The votes have been counted and verified, and the pies have been eaten; the results can be announced! Yes, the latest statistics reveal England’s leading Fatty Town is Rotherham, followed by another South Yorkshire Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Doncaster; hot on their heels is Halton in the North West. Waddling its way towards the top spot, Rotherham can boast more fatties amongst its population than anywhere else in the country; just under half of the town’s entire population are overweight, with 32.6% classed as obese.

Apparently, as much as a quarter of the population of the entire UK are now obese, but even though 40.4% of the English are overweight and 24.4% obese, England isn’t as abundant in blubber as Scotland, according to the NHS; last time the NHS looked, 27% of Scots were obese, with Wales ranking at 22%. The figures that awarded Rotherham the unenviable heavyweight crown were collated between 2013 and 2016, though England’s fattest geographical region is the North East; 41.5% of Tyne, Tees and Weir-siders are overweight, whereas 27.1% fall into the obese category. The Yorkshire & Humber region runs a close second, with the East Midlands behind that.

In a sense, the statistics paint a wider picture of what our own eyes are telling us whenever we’re out and about. A couple of times this week, I’ve been sat in a friend’s car whilst she’s popped into a shop on a retail park, and as I observed passers-by, I reckoned well over half of them were what could genuinely be called fat. When I was a child, fatties weren’t unheard of, but they were certainly less prevalent than today; most classes at school had the token fat kid, and most of us had a fat uncle or aunt; though there’s no doubt they were a far rarer sight than today, almost something of a novelty.

The blame game is inevitable when such a dramatic alteration to the national character as this occurs. Using my own childhood experience, I know for sure instant and frozen foods certainly existed, though they co-existed with meals consisting of fresh vegetables and the dreaded ‘greens’ that had such an unsavoury reputation. With parents raised on the legacy of wartime digging for victory and grandparents still possessing vivid memories of days that might go by without any food whatsoever, it was no wonder the importance of greens and meals cooked from scratch remained high. This thinking also extended to school dinners; but in order to make the far-from desirable recipe of cabbage, beetroot, spam fritters, lumpy mash and hard peas remotely tolerable, the prize at the end of this gastronomic obstacle course was a pudding bathed in custard, awarded to everyone who managed to grin and swallow their way through the first course, and washed down with that most basic of table wines – water.

Anyone of a certain age will recall that the chocolate bar Milky Way used to be advertised as ‘The sweet you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite’, with the emphasis on can. This carried clout with kids of my generation; if this statement was broadcast on TV, then it had to be true – right, mum? Therefore, it’s okay to guzzle one before teatime, yeah? It was also a canny tagline by the manufacturers because eating between meals was so frowned upon at the time that a chocolate bar sold as a sweet that wouldn’t interfere with the compulsory cleaning of the plate might just be a smart way round the unwritten rules of the nation’s children’s diet.

It’s no wonder the corner-shop did a roaring trade in penny sweets both on the way to and on the way back from school. Such cheap confectionary was within the budget of most kids (even those who helped themselves when the newsagent fatally turned his back) and wasn’t considered substantial enough to damage appetites for the next meal. The main accusation levelled at sweets was that they rotted your teeth if taken to excess, so most parents tolerated them as long as they were consumed in moderation. A proper chocolate bar boasting a big brand name or even a packet of crisps were a little pricier and therefore had an air of ‘treat’ about them, something one could look forward to perhaps once a week, though not much more often than that. They even used to print the actual price of the item on the wrapper then, as if to emphasise the gulf between it and the more accessible penny varieties stocking the shelves.

The sudden colonisation of the country by the burger-bar, something that seemed to happen from the second half of the 1980s onwards, is regularly blamed as the biggest cause of rising child obesity, and there’s no denying the proliferation of such fast-food quick-fix solutions to the headache of being a weekend dad haven’t helped. But the collapse of the old system when it comes to a daily dietary regime probably has more to answer for than the cure-all option of a Big Mac & Fries – specifically, the gradual abolition of the not-eating-between meals rule. Many of today’s parents had their childhood eating habits governed by the old order, yet unlike their own parents, have decided not to impose it on the next generation, instead turning their kitchen cupboards into an all-you-can-eat buffet. They no doubt blame McDonald’s or blame the electronic gadgets that keep their kids indoors even when the weather is ideal for playing-out. But they should really look a little closer to home, and in the mirror.

Outside of the actual food consumed, the subject of exercise is also unavoidable. One wonders how much of an impact the selling-off of school playing fields to developers and the cutting of extracurricular sporting activities have had, let alone the establishment of ‘the school run’, whereby walking to and from school has been superseded by the internal combustion engine. Throw in the reluctance of parents to let their children loose come summer holidays for fear of the prowling Paedo and it’s no wonder their offspring are waddling as much as their parents are.

Food that is deemed good for you today – sugar-free, organic and deprived of artificial colouring – is expensive and therefore only within the regular budget of the relatively affluent, whereas food that is deemed bad for you – loaded with sugar, salt and all those other tasty ingredients that clog-up arteries – is not only affordable for those on low incomes, but also more available. That the South East and London register at the bottom of the obesity chart speaks volumes, but idleness and ignorance play their part too. It is possible to eat healthily on a tiny budget; cooking healthy food is as cheap an option as opting for a pre-packaged and processed ready-meal crammed with chemicals, though why that message is failing to get through could be down to simple laziness. I myself purchased some broccoli and a courgette this morning, costing less than a quid. Carrots, cabbage, onions, lettuce and the rest remain cheaper than any packet of pound shop frozen plastic; but you can’t just bung them in the microwave for ten minutes. Say no more.

© The Editor

7 thoughts on “OBESITY ROLLERS

  1. You raise a very good point in linking rising obesity with the decline of timetabled family meals, they being replaced by impulse-eating. It would be interesting to timeline technological developments against obesity rates. These are the main labour-saving upgrades I recall from my youth.

    My parents bought their first fridge-freezer in 1962 (the freezer was a pitiful white box at the top, but it ended the tedium of shelling peas by hand). In 1963 they bought a Rolls Rapide washing machine, threw out the mangle. Central heating was installed in maybe 1968 (though the only upstairs rooms to be heated were the bathroom – modest towel rail – and our parents’ room: us kids had only the waft from a paraffin heater) on the landing. Mid seventies, a remote controlled colour TV and an automatic transmission car. My parents weren’t affluent, they were years behind the middle classes in technology: many families had such gadgets years earlier.

    In my own little bedsit I bought a microwave in 1980, and a fridge freezer where the freezer was half the unit in 1978. As well as a remote controlled TV.

    When kids we were never short of fast food opportunities; even way back in the sixties one could (and did) buy a delicious meat pie from Kennedys in the school lunch break (school dinners meant long queues for dismal meals, many of us used to abscond into town) or a sausage roll from the bakers I’d pass on the way home, as well as whatever the paper shop could offer in snacks and confectionary. My school gave away milk and sold currant buns and confectionery. Before McDonalds – certainly during the sixties, and probably earlier – there was a Wimpy Bar on most High Streets; a chippy, an Indian and a Chinkie.

    But we all snacked in the light of knowing that two hours later we would be sitting down to a family meal that had taken time and effort to prepare and that it would not be well received if we’d left half our dinner because we’d pigged out on a bag of chips half an hour earlier.

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    1. Thanks for sharing that timeline of acquiring household appliances; it’s fascinating to track their arrival and perhaps serves as a reminder that there once was a time without all of them. I suppose with each successive generation, every one-time novelty item becomes an accepted part of the furniture. It’s weird to think my eleven year-old niece couldn’t picture a world without the internet, yet I remember once attempting to explain the meaning of a particular word to her and automatically reached for the dictionary. Her response as I flicked through the pages underlined the great divide – ‘Why don’t you Google it?’ 🙂


  2. It’s a big subject, almost an obese one, because it is reflective of so many aspects of social change within our own lifetimes.
    Although evidently a little poorer, or socially slower, than Fred’s family above, my own history shares much in common with his – the reliable base-load of solid and healthy home-food at regular family mealtimes and the turgid school-dinners, brightened by the very occasional opportunities for retail treats, being only occasional more due to unavailability of cash than of products.

    The greater propensity of women to work has undoubtedly meant less time available for the donkey-work of preparing meals from scratch, paralleled by a retail trade smart enough to see the opportunities and deliver attractive substitute products which demand little time, planning or effort. The arrival of the microwave also added immensely to the feasibility of work-free food – a neighbour of mine never cooks anything from scratch, so much so that, on hearing a bleep at a shop-till once, her young child immediately announced “Tea-time”, simply associating a ‘ping’ with impending food.
    However, the argument of time-shortage falls down when you consider the unwaged, the non-workers – a stroll along the promenade of many traditional northern seaside resorts now will expose huge numbers of the demonstrably overweight and demonstrable unemployed, thus with no time-shortage excuse. But they are perhaps even more susceptible to the blandishments of the smart marketers than the chattering southern classes and may be considered more victims that culprits.

    I don’t have an answer to it, but neither does government nor the many health-preachers pervading the airwaves, it’s merely a reflection of how we’ve developed in total and it’s not necessarily an attractive sum.

    It may be a little cruel, but Mrs Mud & I have adopted the generic term ‘All-Inclusives’ for the grossly obese, looking like those folk who would take an all-inclusive holiday simply for the opportunity it gives to Hoover the buffet-tables clean of every last pizza-crumb at least three times a day with impunity.

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  3. My reaction to ice cream van chimes when aged six or so was also Pavlovian. But sad only when my parents said “No chance, dinner’s in half an hour”.

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