Richard Ord: ‘The elephant in the room’

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I FEAR the war against obesity may be lost. Which is a surprise. Given their size, you’d think the obese would be easy targets for even the most visually-challenged of tail gunners.

Those charged with tackling our obesity epidemic have found themselves further hamstrung by the authorities this week.

They have been advised by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) not to describe obese patients as obese or, in fact, even mention the word obese in their considerable presence.

I’m no medical expert but I would assume that when your job is to treat obesity, not being able to mention the word may cause a bit of a problem.

“Doctor, doctor, what the hell is wrong with me?”

“I’m afraid, it’s bad news. You’re ob ... erm, I mean, not very thin.”

“Jesus! Give it to me straight Doc, I’m desperate.”

“It is with great regret that I have to inform you that you are, what we would call, extremely not svelte. You are suffering an acute case of severe un-slimness. I’m sorry.”

According to NICE, telling overweight patients they are obese could be seen as derogatory. They have suggested using more “appropriate language”.

What that appropriate language should be is not clear. I canvassed opinion on Twitter for more user-friendly labels, unfortunately only one was printable. And @dibbs1967’s suggestion of Spatially Unchallenged People doesn’t quite tell the story.

Biggest of those opposing the new draft guideline from NICE is Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum.

“There should be no problem with using the proper terminology,” says Tam. “If you beat around the bush then you muddy the water,” he added, mixing his metaphors nicely.

I suspect however that his opposition is based more on economics.

Given the name of his organisation, it would cost a fortune to change all the letterheads and logos. And the National Chubby Forum doesn’t quite have the same gravitas.

I thought the white flags of surrender went up the day hospitals began forking out for reinforced beds and industrial toilets for their ballooning patients.

Surely it would have made more sense to buy more fragile conveniences. Nothing will indicate a weight issue more than the toilet collapsing from under you as you evacuate your bowels. Memorable and worth, I suggest, more than a thousand words on the benefits of celery as part of a calorie controlled diet.

Not being able to use the name of the condition you’re trying to treat is the thin end of the wedge (pun intended).

If a doctor can’t use the word obese when trying to help his obese patient, it becomes the elephant in the room.

One of two I would suggest.