Personal Health

Poverty, Not Gluttony, Is the Cause of Obesity

For many mired in obesity “slim and healthy” costs money they simply don’t have.

Photo Credit: TAGSTOCK1 / Shutterstock.com

Headlines blaring that obese people were to be paid to lose weight with cash, vouchers, or “prizes” turned out to be misleading. This was part of a complex NHS five year forward view plan and “paying the obese” mainly rested on challenging UK businesses to incentivise their own employees. The government would not be paying obese people to lose weight any time soon. Then again, why not?

If you’ve ever doubted how much obese people were bullied, all you have to do is watch out for the sanctimonious uproar any time there is a move to help them. It was evident earlier this year with the news that qualifying levels for bariatric surgery would be lowered and again now. Even though it’s becoming obvious that long-term obesity and attendant health issues are an NHS time bomb, the fat-haters still demand their right to abuse, censure and offer numbskull advice (“Eat less, move more” is a perennial favourite and must be so helpful to people weighing 25 stone).

The main thrust is that people need to take responsibility for their weight, which is true, but only to an extent. Those pesky grey areas do insist on popping up, such as the (still) little-heralded area of economics – the fact that for many mired in obesity “slim and healthy” costs money they simply don’t have.

Recently, there was a study about how eating healthily now costs three times as much as it would have done 10 years ago, but food prices are far from the only issue. For the purposes of this article, let’s boil it down to money, more specifically, disposable income. Just for a change, let’s stop obsessing about impoverished obese people and their alleged heaving KFC buckets and look at some of the expensive lengths better-off people go to in the pursuit of “slim”.

Personal trainers, gym memberships, exercise classes, slimming clubs, home gym equipment, running gear, yoga gear, gym gear, (whatever the gear!), dieticians, nutritionists, diet food delivery services, electronic wristbands, books, DVDs, downloads, vitamins supplements. The list is endless before you even get to the food, because what says healthy more than a “simple peasant stew” made from an organic seasonal veg box, which is far beyond the reach of an ordinary family’s food budget?

There will always be some tedious blow-hard insisting that all they do to keep fit is run up and down on the spot, wearing their old school plimsolls – these people really should shut up. Most would concede that fitness, or regaining fitness, is an expensive and complicated business. Despite this, your average middle-class professional would probably argue that they need all this help to keep in shape. Fair enough, but then why criticise overweight people who couldn’t dream of affording it?

Put another way, why do a certain class of people feel that it is perfectly reasonable for them to require expensive, sustained, multilayered help to keep fit, but all they have for less moneyed overweight people, is contempt, judgment and “eat less, move more”? What makes one person’s weight loss so much more righteously complicated than the next person’s?

In this context, there’s nothing particularly idiotic about helping less well-off people have access to help, be it in the form of supermarket vouchers for better quality food or significant money-off memberships for gyms or slimming clubs. Far from “paying the obese”, this would be going some way to redressing the imbalance between rich and poor, where regaining fitness is concerned, which presently is all but ignored. It would be a long overdue acknowledgement that there is a very strong economic factor present not only in weight-related problems, but also in the hard slog of rectifying them. While generally people become overweight for the same reasons, some stay that way because of factors beyond their control.

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