My visit to Fat Central on a mission to find out who’s really to blame for our obesity crisis

So. Today we turn the spotlight on Amanda Platell who is here to make sure we know why fat people are fat, the big fat fatties. Let’s begin with a balanced and calm opening from Amanda herself.

“I find obese people unappealing in almost every regard. They are physically unattractive, they lead unhealthy lives, they take up too much space on public transport, and (most of all) they are a strain not only on their clothing but on NHS resources.”

It’s really the taking up too much space on public transport that I find the most offensive and confusing. Attractiveness is in the eye of the beholder so if a bit of padding is not Amanda’s thing that’s fine, for every person who shares her opinion there is another who wants a woman with curves or a cuddly man (and indeed some who want even more, I’m not telling Amanda she shouldn’t fancy tories). But public transport? Is this really an issue? If it is, I must admit it’s one that has completely passed me by.

Amanda continues, blaming lack of self-control around food and then making statements of mock-outrage at how, whenever she voices these sorts of opinions, she receives lots of angry letters. I have my own views on why she might receive these letters but for now let’s hear her reasons. Who do you get letters from Amanda? Who?

“From fat people, of course. Because they say they can’t help it – it’s society’s fault, the government’s neglect, the curse of a fat gene or heavy bones.

And joining in their chorus of protest are the bien pensants of the Left who, because they believe only the power of the state can transform people’s lives, indulge the fatties’ sense of victimhood and cosset their over-indulgence with the protective embrace (and generous hand-outs) of welfarism.”

I could be wrong but I’m not sure we have a fat benefit, if we do, will someone please tell me where I can sign up? The frustrating thing already with this article is we all can see where it’s going and we’re barely a quarter way through. “Fat people are fat because they eat too much and do too little exercise.” Well, yes, in SOME circumstances this is almost certainly the case but why are they eating too much? And why are they exercising too little? And what about those who have gained weight due to genuine medical conditions? And why does it bother Amanda as much as it seems to? And also why at no point is it mentioned that people DO have different body shapes and some people gain weight easier than others and some are naturally curvy and… oh let’s just go back to her shall we.

“There are other factors, too, of course. In particular, in our consumerist, throw-away society we have stopped placing a priority on home-cooked meals as an essential part of healthy family life.

Not just for their role in bringing the family together, but also as a way for parents to fulfil their duty to their children and nurture them physically as well as spiritually.”

Well that’s a bit of a left turn? Is Amanda saying that parents already nurture their children spiritually? Because previous articles such as this and THIS suggest she has as much time for the modern world’s parenting skills (or indeed lack of the same) as she does for Dawn French’s Terrry’s Chocolate Orange adverts. Let’s rewind however, the point about a consumerist society is a valid one and it made in many other papers and columns from both ends of the political spectrum. Where the cheapest food on the market is nearly always the most unhealthy in terms of quality and content, the logical expectation is for the average weight to rise. However, has this stopped home-cooked meals? With the likes of Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Delia Smith et al, I’d say the value on home cooking is higher than it’s ever been.

“New research has revealed that one in three children-in the West Midlands is now either overweight or obese. One in three!”

I can’t find this research (and I’ve looked quite hard) so I can’t comment on its veracity. However, being an ex-resident of Birmingham, I feel that one in three is a VERY high estimates unless we’re taking overweight or obese from the BMI index… ah yes, that’ll be it. Sorry, I have to go on a small tangent here and point out what everyone already knows, BMI is outdated, outmoded, unstructured and fails to take into account some basis principles of body such as bone weight, muscle to fat mass ratios, water retention and the difference in physical make-up of humans from difference racial backgrounds. Almost all footballers and definitely all rugby players would be ranked as obese if one went on BMI alone not to metion a whole host of swimmers, boxers and people who engage in regular manual labour. Muscle weighs more than fat so someone who works hard in the gym toning and building muscle might be incredibly healthy but on the BMI scale, would be told to lose weight.

Anyway, as Amanda doesn’t mention BMI, we should get back to the article in question. She pulls no punches at all pointing out that members of her family are fat and whilst she loves them, it’s pretty much their own fault and she has no sympathy. She does not, unsuprisingly, go into detail as to just how fat they are and what, if any, problems their size has caused them. Perhaps she’s saving that for her next article.

“Nowhere is this problem more acute than in the town of West Bromwich. So that’s where I headed, notebook in hand.

Let me say immediately that I met many wonderful people in West Brom and that it is somewhat unfair to have picked on this town alone because flab is a national problem. But I didn’t invent those statistics and I had to choose somewhere to investigate this disturbing national phenomenon.”

Well, it’s good to know that you are not picking on the people of West Brom directly Amanda and you’re just there because of maths. Oh no hang on a second:

“The High Street in West Bromwich is typical of the pitifully rundown town centres around Birmingham where the once close-knit working-class community thrived on steady hard work, but with the closure of factories now flounders on welfare (it has one of the highest levels of families on benefits in Britain).”

There we go, the loss of that close-knit working-class “wasn’t Coronation Street a great documentary” community from the days of yore. Children would run down the cobbled streets in clogs chasing a metal hoop, men were real men and would come home from the factory with a pay packet and the knowledge of a home cooked meal waiting for them, women would stick by their husbands no matter what and… no sorry, I can’t go on, I’m going to cry. It’s interesting that Amanda often talks about the loss of the community spirit in towns across the country. Somehow, she always seems to forget that that particular trait is incredibly prevalent in many of the ethnic minority communities. I can’t for the life of me think why.

Meanwhile, back in West Brom circa 2009:

“Everywhere, there were fat people. Men with stomachs so large it must have been decades since they’d seen their toes; women so overweight they had rolls of fat cascading down their backs, their thighs so large they couldn’t walk, they waddled.

More troubling still were the huge number of people on motorised buggies – every one of them obese. Others staggered along supporting their bulk by leaning on shopping trolleys. It doesn’t take long to see that immobility is the inevitable outcome of a lifetime of obesity.

Saddest of all, though, were the young kids, just teenagers, with arms so fat they stuck out from their sides, legs so large their feet pointed outwards. I’m sorry if that sounds cruel. But until we recognise the reality of the problem, we’ll have no hope of beating it.”

That’s it Amanda, what these people need is a good sharp shock from your pen. It’s so simple, they just don’t know their fat do they? They’ve been so busy scrounging off the welfare state they have no idea what size they are any longer and what they really need is a middle class journalist in their midst holding up and mirror and saying “Look at yourself, just look, you disgust me”. There’s nothing better to make you motivated to eat better and exercise more than feeling the scorn and hatred of the popular press.

The next line is my favourite:

“Just as in a war zone, it’s important to bring home the horrors of the frontline, not some sanitised PC version.”

A war zone? Are we not perhaps blowing this out of proportion somewhat? No? Oh ok, please continue. Amanda interviews some ‘case studies’, two girls who work in a café who describe themselves as plump and she kindly corrects them as on “…the roll call of the town’s obese” (although in the paper, not to their faces as that would be mean). Then after listening sympathetically as they blame the government for their condition (wasn’t she ridiculing people who did this just a few paragraphs ago), she manages to wander off onto another of her pet hates.

“West Bromwich boasts a vast new art centre called The Public that cost £65m to build and is universally despised.

The town could have had an Olympic-class sports centre for that kind of money. The locals would have settled for a half-decent swimming pool. Instead they got a giant white elephant.”

Yes those liberals and their art. Clearly such a place can only persuade more people to waste their time trying to be creative when they should be out getting proper jobs in factories and sweat shops just like the one Amanda does. Interestingly, this isn’t the first attack on this building made in the Mail as you can see here. Also, figures on it’s actual cost seem to vary from £50million to the Mail’s quote of £65million.

Whatever the actual cost, The Public has brought jobs, tourism and entertainment to a city which is by all accounts including Amanda’s, in dire need of investment. Additionally, there are at least two swimming pools in West Bromwich and a whole host more in nearby Birmingham all funded by the council. I’m not suggesting there shouldn’t be more, everyone likes a swim but it’s not as if The West Midlands is having a chlorinated water drought.

“Yes, people worried about their weight, but said they didn’t know how to lose it. They wanted help and saw it as the Government’s responsibility, not their own.”

My main issue with a majority of Amanda’s articles is she doesn’t seem to be able to decide exactly what she thinks. Take the above statement, are people fat because they’re lazy or is it because they’re uneducated? Should they have taken control of their own bodies from day one or is it the governments fault?

“West Brom may have no swimming pool, but it has fast food outlets galore. And then there are the cake shops – I’ve never seen so many of them in my life, their windows groaning under piles of iced buns and custard cakes.

Down the road at the popular Pie Factory pub you can get a ‘Desperate Dan’ meat pie – all 4lb of it – for just £8.99. It’s enough to feed a family of four but is sold as a meal for one.

You couldn’t eat healthily in this town if you tried. And I did.”

So perhaps, for a few lines, Amanda and I are on a similar page (not counting this one). Ignoring the fact that she is continuing to contradict herself from what she said at the beginning, the point she is making regarding the quality and type of food sold in a poor urban area such as West Brom and how it can have a direct impact with the health of the people living in that area is one I’m totally onboard with. Still, I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for her, it’s almost as if she get’s no joy out of food and see’s it as an enemy combatant in her never-ending fight. How often does someone really go for the ‘Desperate Dan’ pie alone? I like a pie, possibly more than most, but even I might veer off at some point through 4lbs of mean and pastry. I don’t think it’s the only product the Pie Factory produce.

Our intrepid reporter moves on from here to speak with people who run a fat fighting group. From the quotes, they sound like perfectly reasonable persons and not nearly as judgmental as Amanda herself.

“’It is clearly linked to poverty and deprivation,’ says Rosemary, though she concedes that ‘there are many poor countries in the world where people are far more deprived and yet no one is fat’.”

Oh she concedes that does she? I can just imagine how quickly Amanda got that line in after Rosemary’s sympathetic outlook. There is a near insumountable difference between the poor areas of a rich, developed country, that has the technology at it’s disposal to produce cheap food at literally the click of a button and the poor areas of a deeply poor country, one that has not had an industrial revolution or, if it has, it’s been one forced through in a few decades instead of two centuries. I can’t help but feel that this would be considered a moot point. In Amanda’s article, just as in many Daily Mail articles on obesity, if poorness caused people to be fat, why are the poorest in the world starving.

“But while Rosemary and Gordon are justifiably proud of their scheme and optimistic it will make a real difference to the obesity problem in the area, what it cannot do is alter the endemic blame culture.

The tragedy of the welfare state in places like West Bromwich is that it breeds a hopelessness and a helplessness, a poverty of ambition, a reliance on the state so great even the size of a person’s backside is blamed on the Government.”

The welfare state causes obesity? But I thought the problem had nothing to do with wealth or income? I wonder if Amanda has considered what would cost the NHS more, some people suffering from ailments brought on from an unhealthy diet, or those same people suffering from a whole range of diseases and illnesses because they did not have the money to buy clothes and food. As I say, I’m just wondering.

“Surely if ever there’s one thing each and every person can take charge of it’s what they put in their mouths and the number of times they get their bums off the sofa and out in the fresh air to exercise. It costs nothing but willpower and a decision to be accountable for your own life and your own health.”

And thus every person who is incapacitated by ill health or literally cannot afford “good food” or has bigger problems to worry about that the size of their ass is reduced to being both stupid and lazy. But hold on, it get’s better (and by better I do mean worse).

“But I’m not holding out much hope for the good citizens of West Brom. They will go on getting fatter, more immobile, more unhealthy and, ironically, even more of a drain on the very state they blame, as they queue up for their hip and knee replacements and fill doctors’ surgeries for diabetes and heart problems.”

Does everything in this paper come down to money? Well, yes actually, it pretty much does. Also, Amanda was very clear she didn’t want to ‘pick’ on West Bromwich and yet that hasn’t stopped her having a snide remark handy at every possible opportunity.

To give this some balance, she does pass on some credit to Kayleigh (the one she added to her ‘obese list’ earlier) by saying she is working and trying to get on with life. However, it is a small respite from her true views.

“I had thought the sight and plight of people in Britain’s fattest town might soften my attitude to the obese, but while I have sympathy for the individuals I spoke to, I’m sorry to say my overall thinking has only been hardened by what I witnessed.

In a world where many suffer terrible diseases through no fault of their own, it’s hard to muster up much sympathy for those whose ‘illness’ is self-inflicted, who refuse to take any responsibility for their bodies and actions, who blame everyone but themselves for their misery – then leave us to foot the bill.”

So what is your answer Amanda? Should the government be helping or would that be interfering? Should we be banning unhealthy foods and closing MacDonald’s or is that just Nanny Stateism? You say people should take responsibility and yet lump blame on the government for building an arts centre instead of a swimming pool? The girl you interviewed is trying to make ends meet and earn a wage yet you would have her putting money towards weight watchers classes instead of saving.

The frustrating thing about this entire article is it lumps all ‘fat’ people into one group. It gives them all the same attributes as lazy, slovenly, greedy and a drain on society. It also makes sure to be clear that they are all of ‘lower class’ and most are on benefits which are paying for their increasing weight. It makes no account for personality or personal circumstances. It makes no differentiation between those who gain weight because they just eat too much and those that have struggled with physical and mental illnesses which have caused a dependency on food. Also, it takes the absolute argument that “BEING FAT IS BAD”. There is no room for the fact that there have been fat people throughout history, that some people are perfectly happy with the size they are and that others find them attractive, fancy them, fall in love with them and *gasp* even have sex with them.

In a country were women are told daily to lose weight, shave their bodies, cover up wrinkles, calve off cellulite, dye their hair, iron their clothes and look like airbrushed celebrities from dawn to dusk, I would think Amanda would encourage some sort of variety in the people around her including the variety of size so we aren’t conforming to the “liberal media’s” view. She never talks about an epidemic of underweight people? Is that because they don’t exist? Or because they fit a social ‘norm’ already divised by the media as to how we think we know we should look.

And with that bit of covelution. I’m off for a burger. And I’m going to enjoy it!