Christina Patterson: The battle of the bulge – and brain

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The Independent Online

It would be lovely, of course, if the sight of a reality TV star bursting out of a bus was to inspire the children of today to drop their Mars bars, and their fries, and their burgers, and their Xboxes, and beg their parents to let them get up early and do 300 laps before a nice bowl of buckwheat muesli. Fingers crossed and all that, but really. I wanted to be Olga Korbut, and then Bjorn Borg, but without getting off the sofa, obviously, and I come from a family whose male members actually did some sport as well as watching it, but the last time I did any with any enthusiasm ("music and movement" if I remember rightly) was at about the same time they put a man on the moon.

Let's hope that the rapturous welcome home for "Team GB" (a name almost as embarrassing as that bus) will be a sign that a thousand, nay, a million, sporting flowers will duly bloom, but let's not get too carried away either. The sobering reality (that's reality as in empirical fact, not as in TV genre selected to represent centuries of British culture to the entire world) is that Nation GB is set to win one medal that wasn't even on the list. Yup, we're on course to be gold medallists in obesity.

Every day, new facts emerge. Airline seats, and coffins, are being widened. The NHS is on its last, flabby, legs. Type 2 diabetes is set to trigger mass amputations. Never mind our carbon footprint, we'll soon be squashing the planet into a giant pancake – and then, no doubt, trying to eat it.

So, what do we do? Get supermarkets and fast-food outlets to put labels on fattening food saying that it's fattening. Run government ads telling us that fattening foods will make us fat. Get David Beckham, perhaps, to tell us that fattening foods will make us fat. (Which, presumably, is why his wife eats hardly any food at all.)

The trouble is that the war on obesity is like the war on terror (or, see right, the war on mice). It's slippery, and wobbly, and elusive, like a great, big jelly. You can staple people's stomachs, and lock them in at lunchtime, and lecture them until the cows come home and collapse in front of the telly, but if people want to eat themselves to death, they will.

Unless, perhaps, you're very clever. And the human mind can be very clever. According to a new study from Harvard, hotel cleaners doing hard, physical work for eight hours a day believed they were getting no exercise at all. And their health – as measured by weight, body fat, blood pressure, etc – reflected this conviction. Half of the group were then told that they were, actually, getting a lot of exercise, and the other half weren't. Four weeks later, the group who now felt virtuous were found to be significantly healthier than the ones who didn't. Mind over matter indeed.

Quite what this means for our massed potential medallists isn't entirely clear. It would, presumably, be better to move a bit more and eat a bit less. But maybe if we can persuade ourselves that a waddle to the fridge is as good as an afternoon's yngling and that a Mars bar is as healthy as a carrot then we'll see the nation's waistlines shrink. Or maybe it's all just nonsense and we won't. But one thing is clear. We can fiddle while Rome burns, we can lecture and hector and label, but this battle, like all battles that have a hope of being won, will start with the mind. (Cholesterol-ridden, adipose-wrapped) hearts will follow.

The other face of Michelle

Like a lot of people in the world, and a fair number in the US, I'm desperate for Barack Obama to move into the White House and if it takes big, syrupy schmooze-fests to get him there, so be it. Speaking in a turquoise straitjacket on Monday, feisty, formidable Michelle, super-successful lawyer turned exec, told the crowds, and the world, that she came here "as a mom whose girls are the heart of my heart... the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning, and the last thing I think about when I go to bed at night".

By the time Obama had popped up on a giant screen to tell his daughters to "look after Mummy" and been told by his youngest, "I love you Daddy", we were left in no doubt that if this loving, American family were slightly the wrong shade, the picket fences at least would be white.

With any luck, Michelle will soon be adding to that ongoing political masterwork, Best Cookie Recipes of the First Ladies. As, no doubt, Bill would have done (with a cheeky smile and a wink) if Hillary had made it past Obama, McCain and the pack-dogs of American misogyny. But can you imagine a single man, or woman, making it to the top job? In the US or, for that matter, here? The more our family structures collapse, the more, it seems, we want cornflake packet-perfect people at the top. Ted Heath, eat your heart out. "Never married"? You'd have been toast.

My new Weapon of Mouse Destruction

For the Chinese, this may be the Year of the Rat, but for me, I'm afraid, it's been the Year of the Mouse. Ever since the moment, in the middle of The Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, when a little furry creature burst out of the corner cupboard and hurled itself with Usain Bolt-like velocity across the sitting room, and behind the kitchen cabinets, my life has been punctuated by the patter of tiny feet. Which, weirdly, I never hear. Whoever is living in the little shanty town around the pipes, and peppering my flat with black specks – and leaving, as I discovered last night, little pools of urine in my baking trays (a particularly nice touch) – is entirely silent and entirely invisible.

It (or they) has eschewed three types of poison, Belgian truffles, baby Easter eggs and peanut butter in favour of a Persil tablet and the grouting on the tiles. Sticky traps, traditional sprung traps, wire wool and electronic devices designed to drive a lesser mouse to hara-kiri, have only strengthened its resolve. What doesn't kill me, said Nietschze, makes me stronger, and my furry flat-mate is clearly a fan of Nietschze.

But I have taken soundings, and I have borrowed a cat. My neighbour, bringing it round, managed to lock herself out. Her boyfriend, who turned up two hours later, assuming she would be in, had left his keys at home. They smashed a window and broke back in.

The cat is now cowering behind my sofa. I am terrified of the cat and terrified of poisoning the cat. The cat is terrified of me and we are both terrified of the mice. But We Shall Overcome. I've read Nietschze too.

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