Obesity nuttery on the Jeremy Vine show

(There’s a good joke near the end of this. Really there is. I am so proud). The first topic on today’s Jeremy Vine Show was the obesity study that’s all over the news, which concludes:

The causes of obesity are extremely complex encompassing biology and behaviour, but set within a cultural, environmental and social framework

But everyone’s ignoring that bit and concentrating on:

There is compelling evidence that humans are predisposed to put on weight by their biology. (…) Although personal responsibility plays a crucial part in weight gain, human biology is being overwhelmed by the effects of today’s ‘obesogenic’ environment, with its abundance of energy dense food, motorised transport and sedentary lifestyles.

This makes sense. On the pleistocene savannah it was evolutionarily advantageous to eat everything you found, and this has broadly been true for most humans throughout history (and, obviously, still is for much of the world). Nothing too controversial, you might think, except that the thrust of the radio show revolved around whether this simply gave obese people an excuse.

Obviously there were plenty of crackpot callers. It’s all their own fault / this is just the no-blame culture1 / America = worse / blah. This is to be expected. But then came Richard D. North, spokesman for a Conservative party think tank. It’s not often I find my jaw literally dropped, but I did after he said something along the lines of:

Middle-class people aren’t obese. It’s the ex-working classes who haven’t got their heads around the concept of discipline.

To summarise, his argument was: stupid fat people should be ashamed, and making obesity a major social faux pas will solve the problem much faster than evil and useless government interventions.

My opinion: total cretin. I thought he was an MP at first, and am relieved to discover that’s not the case – he’s a ‘commentator’. I am concerned people pay him any attention at all, though. Sounds less like a think tank and more like a think wank. (told you it was worth waiting for).

I suspect 99% of listeners, no matter what their political leanings, also thought this guy was a nutjob. Why are radio debates so rubbish? Why do they always give a mouth to extreme nuttery instead of trying to progress the conversation? Jeremy Vine could easily point out that “middle-class people aren’t obese” is demonstrably untrue, or that saying “I don’t think that’s true and here’s an anecdote to prove it” in response to a scientific paper isn’t a valid argument, or that the topic of state intervention is of course something that divides right and left. But this never happens, on any radio station, and these kinds of debate never help with anything. Weird.

  1. ok, this was on the BBC website, but I thought was too priceless not to include []