Between them, Jane Austen and Victor Hugo have come to the rescue of many a tired hack and political speechwriter. For the one said: “It is a truth universally acknowledged…”, to which you can append just about anything you care to; and the other wrote: “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come”, which can be used as an endorsement of any old idea laying spurious claim to originality.
But it has been left to this column to stick its thumbs behind its lapels, puff out its chest, and win a double first in the art of cliché by declaring: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come”. That idea, of course, being Fight Against Tubbies (FAT), the single-issue lobby group modelled on Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), whose pitiless persecution of smokers is an example to us all. And if, today, you find us preening ourselves, that is not surprising: we have much to be proud of. For it is an undeniable fact (much the same as a universal truth) that, since its launch just a few months ago, FAT has been a phenomenal success. Not, that is, in achieving its aims – goodness knows there remain vast numbers of overweight people who must be compelled to be thin, so there is still much work to do – but in rallying others to the cause. Scarcely a day passes without fresh news of what is now accepted without question as the “obesity epidemic”. Doctors, scientists, academics, researchers, politicians and quangos flock to our banner in increasing numbers.
But perhaps most gratifying of all is the endorsement we receive from the Department of Guesswork, without whose encouragement our headlines would be far smaller. To take a few examples at random, courtesy of the DoG: one six-year-old in ten is now obese; the fat epidemic among children is increasing at the rate of one per cent a year; a quarter of women and a fifth of men are overweight; obesity kills 34,000 people a year, during which time it costs the NHS &£500m, according to Liberal Democrat MP Paul Burstow (or &£2.6bn a year according to the Health Development Agency, or &£15bn a year according to the Institute of Food Research). All these figures, praise be, are accepted uncritically and published without question.
The problem thus established, the solutions suggest themselves. Since it is axiomatic that overweight people are victims – not of their own excess or lack of will-power or, in the case of children, of parental ignorance or neglect – a principal target of our campaign must be their persecutors. They, of course, are the food companies and their lackeys, the advertisers.
The Food Standards Agency and the Food Commission are calling for a ban on TV advertising of “junk foods”, health warnings on packets, bans on vending machines in schools, and a “fat tax” on the advertising of unhealthy foods.
Professor Sir George Alberti, an adviser on government health policy, says we are “sitting on a time bomb” and calls for Britons to be ordered to eat less and exercise more. The Food Standards Agency says more than 50 per cent of children are threatened by an “obesity time bomb” and says fatty food in school lunchboxes is partly to blame. Dame Yve Buckland of the Health Development Agency says that “obesity is a time bomb”. Tim Lobstein of the Food Commission omits to mention the bomb but remedies his lapse by referring to the “toxic environment encouraging people to eat lots”, by which he means ads for food.
Exhortation is plainly not the answer. As we at FAT have argued from our inception, people must be compelled to be thin. Congratulations, then, to Broadmere Primary School in Sheerwater, Surrey, which threatens to confiscate “unhealthy” snacks found in children’s lunchboxes. Well done, too, Salford Primary Health Trust, which has issued schools with instructions on how to tackle one of the few politically acceptable comestibles, namely the carrot (“wash it, eat from the bottom, and discard the top”). But Prof Sir George Alberti is surely right when he says that Britons should be ordered to be thin. Not cajoled, not asked, not persuaded. Ordered.
Those who fail to comply will be fined, and persistent offenders will be imprisoned. There is no other way. Labour MP Debra Shipley hopes to introduce a bill outlawing food and drink advertising on children’s TV. That misses the point – it is fat people who must be outlawed.