Dawn French - Symbol of a Modern Epidemic

Recent reports in the press about Dawn French regaining the weight she had lost evoked some very poignant memories for me. Over the past few years I have lost two close friends due to obesity related illness. Both were bright, attractive intelligent women. Both attempted to control their weight - one spending many thousands of pounds in the process. Neither was happy with the situation, although one went through a short period of trying to accept something she thought could not be changed. Thus for many years I closely observed the complex process which prevents certain people from losing weight.

As we know, this is not always the case. Sometimes there may be easy solutions. Education, dietary advice, even ensuring that regular meals are taken. Shift workers often gain weight because of the difficulties of eating regularly. As we all know, when blood sugar drops and we feel hungry, it is a great temptation to reach for the nearest sugary or carby snack. Losing weight for a special occasion will work for some people but unfortunately is not always sustainable, especially with some of the fast weight-loss diets which don't address the underlying problem and can even result in the individual gaining extra weight after a short period of stability. Just as those of us with diabetes dislike being stigmatised and stereotyped as lazy and greedy - the same obviously is true for the obese.

The causes of overweight and obesity can be genetic or caused by disease, surgery and depression trauma, mental or physical, to name just a few. Some think it is from the environment - including the food environment where the constant images of food stimulate hunger. In famine/starvation situations this does not occur. We are all aware of eating disorders Anorexia and bulimia have been household names for years, "New" disorders are added on a regular basis. The cosy, innocent sounding "comfort eating" is perhaps my favourite, this is just another term for "emotional eating" - not quite as cosy but the first one seems to be favoured and almost acceptable. That is because it is something many of us have experienced from our earliest years. Parents do it to their children. We even do it to our pets - and it is just as lethal for them. It is emotional eating. There are no doubt perfectly valid physiological reasons why we turn to food in various stressful circumstances but, if doing so is a constant, than there are obviously underlying reasons for it which must be addressed.

Miss French was reported as saying that she hoped she "would not be laughed at for her fatness" and added that, “it had never happened to her but that she was aware that it happened to others.” Its no laughing matter, obesity can kill or seriously damage health. Its cost to the nation must run into billions each year. Younger people are having to have knee replacements at younger ages. As the replacement joints are expected to last for about twenty years at present this could mean that further replacements could be necessary. This is just one example - there are many more.

So what is being done about it? I except in extreme, life threatening cases I think the NHS treatments can be summed up in one word, inadequate. Oh they may well work for a few people - sometimes the very fact of seeking help and advice will produce results, but in complicated cases? And many long-term problems of this nature are complicated, then I see little to inspire confidence, and am not surprised that a spend of £6billion to treat obesity is envisaged by 2015.

 There is also the massive private industry too. Everything from diets to food to counselling to extreme surgery. Even when money is no object and there appears to be a real will to lose weight and to sustain a healthier weight none of these things seem to work for some unfortunates.

So what SHOULD be done? A change in attitude by those in charge of the future £6billion budget might help. We hear that there is an obesity 'epidemic' just as we hear of a 'diabetes' epidemic. The response to these epidemics seem to be to merely blame the sufferers or think of more punitive measures to be taken against them. Of course that is always easier than addressing the problem.

Surely if obesity is rising in the entire population it must be possible to find the obvious cause? Perhaps not. If it is a matter of overeating or food addiction it should be treated as any other form of addiction - alcohol, drugs and treated seriously. It is not a joke people don't, in general, choose to risk their health and even their lives, deliberately. If they do then again they need help not punishment and humiliation.

Dr Laura Mcgowan from the charity weight concern, recently said “Contrary to popular belief, stigmatizing overweight individuals through blaming them for their excess weight is not helpful and there is evidence to suggest that this type of attitude may actually decrease people’s motivation to lose weight. This study suggests that improving awareness of the multiple causes of obesity may also increase public support for government anti-obesity policies. Weight Concern is working to better understand how we can change public beliefs about obesity”.

So no, I am not laughing at you Dawn , on this occasion at least. Instead I wish you and anyone else struggling in this way, for any reason, all the very best.

Link to Dawn French article here.


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