunting corsets and draped in feathers. She is red-haired, creamy skinned and green-eyed, with Cupid’s bow lips and sumptuous curves. Her name is Tess McMillan, she’s from Texas, she’s 18 and she’s gorgeous. She is also fat.

McMillan’s beauty is startling, and my teenage children admire her. She is a pin-up for the “body positivity” movement and part of a growing trend to stop using the word fat as an insult and instead embrace the term.

Through Instagram, teenagers and millennials are bombarded with carefully edited images of their friends in bikinis and swimming trunks, and Love Islanddidn’t have enough fat on it for a Sunday roast, but despite all this the young are often, surprisingly, not fattist. My children’s friends embrace all body shapes and are appalled by what they believe are the judgmental views of some adults: they think “fat-shaming” is as bad as racism, snobbery or homophobia.

In Britain in particular, fat has been seen as a class issue: being thin is equated with control, being fat implies no self-control and a drain on society. According to a study by the US Obesity Action Coalition, Britain is more prejudiced against fat people than any other country, with one in four saying they would not want an obese person marrying into the family.

In many ways the body-positive young bloggers are right. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes: the fashion industry has conformed for too long to the stereotype of thin, insisting that clothes hang better on the skinny, which as McMillan shows is not true. As Becky Young, who runs the Anti Diet Riot Club, says: “You can be fat and still be beautiful, be happy, be a successful businesswoman or scientist and do all these things we are never shown fat people doing.”

But fat is still dangerous. The obese can be pretty and sexy — our ideal body shape is far too narrow in every sense — but it’s still very unhealthy to be grossly overweight. People shouldn’t be horrified by a few extra pounds, theirs or anyone else’s; they shouldn’t recoil from a muffin top or agonise about slipping from a size 12 to a 14, but they should know that carrying excessive fat can make them ill — just as too much alcohol, gambling, smoking or drug-taking can.

Obesity now affects a quarter of the adult population and accounts for one sixth of NHS admissions and 10 per cent of the NHS budget. It is the biggest preventable cause of cancer in this country after smoking. Professor Susan Jebb, an adviser on obesity to Public Health England, says: “Being overweight doesn’t directly kill you but it can shorten your life. It’s a risk factor, like high blood pressure. We treat that, but extraordinarily we don’t seem to want to treat obesity.”

That’s why, if the new £220 a month diet pill lorcaserin shows no serious adverse side-effects, it should be licensed in Britain. Until now nothing except extreme bariatric surgery has proved effective at helping most obese people to lose weight. Orlistat, the only anti-obesity drug available on the NHS, can have unpleasant and potentially serious side-effects. Lorcaserin, known as Belviq in the US, works differently: it doesn’t stop the body absorbing fat, instead it boosts the brain cells that control appetite, helping curb what it coyly calls “middle-aged spread”. It also cuts the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 19 per cent. So far, the only known side-effects are said to be “hallucinations, a feeling of being high or in a very good mood or feelings of standing outside your body”.

Members of the body positivity movement have already said they don’t want a magic pill that slims them down, they are happy looking fat; but this isn’t about their looks, it’s about their health. It is vital that the pill is not marketed with the message that thin is beautiful rather that controlling appetite is good for you, like exercising or eating vegetables.

Losing weight is incredibly difficult. Once you become obese, fat cells multiply and if you attempt to lose weight the body thinks it is being starved and wants to consume more. In a recent study of 176,000 obese people, 98.3 per cent of men and 97.8 per cent of women failed to return to a healthy weight once they had crossed the threshold into obesity. This pill could tip the balance, and although it is staggeringly expensive, it should become available on the NHS if it is licensed here because it will ultimately save money and lives.

According to NHS data, 20 per cent of children in the final year of primary school are obese. We have to stop them from becoming addicted to sugary, salty, energy-dense fatty products in the first place. The Hansel and Gretel food industry needs to help instead of trying to force-feed children highly calorific drinks, snacks and cereals. After spending years working out ways of enticing people to eat more of their products, they need to work harder at looking at how they can help us to eat well. Even so-called virtuous foods are often laden with hidden sugars and fat.

If weight was equated with health rather than with beauty, diets or self-control then everyone could discuss it more openly. No one should be shamed or stigmatised in any way, but they shouldn’t be encouraged to be overweight either. Being chubby should be neither a reason for embarrassment nor for celebration: you should just know the risks that you are taking.