Did you know that 68% of all British adults are overweight or obese and that means nearly 1,000,000 people are obese. That’s an enormous number of people. Perhaps you think that is exaggerated. Next time you are on a bus or tube or train, just notice how many people in the compartment you think could do with losing a stone or two. I think you’ll find it is representative of the research statistics.
The interesting thing is that we sort of know what a healthy weight should look like and have a reasonable sense of what overweight is as well, we just don’t want to acknowledge it.
I was reading a very interesting article on the nature of ‘deviance’, not as you would expect! but as a way of thinking about how we as a society view a specific aspect of life and how our view of ‘normal’ can change over time. It ‘deviates’ away from an established view.
How our view of acceptable weight has changed
Obesity is one such topic. I was listening to an old Tony Hancock episode from the 1960’s on Radio 4extra. Hattie Jacques’ size was one of the main themes of humour and many cruel jokes were made at her expense. By today’s standards, Hattie Jacques would be considered large but certainly not unusual. It was interesting that listening through 2012 ears gave me an unease that a contemporaneous audience would not have had. What had happened between then and now? In the 1960’s food was still relatively expensive, processed food was in its infancy and labour saving devices were not common. We have seen a slow change in lifestyle choices through the rise in cheap food and white goods and the environmental bent towards a sedentary lifestyle. This has led to the exponential rise in the number of overweight people increasing the average size so that ‘overweight’ is now perceived as the norm. There is a corresponding change in how this group is described. It would not do to be offensive to nearly three quarters of the population. Thus words like ‘fat’, which have been a perfectly reasonable adjective previously are now considered offensive. Another effect of this deviance shift is the need to define its outer limits as the Hattie Jacques example did in the 1960’s. We have seen a rise in programmes working with morbidly obese members of the public who are desperately looking for an answer to their problem. We have merely found a new way to gawp at those at the extremes of our present sense of deviance. Have we changed so much really?
Increased weight can lead to health problems
I am certainly not advocating being rude or ridiculing anyone who is overweight, quite the reverse, but I am concerned that there is a form of societal blindness to the problem. We have too many people who are overweight. There will be a huge cost on both personal and national terms through NHS treatment to help those whose weight has directly contributed to associated comorbidities such as diabetes, heart disease and many others.
We just need to acknowledge the problem and be aware in our own ways to start to have an influence so I urge you to take a little time out of your busy schedule and contemplate those around you and ask some ‘eyes wide open’ kinds of questions about what you see. After all knowledge is power.