Gina Davidson: Quick to judge but slow to help

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SPORTENGLAND, the counterpart to Sportscotland, has launched a new campaign called This Girl Can.

It shows women of all ages, shapes and sizes, getting fit in gyms, in pools, in the streets, lashed with sweat, not giving a jot about how they look because they are lost in the moment; caught up in the endorphin rush of physical activity.

Watching the adverts makes you want to get up off the sofa and get moving. Importantly, they are saying be active, do sport, because it makes you feel good, it makes you healthy – and who doesn’t want to be able to run for a bus or race their kids home from school?

The adverts – which are brilliant and should be screened in all school PE classes – are aimed specifically at women but being fat and unfit is no fun for anyone. It can lead to bullying at school, in the workplace, and by politicians intent on scapegoating people on benefits.

Did you catch Channel 5’s “debate” on the future of the NHS? I watched briefly as the overweight presenter whipped up the audience to have a go at another overweight man for his reliance on the NHS to look after his health problems caused by his obesity. A totally unedifying irony there, especially as the presenter could probably afford private health care.

Over on BBC2 there’s been a three-part series on diet, taking some very overweight people and encouraging them on to almost genetically tailored diets and fitness programmes. Watching it with my ten-year-old son he was openly appalled at the size of some people – a gut reaction – until we discussed quite why it could be they had reached such a weight; what may have happened in their lives to prompt them to overeat, how difficult it can be to exercise when you’re heavy, and why it’s important not to judge anyone without knowing the whole story.

Judgement, though, is exactly why the coverage of the Fife mother and daughter – Janice and Amber Manzur who apparently refuse to work because of their obesity – gained such traction. Look at these fatties, we were encouraged by the finger pointers, look at them and see that they are lazy and indulgent and not worth the benefits they receive from the state because they are F.A.T.

They are. There’s no denying that. They claim it’s in their genes and they might be right, according to Dr Tanya Byron, and that BBC2 show. But their infuriating attitude of “what’s the point” towards diet or exercise strikes me as coming from a place of misery and despair and possibly even depression rather than really not caring that they’re heading for an early grave.

The pair have diabetes while Janice also suffers high blood pressure, arthritis, high cholesterol and angina. They are costing society a fortune in health care on top of their benefits because they’re unable to work. The irony, of course, is that they eat a diet of highly calorific junk food because it’s cheaper than buying fresh and cooking for themselves.

Being fat is a political issue. It’s the poorest in society who have the worst diets and who are the fattest – the very opposite of how life used to be when food wasn’t so easy come, easy go. They are criticised for being greedy and out of control, yet research shows that uncertainty and stress makes us more attracted to fattening foods.

It’s a vicious cycle, then, that traps the poorest in a cycle of weight-related illnesses preventing them from work and keeping them on benefits, while it is society’s judgement on them that makes them claim not to care, to declare their happiness with their lives and stick two fingers at those looking down their noses and carrying on regardless.

But, I hear you say, they need to give themselve a shake, to get off their mobility scooters and start to walk. That’s true. But they – like many stuck in their situation – need help to do so. This is an area where more social care money needs to be spent in order to save even more money from the future NHS bill. There are specific diets for people who are genetically predisposed to gaining weight, if they were offered the right kind of help and support from their GP – that’s if their GP even knows such diets exist – their lives could change. Then there are wellbeing groups, mindfulness therapies and overall helping their mental and emotional health.

Studies show that when people are healthier and more physically fit their mental attitude is likely to be more positive. Janice and Amber may well realise they have more of offer society than just be the kind of people folk want to talk about and blame for society’s ills. They are not modern-day freak shows but people with serious health issues who need help.

Of course it goes further than spending on health. Poverty, inequality, lack of economic opportunities, living in run-down areas . . . it all contributes to expanding waistlines.

Happy people eat more healthily and the happier you are the less likely you are to be obese. No matter what they say Janice and Amber are not happy, and we should not compound their unhappiness by pointing at them.

Make battle on booze priority

HAS the city’s licensing chief, Councillor Eric Milligan, been hitting the bottle? His bizarre, and rather logic-addled, position about drinking and anti-social behaviour and the Ku Klux Klan’s apparent sobriety and its members’ racial hatred is the sort of thing you’d expect to hear from someone three sheets to the wind.

At least the council as a whole sees alcohol as a problem and a report due next week will show the cost of alcohol related harm to the city’s social care services is £29m, that alcohol-related deaths doubled between 1991 and 2004 and that 26 per cent of serious assaults in public are aggravated by alcohol.

A strategy which aims to tackle the overprovision of cheap alcohol has to become a priority.

Inspiration to deal with perspiration

IN the same vein, a new report suggests that children fail to throw themselves into sport wholeheartedly at school because they’re preoccupied with the embarrassing thought of having to shower afterwards. No sweat means no need to wash.

It’s an understandable fear, stripping off in front of your peers in a communal changing room. Single shower cubicles sound like an expensive answer, but if as a society we’re heading towards a healthcare position which is more prevention than cure, then in the long run splashing out on proper facilities could pay for itself over and over again.

Children’s fitness is in decline. That makes for unhealthy adults and a future cost to the NHS.