04 March 2010

Anti-obesity campaigns: Weight Watchers and McDonalds partner with NHS

Weight Watchers has come under fire for its partnership with McDonalds in New Zealand. Making health claims on McDonalds food is pretty ridiculous, as a couple of commentators point out; the food is salty, greasy and nasty. Reports don't mention the wider social context that has an impact on health, McDonalds' shocking environmental record, for example, or its use of cheap labour, its union-busting practices, or its colonisation of lower class neighbourhoods. The alliance is bad news in a lot of ways.

Yet Weight Watchers already have a business relationship with Heinz, who produce Weight Watchers branded ready meals and processed food-products. So it's not as if Weight Watchers are new to the game of shilling cheap-to-produce, high-profit-margin, ersatz food-shaped gloop to people. Why the surprise about McDonalds? If you don't like it, don't buy it, and tell the company why.

The partnership is horrifying if you think that Weight Watchers represents some kind of medium for improving people's health. In fact, its partnership with McDonalds is entirely in keeping with the company and the brand; weight loss multinationals have little interest in health, it's all about business. Fat hatred is a powerful marketing strategy, it's made for capitalism, and endorsed through the Global Obesity EpidemicTM.

This is what makes Weight Watchers association with the National Health Service quite chilling. Call me old fashioned, but I don't think there's a place for such a business in a publicly-funded and nationally-owned health service. The Weight Watchers Referral Scheme, as well as similar partnerships with other weight loss companies, means that "the obese" are shunted along to these services as customers. It doesn't appear to matter that Weight Watchers is selling a product that interferes with rather than enhances health, and whose own evaluative data is obscure at best. Even if I don't like any of this, as a fat patient I am likely to be pressured by my health providers in the NHS into going along with it and joining Weight Watchers too.

Working within the NHS validates the weight loss industry, it endorses Weight Watchers and subsequently their relationship with McDonalds. It's outrageous too that the British government has given a platform to the weight loss industry (check out these 2004 Minutes of Evidence, for example, where Weight Watchers is lobbying for a piece of the NHS action, and also featuring those loveable goofs from TOAST). Such alliances do not promote health, they promote business. I think these ties should be dissolved and official guidelines on treating obesity in the UK be revised, with an investment made in developing Health At Every Size instead.


Anonymous said...

Fat people need to stop blaming others for being fat. I choose how much food I consume and consider it perfectly safe to eat at McDonalds.
As I have a joint mobility disorder I am unable to exercise much so I have to carefully control my food intake. I'm 40 years old, 5ft 5 and weigh 8 1/2 stone. My BMI is around 21.

The odd McDonalds won't hurt anyone - most fat people are physically fitter than I am. I see them carrying bags that I can't even lift.
Calorie control and self control and wonderful things! Fat people should try them instead of whining that temptation should be removed from their path!

Charlotte Cooper said...

Why are you reading this blog?