Sunday, August 27, 2006

Fatuous about flab

Some while ago I signed up to receive something called the Daily Bulletin from the Liberal Democrat campaigns department. It is a sort of briefing sheet for campaigners, giving the party line on the issues of the day. In practice I rarely manage to read it, partly from lack of time and partly because I am so often annoyed and exasperated by the pronouncements of our parliamentarians, that it’s best for blood pressure if I refrain.

For some reason, however, I opened Friday’s edition and read the following from Sandra Gidley MP on the Department of Health survey which predicts there will be 13 million obese people in Britain by 201O:

These figures are shocking, but hardly surprising. The extent of the obesity epidemic has been known for some time. This week’s rebranding of Caroline Flint as fitness minister was a gimmick intended to shift attention away from the Government’s failure to tackle the time bomb of obesity in this country. Obesity is one of the issues which she should already be dealing with as the Minister for public health.

This sort of thing is just so fatuous that it makes me footstampingly cross. To avoid the rest of this post coming across as a childish tantrum, I better find something to help me calm down. Perhaps I’ll go downstairs and have a piece of that tasty-looking lemon cheesecake that my dear wife bought from Marks and Spencers.

Mmmmmm! Delicious. Now, back to Sandra Gidley. The first problem here is the assumption that obesity is entirely the responsibility of the government. Not a thought here of the Liberal notions of individual choice and responsibility. In fact, obesity is the result of too many like me people eating cheesecake and spending time on their computers instead of going out for an invigorating run. No one, not even the New Labour government, forces us to do this. If obesity rates are to be reduced it will be because individuals decide to change their lifestyles.

Secondly, Sandra Gidley assumes that the problem of obesity can be easily solved by additional (although unspecified) government action and that therefore the Labour government is culpable for failing to take said action. But it is far from obvious that this is the case. Other government campaigns on health/lifestyle issues have met with mixed results. Anti-smoking campaigns have surely left nobody in any doubt that smoking is bad for you. But it took quite a long time to get adult smoking rates down from over 50% to around 30%. And they have obstinately refused to fall further.

Endless information campaigns about the dangers of alcohol abuse have left us with a prolonged moral panic about binge drinking. Not to mention the continued failure of the ‘war on drugs’!

Thirdly, this survey is a forecast, which may or may not prove accurate, about what might happen in the future. Yet Sandra Gidley attacks the government as if it already a reality. It is disingenuous and wrong to attack the government for ‘failure to tackle’ a hypothetical situation which has not yet arisen and possibly won’t ever do so. One might add that these studies are not infallible and should be treated by liberals with a modicum of scepticism not uncritical acceptance.

In short public concern about obesity levels is a fairly recent phenomenon. It is not clear that there are easy solutions that the government can implement with a guarantee of success, because in the end people have to become convinced to change their eating and exercise habits and it may take a while to persuade them to do so. We tubbies may thwart the best intentions of the health fascists – sorry, enthusiasts. The answers are not straightforward and for Liberal Democrats to pretend otherwise is unworthy of a serious political party and merely cheapens the tone of the debate.

I am sure I could say more about this, but blogging makes me hungry and if I don’t stop soon, I’ll end up having a second piece of cheesecake.

PS: Have just spotted the full report of Sandra Gidley’s comments here. The bit about school playing fields I agree with, but in general my comments stand.

1 comment:

Alex Wilcock said...

Well, she might be talking about an obesity 'time bomb' as if it's as deadly as milkshakes on a plane, but count your blessings: she didn't issue tough talk cliché number 1 and demand a 'war on obesity'. Because tanks are so slim.

I must get offline now, as it's time to serve up a large and exceptionally lardy dinner. Yum!

That cheesecake sounds nice.