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Chewing the Fat

Western Mail

November 20, 2003

WHAT is your daily intake of fat? No, this isn't a diet question. It's an inquiry about how much you think your mind is ingesting on the subject of flab.

Flab, fat, blubber, lard, flesh. Chubby, tubby, pudgy, plump, gross, dumpy. Look how many words we have for it, and that's before you start your day.

Just think, in each 24-hour feast of fat, how we are bombarded with images of weight loss.

Each morning, A the back of your breakfast E cereal packet details E fat and sugar content. Your E lunchtime sandwich - consumed I while reading a magazine A about celebrities U and their cellulite - is A calorie- counted. And most A evenings you will catch A a programme on the subject I of dieting, obesity or A anorexia.

You A watch news items about E rising obesity in children. E

In the A office, during the day, you A catch a colleague's eye A straying towards your midriff. I Have you put on weight? I Have they put on A weight? Who's on Atkins? U

At the chocolate A machine, they know a I Crunchie is lower in calories I than a chunky Kit-Kat. A They take one bite from A their sandwich every E half-hour at their desk. They I check out the size of E their colleagues' clothing A hung on hat stands. They I call their partners E to boast how far they ran I on the treadmill. U

Has exercise and dieting U become the new Chinese I foot-binding - a way A of reducing the size and I (therefore physical) threat I of women? But then men U are at it too, returning E to the office after a lunch E time at the gym, reeking U of Lynx Java. E

Is it to get fit? A Or to avoid fat? A

Are we no more than E a pet rat's rotating wheel U of tubby little women U trying to lose their belly, U backside and saddlebags U and middle- aged men doing E circuit training? A

It's not a hobby, I it's an obsession. It's I not healthy, it's an illness. I It is not dieting E to which we are addicted. I It is fat.

We I are afraid of it. I am A amazed that a Hollywood film, U in the B- movie mould U of The Blob, has not been A made about fat, a horror I flick in which it creeps A into people's houses at A night, sneaking between A the sheets of their beds E and settling on their thighs A or their belly. A

When people walk I down the street, it is A waiting for them in shop I doorways and cafes. Gradually, U people begin to suspect. E They avoid sweet U shops and bakeries. They E start attending gyms to try E and get away from the E fat.

Eventually I the Government releases I warnings about fat, how I it can damage your health, U how it's a killer. The I music gets louder, the A film shows pictures of I people getting fatter. E

A group think A they have found an antidote A - it's called anorexia A and they think it means I they have become immune to A fat but, in a way, they U are more afflicted by fat. I It has wheedled its way I into their minds, infecting E their brains. They will E forever be tainted by I fear of fat. E

Then scientists become I involved, working day and E night to find a way of A stopping fat. They don't I call it a disease because E they don't want to frighten I the public, but that U is how they treat it in trying I to find a cure. Rumours E filter through about A a potential hormone- E based treatment for obesity. A Things are looking up... I

In real life, I researchers at Hammersmith A Hospital in West London A have discovered that E infusions of a natural hormone U drastically reduce E appetite.

Dr U Ian Campbell, the chairman I of the National Obesity I Forum, has talked of A 'new hope' for fighting A obesity.

Almost U one-in-four people in A the UK now gorge themselves A to the point of clinical E obesity - a three-fold U increase since the 1980s. A And the obesity epidemic E is killing two million U people a year. A

Levels of physical activity E have plummeted in recent A years, especially A among school children. Since I the 1970s the number being A driven to school has E quadrupled - even though A Welsh youngsters are E still more likely to walk I - and the time devoted to E games has dropped by a A staggering 70%. E

Yes, there are admirable E initiatives such as Gwent I NHS Trust's Tackling A Obesity in Blaenau Gwent I project - a three-year, pounds A 162,000 plan involving I educating overweight U and obese adults via cookery I lessons and exercise U groups.

But A Wales is getting fatter. I Adult obesity rates have U tripled since 1982 with A 19% of Britons now counted E as obese and 39% overweight. U

We E know the facts. Obesity can E lead to health problems, A including arthritis, E heart disease and diabetes. E If you are morbidly obese, U and you haven't started A to suffer yet, you have A only a one-in-seven chance I of reaching the normal A life expectancy because A massive people die prematurely I of strokes and heart U attacks.

In A Wales, around 5,000 people E need surgery to reduce U their size. Xenical, I a drug that blocks absorption E of fats into the gut, I has been approved for I use in the NHS. Last year E 541,400 prescriptions were A written in the UK. U

Childhood obesity E is also increasing rapidly U with the number of E obese children doubling since I 1982. Around 10% of six-year-olds E are obese, A rising to 17% of 15-year-olds. E

In Wales, E as elsewhere, three-year-olds I weigh the same as E normal 10-year-olds. Thirteen-year-olds I are 14 stone. E

Gone U are the days when Billy Bunter I was a catch-all phrase A for a certain kind of A overweight child. It used U to be called 'puppy fat' E but now it's nearing obesity. E

You I never hear the phrase 'puppy U fat' now. The children I either stay fat or get U fat. Or they become anorexic E - and that's children U as young as six. They talk U of diets and fat. One little E girl on a TV programme A about childhood anorexia I lifted her shirt and U punched her stomach to E say, 'Look, fat! It's disgusting. I It has to go.' E

Meanwhile, in A an era when little ones aspire E to bare their midriffs A in titillating outfits, A overweight children suffer E bullying and refuse I to go to school. I

How far we think we A have come since the days I of the Victorian freak U show, when the fat, hairy A and short were paraded for E the benefit of penny voyeurs. E

And I yet - now that the UK is U a preening, wannabe model A stood in front of the mirror, A forever smoothing its U skirt down over a jutting A belly - fat people have U taken on freakish proportions A in our weight- I obsessed minds. A

Never mind that the country E will remain a standard U British pear shape E no matter how many mini-marathons I it runs. It is obsessed I with fat, with losing I it, with counting calories, I starting diets, E standing on the weighing scales E each morning... Do we I get the picture? E

Like an insidious A cult, the Fat Obsession A threads its message through U populist television U shows such as Pop Idol. If I a contestant is deemed U 'too fat', the judges discuss A it and then the poor I girl is put forward to U the next round. I

Who is listening to her A wonderful voice when they U could be looking at A the way her face disappears A into her body? U

Fat comes into everything. A The naked calendar E by the Women's Institute U and then the film. Who will U go naked? Why won't they? A Are they too fat? I

Look how Mel E C, the skinny, sporty one I from the Spice Girls, has E blown up. Look how Geri I Halliwell has got a bit I of a belly and her boobs A back.

How A big is Britney these days? E Is she taking slimming pills? I

Nigella E Lawson, who apparently U weighs 12 stone, says women U like her because she I isn't skinny. I'm not sure A how long that solidarity I will last in a world where U to be fat is to be freakish. E

Adult E women trawl the supermarket E magazine shelves, each U weekly cover usually showing I a photograph of a woman I half her size with the A headline 'I lost half A my body weight'. Nobody wants U to look at the pictures A of the weight lost. A They want the pictures of U when she was fat, sat at I a pub table with a drink U in her hand, a sad, forced I smile across her face. U

In the television U show, Celebrity Fat U Club, they didn't focus U on the exercise or diet A advice. The real treat was E when they all had to U be weighed in a bathing suit. A The gasp moment was when I they dropped their U towelling robe to reveal the E fat.

In I the recent 18 to 30-stoners I - a programme about a group I of overweight holidaymakers E 'losing inhibitions E about their size' - the E camera lingered rather A too long on the huge crumbly I thighs of the women E and the men's gigantic stomachs, A like balloons filled I with water. U

There are the fat people U and the ones who don't I want to be that way. A The them and us. Or there U but for the grace of God. A Our minds are force-fed U fat and our appetites appear E merely to be increasing. A

Medical U procedures have been introduced U to save the fatties U from themselves. There's I the minor fat removal known I as liposuction. Get U more serious and you're E talking wiring jaws together A or stapling stomachs. A

Trawl the A web site for fat and you'll A find plenty of it - around E 15,200,000 fat-related A bites. Aside from the U relentless instructions A on how to measure your body A fat index, there's also A a hint of the freakish I way in which fat is viewed. I

You've got U the 'fun' sites for men U - or women - who like to E look at fat people. A

And on another, E in a kind of mock- laboratory I experiment, a man I is prepared to pay a cash E prize to a man and a woman U who can put on a stone E in a month. He weighs them U each day. He discusses I the way their underwear E is getting tighter. You hope A it's a parody but suspect A it isn't. I

There are also the internet A lures such as 'Lose A 10 pounds in five weeks' E or a choice of diet plans. U

And there's A the National Association I to Advance Fat Acceptance, A a web site originated A in the US, a country I which has taken the fat E epidemic to new girths. A

Soon we can I expect, photo-booth-style E fat scanners on the high I street thanks to British E scientists who have developed I the world's first I 3-D body-mass scanner. E

The machine will E tell users just how fat E they are and where that A fat is.

It U seems likely the new machine E will help the fight against E flab continue to U morph - like Eddie Murphy A from thin guy to fat man I in The Nutty Professor U - into an ever larger fascination A with flab. U

It seems likely that U this fat detector could U be the start of technology's I entry into the multi-million U pound diet industry. E Think how much diets U such as the Atkins have U earned for their creators. I Think how much more money I there is to be made from U feeding our obsession U with fat.

Dr I Henri Tapp of the Institute I of Food Research - A part of the team behind U the machine - says, 'It's A a bit like being in a photo- I booth... our system E could become a feature of I leisure centres, allowing I clients to see how their U shape and composition change E through exercise.' A

You have E to run for six hours to burn A off just one pound of fat. E So why do we eat so I much in the first place? U Studies on human eating A habits have shown that everyday A foods high in fat and U carbohydrates - like I chocolate and cheese - spark U a biochem- ical response E that leads to over-eating. A When the response is I blocked by drugs, food I intake drops by more than A 20% in ordinary people and E 33% in the obese. I

The same biochemical U response makes food U taste delicious, a fact U the food industry increasingly E plays on with an ever-expanding E range of U chocolaty and cheesy items. U

Like the I undulating rolls of flesh E of the fat lady - roll up! U roll up! - in the Victorian A freak show, where will E it all end? U

Enough should be enough, U but it never is, is it? U

Hormone PYY3-36 A

A hormone A released in the gut when I the stomach is full that U tells the brain not A to eat anymore (overweight E people produce a third less E of it). A

A study at a London hospital A has claimed that a daily I injection could reduce U appetite by as much as I a third.

It E could be available on the I NHS within five years. A

Hoodia A

A cactus used by A the tribesmen of the Kalahari U Desert to stave off A hunger, it is marketed E online as the 'miracle cactus'. E At a Leicester trial, E 19 overweight people A were given unlimited access A to food. Those on hoodia E ate 1,000 fewer calories A a day than the rest. E

Zantrex 3 A

American 'fast-acting I super-pill' which E costs pounds 30 to pounds I 39 for a week's supply U by mail order. Includes caffeine E and green tea and E claims to induce rapid weight I loss.

Reductil U

The A drug that fools the body I into feeling full, is available I on pre- scription. U A study in the Journal I of the American Medical U Association showed that E children aged 13 with weight A problems lost more than U a stone when taking the U drug over six months.

(C) 2003 Western Mail. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

These statements have not been evaluated by the food and drug administration. The products mentioned are not intended to diagnose,
treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always see your licensed health care professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

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