The Obesity Epidemic: Science, Morality, and Ideology

By Michael Gard; Jan Wright | Go to book overview

The game was broadcast live in England by the BBC with commentators Martin Tyler providing descriptions of play, and the ex-England player, Trevor Brooking (whom we met earlier in this chapter) offering expert comments.

The game was tight and finished 0-0 at the end of normal time. Another 30 minutes of extra time failed to split the teams. The players then prepared for the obligatory penalty shoot-out, the notoriously nerve-jangling tie-break system in which players from either side alternately try to score from 12 yards out with only the opposing goalkeeper to beat.

With the penalty shoot-out tied at 2-2, Davor Suker stepped forward to take Arsenal's third penalty. He missed. The next Galatasaray player scored. Arsenal's next penalty taker, Nicolas Anelka, also missed which left the next Galatasaray player needing to score to claim the trophy for the Turkish club. He made no mistake and the English team was beaten. Arsenal, a heavyweight European club with its multinational roster of players had been humbled by the unfancied Turks made up of predominantly home-grown talent.

Brooking could not help himself. Although working as a broadcaster and (presumably) far away from his work with England's junior sporting talent he immediately blamed Arsenal's defeat on the sorry physical state of English youth. 'Although to be fair', said Tyler, 'the two Arsenal penalty misses were by a Croat [Suker] and a Frenchman [Anelka].' The commentary box fell silent.

Although some print-media commentators emphasize exercise, and others food or genetics, the central message is remarkably unified: we are in the middle of an obesity-driven health crisis. The culprit is 'modern life' and 'everyone everywhere' is at risk. 'Modern life' has made food more easily accessible and exercise harder to fit in. Although this is a highly generalized diagnosis, some specific causative factors are commonly proposed. They include televisions and computers, fast food restaurants, our evolutionary past, declining levels of physical education, declining 'family values' and a general human tendency toward laziness.

Out of all of this, an interesting situation emerges. While the basic propositions that overweight and obesity are bad and too many people are too fat remain constant, the way in which 'modern life' has created this situation causes people to return to their respective moral and ideological 'comfort zones'. These 'comfort zones' are habitual ways of talking and thinking into which the 'obesity epidemic' is inserted. They cause people to look at the same phenomenon - in this case rising overweight and obesity statistics - but to see very different things, which perhaps explains why someone might look at highly paid Croatian and French professional footballers and see obese English school children. And they explain why some see technology or large corporations or modern approaches to parenting or genetics or human nature as the root cause of the crisis we are supposedly in.

This inevitably raises the question of who is speaking the truth. As we saw in this chapter, obesity experts have become an indispensable component of printmedia coverage of the 'obesity epidemic', no doubt because their contributions give newspaper and magazine articles an increased air of credibility, no matter what assertion is being made. But in order to find the truth, some people turn to the research literature.

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The Obesity Epidemic: Science, Morality, and Ideology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Acknowledgements viii
  • 1 - Science and Fatness 1
  • 2 - The War on Obesity 16
  • 3 - The Ghost of a Machine 37
  • 4 - 'Modernity's Scourge' 68
  • 5 - Fat or Fiction 86
  • 6 - The Search for a Cause 107
  • 7 - Obesity Science for the People 126
  • 8 - Feminism and the 'Obesity Epidemic' 153
  • 9 - Interrogating Expert Knowledge 168
  • 10 - Beyond Body Weight 187
  • References 191
  • Index 210
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