Junkfood Science: Morality of healthy eating and fatness

July 04, 2007

Morality of healthy eating and fatness

In a disturbing and candid article, Matthias Heitmann, co-editor of the German magazine, Novo, describes the German government’s new health campaign focused on fat people. “Official exhortations to live healthily are not a new phenomenon,” he writes, but this national action plan has turned people’s weight “into a measure of their moral integrity.”

His article is highly recommended reading in its entirely, as it gives another example of governmental oversight of “health.”

Achtung: if you’re fat, you’re anti-social

...Horst Seehofer, launched a national health campaign to motivate people to eat healthier food and do more exercise. The government aims to halt the trend towards obesity by the year 2020. The national action plan is comprehensive and far-reaching. It recommends that health education should play a greater role in kindergartens and schools. Parents should be encouraged to tell their children about the risks of fast food. Adults should be informed about health issues at their workplaces. At state level, communities and sports clubs should encourage people to participate in sports. The anti-obesity campaign hopes to establish new standards of health and nutrition in canteen services in schools, hospitals and workplaces, and it will give funding to scientific research into the consequences of an unhealthy diet....

He describes to Spiked readers how fatness has been made a societal issue, with fat people accused of burdening the country’s state budget, necessitating government intervention. The government has applied all of its authoritarian power to the efforts, he writes, arguing costs “could easily be reduced by healthier living.” He adds: “The campaign has little time for individual choice or free will in matters of food consumption or exercise, and nor does it accept the idea that people should determine what is best for them and their families. In other words, those who are fat are increasingly seen as ‘bad’ and anti-social people who do not fit in, while those who regularly take exercise and eat well are seen as ‘good’ citizens.”

While revealing how irrational the government’s “health” campaign is, he says it wouldn’t have gotten this far if people hadn’t bought into the “health” argument about fat, “bad” foods and “unhealthy” lifestyles:

First of all, it would seem that, in a rush to ‘educate’ the people, the government has exaggerated the personal and social relevance of the obesity issue. It started by exercising some poetic license with the statistics. Reports claiming that Germans are the fattest people in Europe were designed to startle – but such a claim was only arrived at by removing those aged 18 to 24 from the study. So slimmer, younger adults were excluded from the calculations, which allowed government and media scaremongers to say ‘shock, horror – German adults are the fattest!’ Those scientists who have questioned the fat stats have only occasionally been given a platform in the media.

But you need more than just concocted scientific evidence to launch a national campaign on what people eat and how they play: you also need a cultural climate that is open to such interventions... In Germany, the fatness issue has been harnessed by a government keen to intervene into people’s private lives at ever more intimate levels. In recent debates, obesity has been linked to child neglect (that is, parents feeding their children the ‘wrong’ foods and letting them get fat), and it has also been taken as evidence that people have gone consumerism-crazy, misled by the advertising of big food companies. Once body weight has been squeezed into such a moral framework – which raises questions of choice, free will and independence – then it quickly becomes an issue around which all sorts of authoritarian measures can be enforced....

In his cautionary tale, he warns that “questioning the government’s anti-obesity campaign has become tantamount to blasphemy.” Those who question it do so at their own peril, he explained, as it is now “slim up or shut up.”

He goes on to explain the true political aims of this government program. Read the entire article here.

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