Merry Crisis

Obesity Like Terrorism?

The British press is full of headlines this week about the annual report of the Chief Medical Officer of the United Kingdom on the health of women. Dame Sally Davies says:

Tackling obesity in the whole population is an accepted public health priority. However, I advocate recognising obesity at the level of a “national risk.”

What exactly does this mean? It’s pretty clear that Davies wants to heighten the level of concern about obesity. The British press has been quick to take it further, reporting that Davies says that obesity is “like terrorism,” which isn’t exactly true. Sensationalism from the British press is nothing new. The Sun’s headline on the subject is “Aporkerlypse Now.”

Bless her heart. Davies means well and, on the whole, her report is solid. To her credit, she did not go so far as to compare obesity to terrorism. But we definitely don’t need any more hype about how bad obesity is. Nobody has missed the message. The popular concept that people with obesity aren’t taking it seriously enough is flat out mistaken.

What people lack is good options for correcting the problem. Public health folks who say it’s preventable are blind to the fact that nothing they’ve done has put a dent in obesity’s rising prevalence.

People who harp about “personal responsibility” ignore the fact that no matter how personally responsible one feels, this chronic condition is is resistant to simplistic behavioral prescriptions. Powerful physiology is at work in this disease. More often than not, all the willpower in the world is no match for severe obesity. Intensive behavioral therapy, obesity medicine, and surgery are needed.

So no, we don’t need any more hype about the problem. We need more attention to evidence-based solutions. Moral panic isn’t going to help.

Click here to read more from the BBC, here to read more from the Daily Mail, and here to download the report itself.

Merry Crisis, photograph © János Pálinkás / flickr

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December 12, 2015

3 Responses to “Obesity Like Terrorism?”

  1. December 12, 2015 at 7:20 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    Just a *few* resonant parallels to nicotine and tobacco in your analysis, Ted.

    Thank you.


    • December 12, 2015 at 8:22 am, Ted said:

      Absolutely. Fear gets in the way of good decision making.

  2. December 12, 2015 at 8:53 pm, Allen Browne said:

    What can one say about the “press” – they are out to sell newspapers and air time.

    Davies is a bigger problem. She needs some education. Her heart is in the right place, but she lacks knowledge about the disease of obesity. She needs to go to the Blackburn Obesity Course or Obesity Week. Then she can help the UK help their people.