A report from Diabetes UK says that the number of obese people in the UK has doubled over the past 20 years, with record numbers treated for type 2 diabetes.
There are now 13 million adults with a body mass index (BMI) of at least 30 (defining obesity), which is just under 30% of over-16s, with 20% of children obese by the time they leave primary school. This puts extra strain on the NHS, with care required for cancers, heart problems, knee replacements and other obesity-related conditions. All of which recalls Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, terming the obesity crisis “the new smoking” in terms of the calamitous effect on the NHS. However, obesity differs in one key societal respect: people suffering from smoking-derived illnesses aren’t routinely mocked and insulted.
We know the drill with obesity by now or should do. While personal responsibility should never be discounted, there are well-documented complex social factors contributing to obesity, including poverty, inadequate health and nutritional education, while food companies flood the marketplace with cheap calorific food full of sugar, fat and salt. Once people enter the downward spiral of obesity, it can be terrifyingly difficult (confusing, exhausting, expensive) to extract themselves. As with other addictions, there are also elements of self-harm and self-medication: eating because you hate yourself; eating to feel better. It can’t help that obese people are demoralised and stigmatised by a society that feels entitled to blame, castigate and ridicule them.
By contrast, it may sometimes be acknowledged that smokers “brought it on themselves”, but there’s no culture of mockery. People with lung cancer aren’t harangued; emphysema sufferers aren’t scorned. Why is there such a marked difference in attitudes? Smoking can kill you, but so can obesity. Cigarettes are highly addictive, but so is junk food. For years, tobacco companies were allowed to promote their product as cool and glamorous; food companies are “regulated” with inadequate sugar taxes and so on.
In rational terms, obese people deserve a degree of public compassion that they rarely receive. When did people decide to give themselves permission to be crueller, more judgmental, towards the obese than to almost any other struggling social group?
It matters, because this entrenched vitriol has evolved into the kind of everyday sizeism that people feel they can get away with. Spouting prejudice lands you in trouble, but you can still have a pop about someone’s weight under the guise of “humour” or “advice”.
Maybe it’s time for a change. The new figures on obesity are shocking, but with nearly a third of the adult population classed as obese, that’s a lot of people who could decide to fight back, maybe even demand protections. Finally, fat-shaming could end up recognised for what it is, what it has always been – a hate crime by any other name.
Festive crisps and flatpacks? Oh give these ads a rest
Who could I sue for my chronic Christmas advert fatigue? There are the usual suspects: John Lewis has gone all out with a bizarre animation about an arsonist-dragon called Excitable Edgar, blasting fire at icy village ponds and Christmas puddings. (Think of it as a nursery-level Game of Thrones, where “winter is coming” but nobody goes topless or dies.)
Marks & Spencer has people boogying psychotically in Christmas jumpers in scenes that threaten to evolve into an episode of Black Mirror. Then there are the supermarkets – Aldi producing a Leafy Blinders showstopper about carrots and sprouts. Elsewhere, Boots slightly hysterically bangs on about its new online Bootique concept – who knew that buying bath bombs could be so dystopian?
But did Walkers Crisps (Mariah Carey sending up her diva persona) really need to do a Christmas advert? Are Christmas crisps a thing now? Similarly, there’s an advert from Ikea – because, erm, nothing screams yuletide more than easy-to-assemble flatpack furniture? Regarding a Christmas advert from Visa, what concept could possibly make sense apart from: “Ho, ho, ho – you’re overdrawn and it’s not even 2020 yet!” As for Amazon, maybe next year the online giant could spread festive cheer by paying its fair share of taxes?
Some are great fun (Argos has a daddy-daughter drumming duo and a crowd-surfing teddy). But there are just too many of them, with every retail name you’ve ever heard of screeching their money-grubbing seasonal greetings in your face. If I tried to watch them all, I’d be there well into the new year, covered in snowflakes and tinsel like a disturbing festive version of Jack Nicholson frozen in the maze at the end of The Shining. Happy Christmas everybody and without meaning to be a curmudgeon, this kind of festive advert overkill could make a Grinch of us all.
The ‘rough sex’ defence plea is growing. It’s a shocking trend
It’s good to see that John Broadhurst has lost his appeal to have the sentence of three years and eight months he was given reduced for the manslaughter by negligence of his partner, Natalie Connolly. Connolly suffered 40 separate injuries, including serious internal trauma, and died as she lay at the bottom of stairs.
This case was also notable for being part of what appears to be a growing legal trend for “rough sex” being used as part of a defence plea. Generally, it is claimed that the female victims demand consensual rough sex, dying accidentally as a result. Rough sex is supposed to be about sex, not death. Even if people are into rough sex, it doesn’t mean they have a death wish. As for the apparent epidemic of women demanding to be battered and choked, hardcore pornography has doubtless popularised rough sex, but perhaps we should remember who for. Which gender watches the most pornography? While pondering that question, let’s keep an eye on that worryingly fashionable “rough sex” legal defence argument and make sure it is not becoming a cynical, self-serving exercise that debases and exploits the voiceless victims.
• Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist