The weighty issue of over-indulgence

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In the run up to the New Year, a relatively ordinary local restaurant was advertising its New Year’s Eve dinner menu for a cool £79 per person, wine and port extra.

This ‘grande bouffe’ consisted of seven courses of the sort of traditional rich fare any one of which could provide a normal human being with a daily main meal. So, have you vowed among your New Year resolutions to lose weight? Of course you have. In the current climate, we can expect many examples of paring down.

So let’s look past the end of January – the normal failure date – to see if the target of negative body growth can be sustained.

It’s hard not to concede that our swelling profiles have more to do with over-indulgence and lifestyle than nature’s inability to keep up with genetic development.

Had the JEP been available on prehistoric tablets, the dinosaurs might have been able to read up on their dietary short-comings, take stock, and avoid extinction. In a world where consumables come cheap, instead of striving to halt the slide, it’s easier just to go out and buy clothes a size larger.

Of course there’s also the spectre of the vicious circle: you’ve become over-weight, so you’re embarrassed to go out and exercise, so you stay home, pick on treats and pile on the weight. It doesn’t need TV’s ubiquitous Claire Sweeney to put on two stones in 6-weeks just to prove that if you eat too much, you get fat.

Just as the build-up to the annual ritual feasting orgy began, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, chose to stir the pot, reminding us that six years ago, he warned of what he called ‘the obesity time-bomb’ facing the UK. According to a report for the UK Department of Health, twelve million adults and one million children in the UK will be considered obese by 2010.

At the same time, researchers suggested that it’s often too late to tackle child obesity after they reach school age.

Nearer home, Dr David Jeffs, the retiring head of Guernsey’s Health Service, reckoned that the increasing levels of obesity in the island’s population will be one of the greatest challenges facing his successor.

Apparently our indulgent local lifestyle and diet has already put us in the high-risk cancer bracket, and too little exercise and too many short journeys by car has led to a population getting larger and larger with all the attendant ailments such as diabetes and arthritis.

No surprise then to learn that the conclusions of a survey about to be presented to the States here earned the JEP headline Unhealthy Jersey.

In fact, the blanket use of the term ‘obese’ can be misleading as it gives the current social trend a pseudo medical aura. I know there are indeed certain inherited medical conditions which develop into obesity. So let me be very clear – I’m not talking about that, because, let’s face it, 20 per cent of the adult population is not suffering from such complaints.

There’s nothing wrong with being large if you are fit. Many athletes would fall into this category. Indeed, there’s ample evidence of our ancestors venerating personal bulk – the prehistoric carvings prove it.

No, it is the passion for over-indulgence because it’s there to be scoffed that is translating into the sickness epidemic which has prompted the UK government to launch its Change-4-Life media campaign.

But apparently the further we push ourselves, the less we want to talk about it. Obesity – the ‘o’ word – has become taboo, just like cancer used to be. It emanates from (of course) the United States, where you can’t identify anything which might point a finger at self-indulgence.

What’s wrong with ‘fat’ when acknowledging it could contribute to its elimination? With one in ten children now classified as obese, experts are heaping blame on processed food and bad eating habits set by their parents.Not surprising then that the same parents are objecting to the term ‘obese’, referring to their charges as ‘very overweight’.

I fail to see how the second is less of an indictment. Children in the womb are not fat. They grow to be fat as a result of the way they are nourished – you can’t help but feel there’s a parallel argument relating to children who are born innocent and become crooks.

In a society where parents can’t control kids, sweets are too often given as bribes. I confess I was surprised how the ban on smoking in public places grew legs so swiftly. OK, there are those who would defy anything – and do – but cigarettes disappeared with little more than a whimper from offices and restaurants. It seems that we collectively took a negative attitude to smokers – they harmed themselves, cost us money and messed up the environment.

But though the same arguments apply, our attitude to voracity is far more acquiescent – for now. Despite a government-funded programme to educate us with food-pack labelling, it seems that we are less discriminating about what we put down our throats than ever we inhaled.

So with the warnings coming thick and fast, it’s difficult to ignore the evidence of our own eyes. Try travelling in comfort on public transport without your neighbour spilling over the arm of your own seat. We don’t actually need the medics to urge us to prevent an epidemic from becoming a ‘natural disaster’.

Forget liposuction or stomach stapling; go for sensible abstinence and exercise – active beats remedial hands down.

How about losing a stone for charity in 2009? I’m game.

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