Overweight? Ask for a handout.

We know that organisations often put stories into the media arena as an attempt to gain publicity. No really they do. Without doubt these are often very controversial, challenging or even downright barmy items and mainly come in the form of recommendations from ‘expert’ reports.

The question of whether people should be given money to help them lose weight or quit smoking and that children should be given toys for eating fruit and veg is the latest media storm. I find it hard to believe that in 2010 when we have a dire economic climate, some experts have actually considered this a sensible and possible way forward.

So why decide now to publish such a controversial report?

Could it be because like many quangos the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) are actually facing an uncertain future themselves? Call me a conspiracy theorist but could these attention grabbing tactics really be a desperate attempt to keep health issues in the spotlight prompting questioning about how we could survive in the future without this expert advice?


If that is part of the rationale behind publication then it has missed the target. Instead all the headlines do is add to the previous views that these ‘experts’ are out of touch with the real world. These are the same people who earlier this month said that obesity surgery should be more widely available on the NHS, and in the next pronouncement said a cancer drug was a waste of money.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance were quick to step in and criticise the advice saying ‘bribing people to lose weight or quit smoking is nothing but a quick fix which patronises the individuals in question and drains much-needed money away from the public purse’. The media also relished the opportunity to highlight a long list of schemes and projects that appear to defy believe. There is the one in Manchester which gave rewards to overweight parents for walking their children to school, or the one with supermarket points for unfit people who do exercise, or toys for children who eat their fruit and veg.

Newspaper reports claim this proposal stopped short of where it had been which included giving addicts rewards such as televisions or MP3 players for attending treatment programmes. But it does support financial rewards for heroin addicts.

NICE say the next phase is a public consultation on the proposals before developing its future guidance despite the fact that the evidence that these schemes make a difference is minimal.

The report and its timing are ill-conceived and can only serve to damage the reputation of the organisation at a time when it is under threat. Few people, particularly those at risk of being made redundant, will read these reports and consider it a good use of money, or even a good use of media time and newspaper column inches.

I have to think back to a time before the state had to tell everybody what to do, to a time when people were allowed to make their own decisions, even if they were bad ones. I could write a philosophical thesis on free will and whether people have it or should have it. But for the purposes of my sanity and this blog I won’t venture down that road. I will confine myself to saying that people should make their own decisions based on having access to facts and information. If they don’t then they have to live with the consequences. If they are overweight or smoke then they will get ill and die younger. We could argue about the cost of their lifestyle on the health service but in the end their untimely death will save us from pensions and other costs so it balances out.

All these proposals would do is reward people for their stupidity or lack of self-control. Almost like offering burglars Argos or Comet vouchers to stop them wanting to steal my television, or giving people who steal cars a bus pass. People need to wake up and stop talking of inducements to get people to do what they should be doing. Give them the freedom to make their own decisions.

And at the end of the day remember, if you are going to play with the media in an attempt to secure your survival then be clear what you want to achieve and ensure you can accurately gauge public opinion to guarantee a majority will support you. Reports, experts and proposals should not be used as cheap and unfocused headline grabbers. In these challenging times effective and clear communication is essential.

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1 Response to Overweight? Ask for a handout.

  1. RC says:

    Actually, people in the “overweight” banding (as opposed to “correct”, “obese”, “underweight” or the others live longer than those in the other banding. Also, there is in general (but not always in undividual cases) a correlation between high weights and poor health but as you certainly know, correlation is not the same thing as causation. You could start here as a jumping off point; http://kateharding.net/faq/but-dont-you-realize-fat-is-unhealthy/ but there’s a lot of information and evidence that slim is not always healthy and sometimes fat can be.

    By focusing on weight loss as an aim (and with financial incentives too, sheesh) the government has lost an opportunity to promote health for health’s sake rather than for aesthetic reasons.

    As a single example, as a size 20 woman, I cycle, swim and walk everywhere, eat a wholefood, vegetarian diet and have a healthy resting heart rate, lung capacity, blood pressure and cholesterol level. As a size 12 woman, I did not. I’m not unusual in that either.

    Paying people to lose weight will lead to crash diets and other unhealthy choices. Encouraging and promoting a healthy lifestyle may or may not lead to weight loss, but it will certainly lead to healthier people. You could also take a look at the Health at Every Size study. http://is.gd/fBYGl


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