18 November 2008

Anti-obesity campaigns: fat hatred and charity

I can't believe I missed this story from January. Actually, I can. It's exactly the kind of story that obesity stakeholders would rather hush up because it exposes so brilliantly how those same people are in the thrall of the weight loss industry, and how the war on obesity is lining some people's pockets very nicely. According to the report, the conflict of interest regarding TOAST and LighterLife surfaced in 2003, but by then TOAST had already scarfed down over three years of funding. How greedy!

Obesity stakeholders and charity, what a winning combination. Please excuse my sarcastic tone, perhaps if I hadn't been introduced to The Social Model of Disability at an impressionable age I might think of charities as always being a force for good in the world. I'm sure there are plenty of very good charities, but disability theory is useful in exposing how they promote pitiful attitudes towards disabled people; they are politically unaccountable and seek to speak for disabled people, yet deny them rights or access to power within the charity. Oh, there are many more things I could say about this but you'd be better off reading Mike Oliver's fantastic book, The Politics of Disablement, or this quick rundown of why charities can be a bad idea for disabled people, or spending a bit of time mooching in the Disability Studies Archive at Leeds University.

Now that obesity stakeholders are getting in on the charity act you can see the same processes going on. Fat people are pitiful, allegedly grateful for charitable intervention, helpless, stupid, and need fixing. Honestly, charities like TOAST and the equally dumbarse Weight Concern ("Fighting Obesity With Knowledge" oh dear...) should be grateful to the fatties for providing them with a living.

Meanwhile, I'm delighted to see that, even after they were exposed as frauds, Ian Warburton, the TOAST boss, was unable to resist more bullshitting about the sterling work they'd done for fat panic, though there was no mention of how they had been shut down because they were effectively using charitable status to plug LighterLife.

He said "TOAST has effectively achieved its objectives of raising awareness of Obesity as one of the most significant health concerns of the 21st Century. However, The Trustees have unanimously agreed that the task of finding the solutions to the problem is too large for a charity of this size. TOAST has successfully advanced the debate and we are now handing over the complex task of finding the solutions to other agencies better positioned to carry this out." Yeah, yeah, sure, sure.

By the way, you too can check out TOAST's magnificent(ly awful) website via the Wayback Machine, and remember: TOAST - be part of the solution.

Actually, I don't know why I'm laughing because I'm fairly sure that TOAST is connected to some work I was involved with in Harlow in the early 1990s. At that time Harlow council had a very progressive attitude towards fat, the council sponsored two community conferences about body image that were really inclusive and radical. For a while I did some work for the council, investigating possibilities for further work in the area, and then I left to do something else. Weirdly, Size.net reported that TOAST was sponsoring some kind of Obesity Awareness shindig in 2001 with a day that included: "a 'fat' fashion show, 'fat' art exhibition, makeovers and massages, the latest science, The David Kennedy Memorial Research Prize and much more." I am just confused about that. So lord knows what happened inbetween, how the work we did could have been twisted so revoltingly into an illegal anti-obesity fake charity funded by a dodgy diet company, but there you go.

9 comments:

Emerald said...

Doesn'r surprise me in the slightest.

The National Obesity Forum is the organization that's been really getting in on everything recently - there's barely an obesity-related story that doesn't have their spokesman Tam Fry popping his head up somewhere. Yet quite openly on their website among their 'partners' are Rosemary Conley and SlimFast. Do people just not see the connection?

buffpuff said...

I see it alright. I can't make up my mind if Tam Fry is disingenuous, evil or just plain stupid. Given that I've heard him use the phrase, "final solution" in relation to fat children being taken into care, (that would be the care system that can't even deal with children being beaten to death right in front of their noses), I'm tempted to go with evil.

richie79 said...

A fellow Brit here, de-lurking to agree with everything you just said.

Junkfood Science did an interesting article about the NOF, which despite apparently being respectable enough to get a couple of column inches in pretty much every fat-related article in the media has some really dodgy links with the (also apparently perfectly respectable) weight-loss industry.

Tam Fry is just the public face of the new fat panic - amongst other 'enlightened' solutions to the crisis he's recently been shrieking for the mass removal of fat children into local authority-run fat camps and compulsory WLS. Spiked Magazine obesosceptic Rob Lyons exposed him as an illiberal fascist in a recent Radio 2 debate- it's linked from the Spiked website and well worth a listen.

As for TOAST, I'm overjoyed to hear they're now, well, a hot buttered bread product. The whole use of a food-related acronym (for an obesity organisation - because you know, that's how people get fat - aren't we clever!?!) really pissed me off, whilst the diet industry connections come as no surprise whatsoever. Good riddance to bad rubbish; one pressure group down, only another 30 or so to go :(

Charlotte Cooper said...

@ emerald

I'm struggling to see how the IOTF can condemn the marketing of junk food to people, especially kids, and yet ally themselves with organisations supported by weight loss industries, themselves purveyors of faux-food and poor dietary habits. Hypocritical much?

Charlotte Cooper said...

@ buffpuff

I don't really believe in evil, but that man deserves a good spanking.

Charlotte Cooper said...

@ richie79

Thanks for the tip about Spiked, I will check it out.

Emerald said...

Richie79, thanks - I just listened to that interview. If I'm understanding this right, I get the impression 'genetic testing to identify this problem in utero so we can advise parents on appropriate precautions' actually means, let's find a way to spot potentially fat babies and starve them from birth. Pretty chilling. If he comes near my dead-spit-of-my-late-fat-dad 3-year-old great-nephew, he's toast.

buffpuff said...

I don't really believe in evil, but that man deserves a good spanking.

Listen to the Radio 2/Spiked link and, Charlotte, you may yet believe.

With regard to Mr Fry, (or, as I affectionately think of him, The Witch Finder General)'s endorsement of taking fat children into care, I've heard him claim on several occasions that the children would be "grateful" for the intervention. It kind of puts me in mind of folks who say foxes find the hunt exhilarating...

Charlotte Cooper said...

@ buffpuff

Hahaha!