Natalie Haynes: Birmingham: more gastric band than Bull Ring

Share
Related Topics

This week saw the release of figures from the Public Health Observatories which concluded that Birmingham is the fattest city in Europe. Some 29 per cent of adults in the city are obese, which is more than twice the European average. And the prospects don't look good for the next generation either: 25 per cent of 11- and 12-year-olds in the city are obese too.

The headlines conveyed their contempt for the chunky Brummies, reminding us that Britain's fattest man lives in Birmingham (which can hardly help the averages). Even Birmingham's own newspapers were filled with self-loathing: "Birmingham shamed as fattest in Europe despite £15 million of NHS schemes," howled the Birmingham Mail.

Free gym memberships, shock advertising strategies and gastric band operations have made little difference to the statistics: the city is fat and it's getting fatter. And perhaps that is because Birmingham is a city of congenital porkers with no self-control and no common sense. But why should that be any truer of Birmingham than of, say, Hamburg? Isn't it at least possible that the city itself is conducive to unhealthiness?

Birmingham never seemed like the healthiest place to grow up in, even when I was growing up in it. It is a drivers' city, like Los Angeles, admittedly with fewer palm trees. The buses go into and out of town, but they aren't much cop at taking you anywhere else. And the roads are massive, because there is so much traffic, which makes them a deeply unpleasant prospect for pedestrians.

In London, I walk about 20 miles a week (it's either that or the gym, and I can't bear the leotards). But when I'm visiting my home town, I never walk anywhere: it's too noisy and too polluted. Like all my classmates, I had my first driving lesson the week I turned 17, and I saved the money from my Saturday job to buy a knackered old car before I was 18.

It's hardly surprising that Birmingham is car-centric. Until recently, one of the city's biggest brands was Rover. And the other is Cadbury. When I was younger, I felt loyal to my tribe if I was eating a bar of Dairy Milk and driving a Metro – hardly likely to make anyone any thinner. Luckily, the combination of corporate incompetence and grimy venality has already destroyed Rover, and Cadbury will soon be moving its chocolate production to Poland. So perhaps Birmingham can yet learn to love a brisk walk and an apple instead.

But even if it does, it won't be proud of itself. That is the Birmingham way: self-deprecation at all costs. It characterises every media figure who comes out of the Midlands – Adrian Chiles, Jasper Carrott, Frank Skinner. Everything's rubbish, including me, is the constant subtext to their words.

And it isn't just a media persona. It's the character of the whole city. When London was hit by a tornado in 2006, the local and national news blazed with hyperbole. Freak weather conditions battered the city, devastated homes would have to be demolished, dozens were left homeless, and so on.

When a similar event happened in Birmingham the previous year, Midlands Today covered the story in much the same way. Then they interviewed a local resident who had seen the whole thing happen – as I did. What was the tornado like, the breathless reporter asked their eye-witness. It was terrible, he replied. Could he describe it? He could. He thought for a moment and said, "It hung in the air, like an enormous carrot" (for full impact, you really need to do the accent in your head here).

This is, quite literally, the only time I have ever cheered a local news story. In one sentence, a freak weather crisis had been brought down to earth with a root vegetable. Now if only we can all start eating more of them, and fewer chocolate buttons, perhaps Birmingham can shake off its undeserved shame.

www.nataliehaynes.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti
 

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent