Reinforcing the idea that it’s OK to be overweight is just as bad as pressuring people to be skinny

We need to stop talking about obesity in terms of appearance and focus on what really matters: health

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The Independent Online

A consultation is taking place to decide whether gastric band surgery should be offered to more people in the UK.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends that obese people with type 2 diabetes - often a consequence of carrying too much weight - should be offered the procedure. NICE also wants to reduce the threshold body mass index for gastric band operations so that more people can benefit.

The move could save the NHS serious money in its fight to combat the obesity epidemic. According to NICE, obesity rates have practically doubled over the last ten years.

Scarily, they’re continuing to rise with many young people are amongst those affected. The consultation offers NICE and the NHS two bleak options: spend millions on drastic operations or more millions treating people suffering from life-threatening, obesity-induced conditions. What a depressing choice.

Incidences of obesity haven’t increased due to a lack of information about the dangers of being overweight. On the contrary, campaigns such as the NHS’s Change4Life  have been hard to avoid. What’s more, most of the advice that’s available is pretty obvious - eat healthily, do some moderate exercise and so on. Most obese people will be able to tell you what they should be doing to lose weight.

So where’s the missing link? The clue could lie in a growing reticence to criticise different body types. US teenager Sam Newman, a US size 24, posted an Instagram of herself in her underwear to send the message that "fat isn’t a bad word".

She got a lot of sympathy. This is where we’re going wrong. When you’re clinically obese – which a size 24 is – fat is a bad word because that fat could cause an awful lot of problems.

The idea that we should all be thin is ridiculous, but so is reinforcing the notion that it’s OK to be overweight in a bid to accept everyone’s appearance. We’re missing the point. Weight isn’t about appearance, it’s about health, and refocusing on this point could help to stem the obesity crisis.

So there’s a third choice for NICE to consider: educate the population with a stronger, bolder message that takes weight away from appearance and back towards health, and then offer real support – financial, physical and emotional - to those needing to change their lifestyles. It’s easier and cheaper to deliver that than to perform horrendous surgery en masse.