Television review: Weight-Loss Ward, ITV1; Miniature Britain, BBC1


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The Independent Culture

Who ate all the pies? Well, Sunderland certainly wasn't backward in coming forward, according to Weight-Loss Ward, which reports on the activities of the "busiest obesity unit in the UK". Sunderland, we were told, is "one of the fattest places in the country", an area in which 40 per cent of the adults are overweight.

We're not talking about a bit of middle-aged spread here, either, at least not in the case of those contemplating one of the various weight-reduction surgeries that Sunderland Royal Hospital now specialises in. Deborah, readying herself for gastric sleeve surgery that would remove seven-eighths of her stomach permanently, was hoping to lose the weight of a full-grown man. And Terry Gardner – who weighed 47 stone when the filming began and could no longer fit into his own bathroom – appeared to be hellbent on finding out just how big you can grow a man to be.

The critical bit of the treatment doesn't appear to involve a scalpel, and consists in cutting out the only kind of denial that some of these people exercise, which is denying to themselves that they have any responsibility for how they've ended up. This isn't a matter of moral blame, incidentally. Most of the people here were using food to patch up traumas in their lives, and some of them had deep-rooted psychological problems. But until they acknowledge that their eating habits got them into trouble in the first place, the unit is wary about conducting serious, possibly life-threatening, surgery. Candidates for weight-loss procedures generally have to lose a few pounds first to demonstrate that they have the self-control without which none of the operations will work.

They can be remarkably tenacious in holding on to their belief that weight gain is something that happened to them rather than something they did to themselves. Terry, admitted to hospital and placed on a calorie-controlled diet, actually managed to gain weight at one point, by dint of refusing to do his scheduled exercises and buying snacks from the hospital trolley. "It'll be all that frigging chicken and that," he said indignantly, insisting, in the teeth of the basic laws of physics, that he hadn't been doing any secret snacking. The consultant came in to give him a stern talking to about the daily cost of his treatment, but Terry wasn't cowed: "How's that my problem? It's not a cost to me. That's a cost to the NHS. I can't see how it's my problem, so why bring it up?"

Erica, 21 stone and suffering from diabetes, didn't exactly cover herself in glory either, rewarding herself for a week of moderate self-restraint by spending the weekend binging. "I just pig out," she admitted, before demonstrating the best way to eat a tin of cling peaches in syrup (it involved licking the lid on both sides and draining the tin dry at the end). Unsurprisingly, even though she had made the grade in terms of poundage dropped, her psychologist wasn't quite ready to sign her off. And Sophie, a teenager who had a gastric balloon fitted, diligently managed to get enough food in around it to keep her weight pretty much as it was at the beginning. There were successes too, though, to confirm the surgeon's contention that weight-loss surgery could be cost effective. The film ended with the heartening sight of Deborah returning her bariatric wheelchair. She can actually walk unaided now.

Miniature Britain was concerned with the opposite end of the scale, and involved the entomologist George McGavin touring Britain with a powerful microscope to look at the very tiny appetites that drive many natural processes, including the dust mites that even now may be stampeding through your carpets or, possibly, even your eyebrows. As uncomplicated as a Victorian lantern lecture but none the worse for that really. There are wonders in a drop of water.