In the 1980s there was an ad for some "low-fat" breakfast cereal that made my girlfriends and me fall about laughing. It depicted a perfectly slim woman bringing her husband's breakfast over to him on a tray as he sat at the table reading the paper (Hah! Them were the days, eh?) and a patrician male voiceover asked "Can you pinch more than an inch?"
The husband then pinched his wife's waist, producing, between his thumb and index finger, a very small "spare tyre". Laughing gamely, she then did the same to him (he was also pretty trim) and, you guessed it, produced a similar amount of "excess" fat.
For those of us carrying a tad more than an extra inch around the waist the phrase got refashioned to suit our defiant reaction to condescending ads of this nature, and my friends (of all sizes) and I would needle each other, drawling "can you pinch more than a foot?" A whole 12 inches extra might be a bit of an exaggeration but what we cynics had noticed was that nobody in the ad was even remotely overweight, but this was in the Eighties when fat people didn't exist – well, not in the media.
"More than an inch" in the 1980s was the very last foothold before one fell into the abyss that is morbidly obese. Back then there were no lurid headlines like "Fattest man in Britain" or "29-stone mum feeds kids fast food" or "Beth Ditto wears a mini!"
For crying out loud, this was an era when Fat is a Feminist Issue was a bestseller. (I doubt anything with that word in the title would fly off the shelves now, and I mean feminist, not fat.) In 2010 we're allowed to point at fat people in the street and nudge our friends so they don't miss them either. They're the new bearded ladies.
Now, too, the Change4Life ad campaign is moving its focus of attention from overweight, inactive kids to the over-50s because adult obesity is rising, which, in turn, will cause an increase in diabetes, heart diseases and strokes. I'm well aware (you might say more than most since a supersized me is the spectre that constantly haunts me whenever I so much as look at a biscuit) that being vastly overweight is bad for one's overall health. But, oh man, this ad's come just when I thought it was safe to go back into the water – and by water I mean wine.
Can't I have wine and pudding now that I'm over 50? Naturally I don't want to be a drain on the NHS – au contraire, I was rather hoping that by combining regular exercise and eating reasonably well with drinking way above the recommended daily allowance I'd drop dead in the street one day, not needing to bother the NHS at all.
I hope the campaign works, for everyone's sake. It's no good us becoming a nation of chunkies who don't know what that expanse of grass surrounded by railings some call a park is for. I just wish the message was going to be universally deployed, maybe by the celebrity mags and papers too. You know, the ones that point out famous people's "fat" bits, inviting us to hate them for being just like us.
Arabella Weir's latest book, 'The Real Me is Thin', is published in September by Fourth Estate