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I'm not fat, but 250,000 tapes are telling me I am

I'm 5ft 6ins in height and eight stone 10lb -- and I am fat. Well that's according to the multi-million euro government-funded 'Stop the Spread' campaign.

A nationwide drive to get the Irish to wage war against expanding waistlines has left eating-disorder groups up in arms -- and it was branded "disgusting" by women because its measuring-tape system is telling slim, healthy individuals that they are overweight.

Scores of impressionable young women have been contacting the National Eating Disorder Association of Ireland, Bodywhys, to express their repulsion at the 'one-size-fits-all' system in the highly publicised fight the fat campaign.

Eating disorder groups have labelled the advertisements as "sinister" and "threatening".

As one woman posted on an internet site discussing the topic: "It tells you to measure from your bellybutton which I did and it told me I was heading for obesity.

"The funny thing is I am only seven stone 10 and carry a small bit of weight on my tummy which I call my pot belly. I work out four days a week, walk a lot and have a BMI of 20.5. I also fit into a size eight. I have what my nanny calls 'good child bearing hips' which probably adds to the increased measurement."

However, Safe Food Ireland have bluntly refused to step down on the issue and say they will continue to role out their million-euro campaign funded by the taxpayer.

As part of the drive, 250,000 measuring tapes have been sent out to pharmacies around the country, available free of charge, which means thousands of weight-conscious people -- as well as impressionable teens -- are being classed as "overweight".

The National Food Safety Authority has also promoted the drive with a hardcore prime-time television and radio advertising campaign -- in addition to an internet five-step "pledge" for people to follow if the tape classes you as overweight.

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, a spokesperson for the drive, admitted that the measurement system "is not a hard and fast" indicator of a healthy weight and added how the association is getting an "enormous amount of feedback" where "people are saying they don't like what they see".

Asked would the organisation have done the measurement tape system differently in hindsight she responded: "a very glib answer would be no".

Asked to respond to claims by health groups that the campaign is "sinister and threatening" Dr Foley-Nolan admitted: "Those adjectives would be fair enough."

Before adding: "It's hard-nosed. It's not a comfortable message to convey. It's not a softly-softly approach.

"However when you get to this level of a serious situation, we need to be shaken into a certain reality."

A spokesperson for Bodywhys has said they have a "serious concerns" with the measuring system.

"Our issue with it is that everyone is trying to match up in terms of one size fits all. But you need to appreciate the fact body shapes come in all different shapes and sizes and there is a healthy range that people fit into. It's not very black and white."

She continued: "The feedback we have gotten is that a lot of people are very upset by the campaign.

"Weight is such a sensitive issue for many people and there are a lot of emotions attached to it. This campaign is deliberately designed to shame people about their shape and to make people feel bad about their weight -- in many cases where they are actually thin, fit, healthy people."

The campaign explains that two-thirds of people in Ireland are carrying excess weight, yet only 38 per cent recognise they have a weight problem.

It says a great proportion of the population are "in denial", putting themselves at increased risk of well-known illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

This campaign issues a wake up call, asking people to take a hard look at themselves, to find out their own waist measurement, and to "stop the spread".

Sunday Independent