Brian Monteith: We do not need fat controllers

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I admit it. I’ve put on a few pounds over Christmas and Hogmanay. I always do. It’s not just the eating to excess and the drowning in drink that makes my body so corpulent at this time of year, it’s also being sedentary on the sofa, the lack of getting up to go – apart from anywhere except the grocers or the off-licence.

You may notice that I’m not alone in this. Indeed, if you excuse my insensitivity, you may have had one Christmas pie too many yourself. And you just know they go straight to the hips – or worse, the derrière.

Overindulging in winter is not just about celebrating and feasting, it’s also about comfort food, feeling hungry when we’re cold, building up our protective layer of fat for the winter. Well, that’s a few of my excuses anyway, but they’re not wrong.

So I know I’m not alone in loosening that belt a notch (but just a notch, not two).

It’s no surprise then to witness the three annual rituals that take place as regularly as clockwork in January.

The holiday adverts began in December but really rack up this month. These, of course, lead us men to ask how will we get into our Speedos, or will we need to buy XXL shorts instead? For white-as-a-sheet lassies wishing for a natural tan the thoughts will be, will my bum look big in my bikini, or will I have to get a one-piece with support?

Either way, the holiday adverts alert our inner Adonis and draw our attention to our size and we are then hit by the second ritual – the diet adverts.

These are not only on the telly but on every front page of magazines, telling us how to lose this festive bulges and look svelte again.

But before you think I’ve gone all soft – as well as cuddly – and have forgotten my column is meant to look at the political scene let me tell you about the third ritual.

It is National Obesity Awareness Week . . . and it will be in January 2015 and the January after that.

Those bullying fat controllers that believe they need to tell us how and what to eat are at it again. Not so much full of fat as full of bull.

No sooner had I opened my Monday paper and switched on the breakfast news and I was being assailed about the end of the world for British men, women and children. The story was simple and necessarily dramatic (so as to shock us into a panic of concern).

It said that the predictions made in The Foresight Report of 2007 – that 60 per cent of men, 50 per cent of women and 25 per cent of under-16s could be obese – might be an underestimate. In other words, the so-called obesity epidemic might be worse than we could imagine.

It is indeed a scary thought. Front bench seats in cars will have to come back in. The trams will be too small. A capacity crowd at Easter Road will be 10,000.

Only it’s not true. They are telling porkies to keep themselves in jobs.

The real story is that, after a significant climb in the 80s and 90s, obesity rates in Britain have plateaued since about 2001 and those of children are falling, which is very good news. The original predictions were in fact false – they used a model that accepted the rate of increase in weight would stay the same. In mathematical terms that meant we would eventually burst. It was nonsense then and it is nonsense now because the rate dropped and
has levelled out.

The only thing that’s really getting fatter is the army of fat controllers and other public health do-gooders who love to poke their nose into other peoples’ business. They are part of the groaning, growing government that, despite so-called austerity measures, is getting bigger – spending more. All that’s slowed down is the rate of increase – but spending, taxes and public debt are all still rising.

Of course you will hear a lot about cuts, the pain of change always makes for news but the joy of improvement is, strangely, harder to sell. No-one wants to complain about departmental budget-growing.

So who really is obese, other than government?

Me, you? That’s our business. More people take regular exercise, go hillwalking, visit the gym and, apparently, have sex. They are burning the calories. However, we are also eating more processed foods, driving cars and sitting in front of a screen that does little to improve our waistlines. In the 80s and 90s our lifestyles changed but that has settled down now. Of course, people need advice about what’s good for them but beyond that they can then be left to make their own choices. Responsibility requires independence.

In true solidarity with that spirit of personal responsibility I’ve just enjoyed a bacon and egg butty with a mug of milky sweetened tea (but just half a spoonful). What do you mean greedy? I left out the fried haggis roll.