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Boris’s war on obesity will fail

The government’s new anti-obesity crusade will not tackle obesity, only obesity statistics

Three months ago, the PM came down with a flu. Rising again, after a little over three days, Boris knew what to blame for his bout of COVID-19 – his weight – and he promised a war on obesity. As fattest country in Western Europe and the 6th fattest in the industrialised world the rhetoric is warranted.

But what does Boris offer the bloated public? Half his policies are fire and fury that will achieve nothing – PR, the elusive something that people want done – and the other half is nanny statism. He went to bed, bumped his libertarian head and woke up an authoritarian.

Last year, Boris was planning to bin the sugar tax, he is now on the verge of increasing it

More of the same and worse: an end to deals on junk food; calorie-labelling on menus; a nationwide weight-loss campaign; a ban on junk food ads before the watershed; expansion of the NHS’s weight management services. And the sugar tax might be increased if ‘no results’ are seen.

It’s interesting to note that these plans are remarkably similar to the demands made, just over a month ago, by the shadow secretary of state for health and social care, Labour MP Jonathan Ashworth. The Labour party really is becoming the intellectual wing – forgive the term – of the Tory party.

Bans on television ads don’t work – who watches TV, now, anyway? Streaming services like Netflix don’t have ads and that isn’t likely to change. And a report last year found that it would remove only 1.7 calories a day from a child’s diet. A bombshell! Studies have also shown that the time that 4 to 15 year-olds spent watching TV daily dropped by nearly half between 2010 and 2017 – from two-and-a-half hours to under one-and-a-half hours a day.

Last year, Boris was planning to bin the sugar tax, he is now on the verge of increasing it – regardless of the fact that the sugar tax was a disaster. Soda companies changed their formulas but sugar consumption increased countrywide.

Calorie-labelling was widespread before the pandemic with little effect and like the promised nationwide weight-loss campaign, it relies on two faulty assumptions – that you can make a horse drink and that better information will change minds. Neither is true.

The pomposity of assuming that information will help would be amusing if it wasn’t so patronising. The NHS’s weight management services encourage this information barrage by suggesting that the people that need their help keep a food and exercise diaries, count calories and monitor what foods they eat. It’s rather like when Pip puts pen to paper to count up his debts in Great Expectations only to fall into deeper trouble.

Anyone who is obese and has had to live with the exhaustion and self-loathing that comes with it doesn’t need calorie counts to know that they need to lose weight

Anyone who is obese and has had to live with the exhaustion and self-loathing that comes with it doesn’t need calorie counts to know that they need to lose weight. And therein we have the answer. The fatties and former fatties – such as myself(ish) – know that the best medicine for this non-disease is a personal prescription. Fear is usually the winning factor, but it isn’t based in information – to which even Tom Watson admits in his book everyone thinks themselves the exception – until you really get the Fear. It is obsessive and far from rational. Policy will never achieve it. It can – and will – only foster dependence on an already creaking health system.

The problem? Government policy assumes that people are rational – blocks of wood that can be redirected if the correct pressure is applied. Theory and intent are supreme. This is the nanny state. And Boris and the Conservatives have caved to it.

Thatcher said that ‘there is no such thing as society’, there is only the taxpayer. And no matter how much money the chancellor pulls out of thin air, it will hit the taxpayer eventually – and hard. While this is already a spectacular break from form, it is but a detail compared to the breakdown of the idea of self-determination, an amusing irony in light of the rhetoric about the B-word that shall not be named.

The NHS already offers weight loss medication (the side effects of which include flu-like symptoms – not ideal!) and bariatric surgery which is bad enough. But the government intend to increase the availability of the latter. It is utter madness.

Boris and cabinet have called it the most financially efficient way of tackling obesity. But the line is a word short. It tackles obesity statistics. The causes lie untroubled. It doesn’t give those suffering with obesity the means to deal with it themselves. It will become a licence for them to give up trying to lose weight and will be a cause of great misery.

Something as dramatic as radical weight loss can only be internal. It’s our frame of mind that determines the figure on the weighing scales, not the other way around. Fostering dependency on the health service and the state is the last thing to do.

The Conservatives have lost any sense of their intellectual roots, though they feign otherwise. And their war on obesity will live up to the war on drugs. It won’t achieve a thing…

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