Sarah Boseley: How Britain Got So Fat
(A) In May 2012, fire engines, police and an ambulance were called to the family home of a teenager called Georgia Davis in Aberdare, south Wales, in order to get her out of it. Nobody could dream up a more horrifying and humiliating nightmare for a girl of her age. A team of more than 40 people was involved in demolishing an upstairs wall of the semi-detached house and constructing a wooden bridge to get a
specially reinforced stretcher into her bedroom. Georgia weighed 400kg (63 stone), said some reports. Nobody really knew – she was too heavy to get on the scales. Georgia's rescuers put up tarpaulins to shield her from the camera lenses as they extracted her through a 10ft square hole in the brickwork and took her to hospital. She was covered by a sheet, because she could no longer get into any of her clothes.
(B) The 19-year-old was morbidly obese and her organs were failing. Her mother, Lesley, called the
ambulance because Georgia could no longer stand. For months she had not moved from her bedroom, where she spent her days on her laptop and watching TV. Eventually, like Alice In Wonderland inside the little house after drinking something she shouldn't, she grew too big to get out of the door.
(C) Georgia is the extreme marker of a massive problem that has its roots in the way we live today and affects all of us. Two-thirds of us are overweight. A quarter of us are obese and in real danger of damaging
our health and dying prematurely. But we are in denial. Obesity looks like Georgia, we think. It doesn't look like us.
(D) Obesity is not something to gawp at, and it is not a problem just for other people. It affects most of us. It's not about the way we look, or the size of dress or trousers we wear. This is about a very real threat to our health. Obesity is a life-shortening condition. Life expectancy in the UK, which has risen steadily since
records began, may for the first time be about to fall. Moderate obesity cuts life expectancy by two to four years, and severe obesity could wipe an entire decade off your life, said the Lancet in 2009. The costs to health services and to the world's economies of vast numbers of people becoming sick and unable to work are already huge and increasing. The National Heath Service is spending £5bn a year treating heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, cancers, liver failure, hip and knee joint problems, and other consequences of obesity,
and the bill is expected to reach £15bn within a few decades.
(E) Georgia was 15 when she first hit the front page of the Sun, weighing more than 200kg (32 stone) and branded Britain's fattest teen. The question everybody eagerly asked was what had she been eating – how big a mountain of food? How many cakes at one sitting? Why she should want to was very much of subsidiary interest. Georgia and her mother, who is also obese, spoke of comfort eating after Georgia's dad
died when she was five. In later stories it emerged that before she was 10, she had become the carer of both Lesley, who had heart disease, and her stepfather Arthur Treloar. Social services discussed removing her from the family, but she resisted.
(F) We can avoid being overweight by exercising personal responsibility, politicians say, voicing the script written by the food industry. We choose what we put into our mouths. We ought to know what will make us
fat and have the self-restraint to stop eating. But can you really make that judgment of Georgia at the age of seven, who even then weighed 70kg (11 stone) and whom Lesley admits she fed with condensed milk as a baby?
(G) Georgia sold her story to the tabloids and TV to get the money to go to a weight-loss camp in North Carolina, where she lost half her body weight. She came back to find nothing had changed at home – her
mother bought fish and chips because there was nothing to eat in the house. Georgia's own account, as told to a tabloid newspaper: "Around eight weeks after returning from camp, I drifted off the plan. I felt really alone. My parents weren't doing it with me at home and my friends weren't doing it at college, so there was no motivation to continue. I started reverting to my old ways. I wouldn't eat for half a day, then start bingeing into the night."
(H) There has been no comprehensive plan from any political party to tackle the obesogenic environment. The unwillingness to talk about fatness allows politicians to avoid the issues or offer half-hearted responses; above all else, it enables them to avoid what they fear would be a damaging confrontation with the powerful economic players within the food and drink industry. Politicians are also afraid they will be accused of taxing the poor if they hike the prices of cheap foods – an argument often put forward by their industry friends.
One government after another has opted for talks and voluntary agreements on food labelling and marketing to children. The deals that have been struck have been partial and ineffective.
(I) To reach the housing estate where Georgia was brought up, you have to climb a steep road that runs up the far side of the valley. A lot of cars are passing, where once adults and children would have had no option but to walk. There is nobody on the pavement, but it is a wet day. Georgia is not in the yellowish-
cream semi-detached house, one of many identical homes on the estate. The shape of the hole made in the upstairs outside wall is still faintly visible under new brickwork and a coat of paint. Her mother appears at the door. "She doesn't live here any more," she said. "But she won't speak to you. She has a contract with the Sun."
Aus: Sarah Boseley: How Britain Got So Fat, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jun/21/how-britain-got-so-fat-obese, 21.06.2014