My complaint on 28th November can be reduced to one main point:
‘Talking about and only using statistics about ‘general obesity’ affecting c 20% of the Scottish population while visually illustrating continually and only with those who suffer from ‘morbid obesity’ (c 5%) makes a connection between the two which implies that there is a greater problem with obesity than there is and thus misleads the audience. In essence, their answer is that they can use these images with those statistics as they please because ‘All morbidly obese people are by definition obese.’
It’s a stunning claim.
Here’s the full complaint:
Full Complaint: In the ‘Shedding the fat’, statistics about overall obesity (BMI >30) were conflated with images of people with morbid or super obesity (BMI >40). All of those filmed were morbidly or super obese. Against the background filming of these people, we heard that ‘12 million in the UK are now obese’ and that ‘29% of people have so much fat it’s a danger to their lives.’ Given that these facts were spoken against the filmed background of only those with morbid or super obesity, there was a clear danger of equating those statistics with the images of morbid and super obesity, but morbid obesity is actually far less common than the 29% referred to. According to recent research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine: ‘It is predicted that 11 per cent of the population in Wales will be morbidly obese in 2035, roughly 340,000 adults, while Scotland is likely to plateau at about 5 per cent and England will rise to about 8 per cent.’ 5% is a very much smaller figure than 29%. It was clearly important to inform the viewer that they were watching people suffering from morbid and super obesity and to inform them what the figure is for that group. This is a major distortion of the facts which can only have confused and concerned the viewers. Not only did the programme distort reality but, also, it lingered morbidly, titillating the viewer, with close-up images of extremely vulnerable people as they struggled to walk or as they sobbed desperately, feeling trapped in their awful circumstances – ‘we want to live!’. These people are seriously unwell, not circus acts. One has to wonder why they agreed to such invasive filming. Did they receive financial inducements?
Their response today:
“Before the programme the presentation announcer introduced it as looking at “four seriously overweight NHS patients who are shedding the fat”.
The programme starts with people eating, with the voiceover stating “People put on too much weight for all kind of reasons” over a clip of a featured obese person with the voiceover saying “Some eat for comfort and many are in denial” followed by a clip of a wife showing the bottle of spirits her husband consumes in one session accompanied by Diet Coke, which she says he regards as making it all OK.
This is followed by a shot of one woman – one of the four – ascending stairs slowly with the script line “12 million people in the UK are now obese” then a clip of the same woman talking of hating yourself so much that you feel no-one else can love you. As she is one of the startlingly large proportion – circa 20% – of the population who are obese, it is not misleading to include pictures of her. All morbidly obese people are by definition obese.
Before the titles, there were clips of the featured people talking about their condition. This continued for about a minute afterwards. There was then a line of script to set up the documentary which stated: “Scotland has one of the highest levels of obesity in the world – 29% of people here have so much fat it’s a danger to their lives.”
So it is wrong to say that both the “12 million” and “29%” points were made over shots of morbidly obese people. And it is unreasonable to suggest that a voiceover giving general introductory background facts about obesity within a programme about “seriously overweight people” would have “confused and concerned the viewers” or that it was a “major distortion of the facts”.
I do not agree that the programme “lingered morbidly, titillating the viewer”. Also, your suggestion that the contributors received financial inducements is without foundation – all the patients featured gave their consent.”
This is, of course, part of a wider tendency in BBC Scotland’s reporting of obesity in Scotland: