Obesity: Naming and Shaming the World's Jelly Bellies

There’s nothing as capricious as political speculation. Last year a meeting of Westminster’s ‘All Party Group on Body Image’ called on the government to introduce legislation which would make it illegal to call someone fat, on the grounds that this was a ‘hate crime’. Now the mood has changed, and the suggestion is that society has a positive duty to tell its jelly belly members that they’re ruining their health and endangering their lives by carrying excess weight. Like most revolutionary changes in ideas and outlook – from barbed wire to hula hoops and atomic bombs – this trend began in the United States but will soon be taken up by health authorities around the globe. Daniel Callahan, an American bioethicist, was one of the first to sound the battle cry, claiming that people should be shamed into losing weight. In future, he said, strong social pressure should be placed on them to make them aware ‘that excessive weight and outright obesity are no longer socially acceptable.’ This is merely the revival an old idea, for the Spartans upheld their national fitness levels by ostracising anyone who carried excess weight. Even a generation ago childhood obesity was tackled by teasing lads who carried the slightest hint of excess adipose tissue by giving them demeaning names like slobber chops, Piggy Wilkins and Jelly Belly Jones.

We need to launch a global ostracisation campaign. Couch potatoes should be cajoled into taking a full frontal look at themselves in their bathroom mirrors. Do they like what they see? Is their body as ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ as their maker intended? They were born with a masterpiece of mechanical engineering, but through neglect have allowed their Formula One Ferrari degenerate into a battered dumper truck fit

only for the breaker’s yard. A major step to overcome the obesity epidemic would be made if these self-indulgent folk were made to feel as ashamed to waddle into a supermarket, exposing their chubby cheeks and bulging bellies, as nicotine addicts became at the thought of lighting up a fag in a neighbour’s sitting room. We’re hopeless at judging risk. Americans don’t realise that they’re at far greater danger from stuffing their bellies with cookies, candy and coke than from lunatics wielding guns. In fact, five law abiding citizens are killed every year in New Year by homicidal maniacs, compared with the six thousand who die from obesity-related diseases. However, the Obama administration has seen the benefit of this ignorance and self neglect. If left to their own devices, obese Americans are likely to die twelve years earlier than the national average. This will reduce the overall cost of providing welfare payments for retired people, which a government spokesperson describes as ‘a mega-boon for the White House”. The US legislators are now framing an ‘Affordable Care Act’ which is expected to penalise people who smoke or carry excess weight. These two ‘high risk’ groups may be denied certain forms of medical treatment, on the grounds that they are ‘wilfully unhealthy’, and are racking up an estimated total cost of $243 billion in annual health care costs. Rather that introducing advertising bans and fat taxes, which have proved to be singularly ineffective, the suggestion is now that these misguided people should be left to die young. The ethics of this approach has provoked a vigorous Twitter debate, which you may care to join, but we hope you’ll only do so after you’ve joined our ostracisation campaign .

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