James Cracknell says impoverished North Korea has 'handle on obesity'

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The Independent Online

James Cracknell has sparked outrage for saying North Korea has “got a handle on obesity”.

The Olympic rower cited North Korea and Cuba - two communist one-party states which have been plagued by food shortages - as archetypal examples of countries tackling obesity.

Cracknell, who is running to become a Conservative MP in 2020, said addressing obesity will be central to his parliamentary campaign.

Appearing on Sky News, the double gold medallist said: "If you think of the two countries of the world that have got a handle on obesity, what do you think they are? Which two countries?

"North Korea and Cuba.

"See they are quite controlling on behavioural change."

After presenter Jonathan Samuels pointed out the fact people are starving in North Korea, Cracknell said: "Exactly. But there were sanctions and everything else. But the example is behavioural change."

Cracknell, who has previously sought selection for a Westminster seat and failed to become an MEP, sparked outrage for the remarks on social media.

“Starving your own people is not exactly slimming world,” said Gordon Horspool.

Robyn Gregorieff said: "Ummmm by starvation!! That's not a 'handle' on obesity. What a fool!!"

Some poked fun at the size of North Korea's authoritarian leader Kim Jong-Un. With one saying: "Has he seen the state of Kim Jong-Un?"

Although the vast majority of North Korea’s 25 million citizens endure the threat of starvation, obesity is a growing problem among North Korean kids and teenagers from elite families. 

Concerns have also been raised about Kim Jong-Un’s weight. Last year South Korea’s spy agency reported the North Korean leader has gained roughly 40 kg (90lb) in weight since he became leader four years ago and claimed he binges on food. He is reputed to be a heavy smoker and a massive fan of Swiss cheese.

Unlike anywhere else in the world, the northern part of the Korean Peninsula is the most secretive and isolated regime in the world. According to the UN, the overwhelming majority of its 25 million citizens endure starvation and live with the threat of the Gulag, forced labour camps and public execution.

Cracknell quickly apologised for the remarks on Twitter, saying that he had used “inappropriate examples” to make his point about obesity.

 “Yeah, sorry guys. I take it on the chin. Trying to make a point that came out badly,” he said.

He apologised again after Mark Wallace, the executive editor of grassroots blog Conservative Home, pulled him up for his comments.

Wallace said: “The other country is Cuba. Perhaps if you need to be a dictatorship to enforce 'behavioural change' on diet, it isn't a desirable thing?”

Cracknell responded: “Agree Mark and take it on the chin. I was trying to make a point not only using inappropriate examples but came out badly. JC”.

A representative for Cracknell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.