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News & views

Tebbit and text messages stoke obesity debate

[5 Feb 2014] Stoke-on-Trent council in Staffordshire has begun sending motivational text messages to 500 of the 70,000 adults reckoned to be obese in the area, urging them to reduce their intake of food and drink. On the whole, the messages are phrased in straightforward language like ‘Use the stairs more’ and ‘Eat fruit and veg’, though ‘Keep a check on snacks and drinks’ seems too vague and ambiguous to be useful. Other messages tend to be wheedling rather than tough, eg: ‘Why not walk to the shops more often’ and ‘Eat slightly smaller portions’. The pioneering 10-week pilot scheme will cost about £10,000.

Council cabinet member for health Adrian Knapper told the BBC Online (4 Feb): ‘On average it costs the same amount [as this scheme] to perform just one intervention operation to help people manage their weight.’ (Translation moment: by ‘intervention operation’, Knapper probably means such things as fitting a gastric band.)

Figures from Public Health England show that more than three quarters of people in some English towns are overweight or obese. Top of the tree is Copeland, Cumbria, at 76%. Even in the trimmest local-authority area, Kensington and Chelsea, 46% were above a healthy weight.

Body weight has its own language: ‘body mass index’ (BMI) means a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in metres (kg/m2). The World Health Organization defines ‘overweight’ as a BMI greater than or equal to 25 and ‘obese’ as a BMI greater than or equal to 30. The term ‘bariatrics’ – the branch of medicine concerned with treating obesity – is becoming better known but the derivation seems obscure and many dictionaries do not include the word. The Encarta World English Dictionary says bariatrics takes a singular verb and is a mid-C20 invention derived from baro and iatrics, which is not very helpful. In Latin, baro means dunce.  [cont]

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