Blog: Can you tell a poor person by their weight?

Chris Mercer | 23 January 2013

Public health minister Anna Soubry has cooked up a mini-storm for herself by suggesting in a conference speech that she can identify poor people by their weight.

Anna Soubry's performance at the Food and Drink Federation's 'delivering healthy growth' conference yesterday (22 January) is in danger of being overshadowed by some rather presumptuous remarks that came mid-speech.

After describing how, several decades ago, one used to be able to pick out malnourished children at school by looking at their red-rimmed eyes, she then went on to describe the obesity epidemic blighting the poor today.

"You can almost tell somebody's background by their weight," she went on to say. You could hear the journalists' pens scribbling.

"We are now facing the prospect of a generation at risk of dying prematurely, not because they are malnourished, but because they are overweight and eat the wrong types of food," she continued.

"The primary responsibility lies with the individual," she said, adding that parents, in particular, must do more.

Of course, there is some evidence that obesity has a higher prevalence among lower-income households. Fast food chains are generally much more prevalent in deprived areas, too.

But, obesity is also a problem that affects those in the aisles of Waitrose and Marks & Spencer.

Her comments also come at a time when emergency 'food banks' are springing up all over the country, feeding growing numbers of working families who are struggling to feed themselves.

In a nutshell, food and health is a very complex issue. To suggest, then, that poorer households can be picked out of line-up on the basis of their weight was a pretty clumsy thing to do.

She may well come to regret it.


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