Obese? You might not be able to count on it.

You may well understand it but I find it increasingly harder to make sense of the news fired at me every day. For obvious reasons my ears prick up at the mention of anything food-related that appears in the news and I have a file I keep on my desk where I keep printouts and cuttings of such stuff. Just looking at the top couple of pages I see that a survey has found that teenage girls in the UK eat more junk food than they’ve ever done before and that obesity is still the biggest threat to mankind (or womankind) in the UK. “The pattern of consumption suggests that many girls are being influenced by fashion models”, the article says.

Well before I move on to the second cutting, my confusion already starts to ferment as the only fashion models I’ve ever known, and I know a few, are more aware of their food consumption than anybody else I’ve known. I’m not saying they understand it because their diets are usually weird consisting of water and bean shoots and supplements. But they certainly go on and on about what they eat. And they smoke as well. And they are nearly all bonkers.

The second cutting tells me that in the obesity capital of the world, America, one in five of their households ran out of money to afford food at least once during 2009. Boy, they must have been budgeting badly. Maybe the burger chains should set up a pre-paid system like our teenagers use with mobile phones.

So, here’s the paradox: Americans, who are the richest people in the world, are running out of money to buy fattening food; and our teenage girls are emulating size zero models and becoming obese. Confused? There’s more.

Our government tells us that obesity is one of the biggest threats to us apart from climate change, terrorism and the Conservatives. But how many obese people do you know? I’ve carried out a detailed scientific survey in our restaurants in the last couple of days which involved glancing around and counting anybody I considered to be obese. And you know what? There hasn’t been one yet. In fact, the only definitely obese person, according to government-provided charts, I could find is my work colleague Peter who, because he’s very fit and plays lots of sport, has a body mass index so high that official guidelines suggest he’ll be dead by the end of next week.

I don’t know if it’s the social circles within which I operate, or the type of people that our restaurants attract, but the difference I see in people these days is not obesity but height – hence the primary school child in my next cutting who was recently reported as tall, slim and obese. Since the second world war, people have definitely been getting taller. In fact I’m thinking of putting a height restriction on our job application forms because I’m sick of 18 year old staff towering over me.

I asked a friend’s eleven year old daughter how many of her fellow pupils she considered to be fat, expecting her to regale me with tales of reinforced chairs and widened doorways. But she said that everybody was like her, slim and fit, apart from one who got chased around the playground at breaks for being different. Cruel, I know, but it suggests nothing’s changed in that way since the sixties.

Obesity’s not the problem. If it exists to any extent, it’s a symptom. The real problem is bad diet and that’s down to ignorance. Eating is one of the most important things in life to everyone. But we’re taught about it with a handful of silly simplistic phrases such as “five a day”. Imagine if we taught maths like that. None of our youngsters would be able to add up without a calculator.

What? They can’t?

Originally posted April 2010

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