Weekend: HEALTH: A Fat Lot of Good Abusing Us Will Do; It Has Been a Hot Topic for Months. Now Heather Pollitt Has Taken a Rare Look at the Issue of Obesity through the Eyes of the Obese

Article excerpt

Byline: Heather Pollitt

The subject of obesity is never far from the media eye. In fact, you would be hard pushed to find an adult in the UK who has not seen or read a story relating to it.

Daily articles in newspapers attempt to cover every angle. We are regularly told that more and more people, regardless of age, are getting bigger and being told they are obese in terms of their body mass index.

My initial objective was to research obesity in relation to ethnicity, interviewing Caucasian, Afro-Caribbean and Asian men and women specifically for this piece. The research showed that the real burning issues are victimisation and limited resources in the health service, both of which are blind to the colour of people's skin.

I found an increasingly intolerant attitude towards people who are overweight and obese, coupled with increasing levels of abuse aimed at people who are. And this is having a very real and negative effect on people's lives.

The central question is: should this be tolerated in a civilised society?

In 2005, it is clear is that obese or overweight people are likely to be on the receiving end of abuse for the way they look. For many, disparaging looks, insinuations and verbal abuse are part of daily life, sometimes starting as early as primary school.

The abuse continuously hangs over them like a dark cloud, leaving them feeling like second class citizens, inadequate, and having fewer rights than thin people.

This feeling is something many people recognise and could associate with. These feelings of inadequacy are developed over time through continual reinforcement in the form of every disparaging look, word of abuse, name calling.

Fear of society judging them is commonplace among many obese people and affects all aspects of their and their families' lives. What's more, the stigma associated with the term 'obese' is such that most overweight people are wholly uncomfortable with it, believing it to be a term used to bully them, making them feel more victimised.

They would prefer to describe themselves as 'big', 'plump' or 'well rounded'. They hate the term obese.

Is obesity such a scourge of society that people who are obese should be vilified to such an extent?

Causes of obesity vary. Some people are chubby or plump at school. Others pinpoint childbirth or giving up smoking as the start of their ongoing battle with the bulge. Then there is the link to emotional trauma, such as divorce or bereavement.

Traumatic events appear to be closely linked with depression and the start of a vicious circle. The more depressed one becomes, the more one eats. Loneliness, boredom and guilt are also identified as key factors, particularly among women.

Single women feel they are more likely to put on weight as they have nobody to curb their eating. But women with partners argued that having a partner does not prevent 'secret eating'.

So where's the solution? In reality, obese people accept that the blame for being overweight lies with themselves and not the media or government.

However they feel it is all too easy to put on weight in today's society with everything aimed at convenience.

In fact, many stated that obesity needs to be recognised as an illness and not just greed. People felt they were judged for having no willpower whereas smokers and heroin addicts would not be treated so harshly; it appears that it is as much of an addiction as smoking, alcohol or drugs and needs to be treated as such.

So why isn't obesity treated with the empathy and understanding afforded other addicts? Sufferers were indignant about the fact that there is little or no support available for them, certainly when you think about AA, counselling, and various other clinics available to people with drink problems. …