Michael O'Doherty: 'Obesity costs us €1bn per year...so fat shaming might be healthy'
It’s been a bad week for the “shamers” and “haters”, to coin expressions popular on social media to describe people who criticise others, no matter how reasonable such criticisms may be.
On RTE’s The Cutting Edge, journalist Niamh Horan suffered a predictable backlash for daring to suggest that women who want to “have it all” very often do so at the expense of their children.
Social media had barely recovered from its collective outrage when Louise McSharry appeared on The Ray D’Arcy show to talk about “fat shaming”.
It does seem mean-spirited to criticise Louise, who mounted an articulate defence against those who insult fat people simply because they find them unattractive. But here goes.
“The emphasis shouldn’t be on weight loss, it should be on leading a more active, healthy lifestyle,” she said, explaining that it is sedentary lifestyles, rather than fatness, which are at the root of our health issues.
Wise words indeed, but they gloss over the reality that the majority of fat or obese people don’t lead active, healthy lifestyles.
Sadly, Louise does not represent the bulk of Ireland’s overweight citizens.
For every size 18, articulate woman in her 30s who is content in her own skin, eats carefully and takes exercise, there is a multiple number of bloated, obese parents, whose waddle down to the chipper for their dinner will be their only exercise, before they slump back down for an evening of TV, grease and booze.
Worse still, they pass this ethos on to their children.
When asked by Ray about whether “shamers” had legitimate concerns, Louise even put the expression “health concerns” in inverted commas, as if to imply that it is somehow a myth and that there is no connection between obesity, health, and the cost to the taxpayer of treating such people.
A year ago the World Health Organisation published a report which said that Ireland was going to be the most obese nation in Europe by the year 2030.
Three years ago, obesity-related illnesses were costing the State over €1bn-a-year to treat, a figure that is increasing.
The biggest problem is that a generation of children are growing up whose parents are either too lazy or too busy to cook them a decent meal or take them outdoors for some activity.
As Louise eloquently pointed out, much of the criticism directed towards overweight people is unwarranted, borne out of an aesthetic judgement.
But sometimes shock tactics are needed to make people see common sense, such as the graphic images on packaging now used to jolt people away from cigarettes.
So, faced with a barrage of criticism for their lifestyle choice, their gargantuan waistlines and inevitable later years on prescription drugs and in hospital wards, all funded by the taxpayer, the shaming might have one good outcome.
It might make parents look after their children a bit better.