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:
BBC Scotland once more hide SNP Government’s policy success to create scare on obesity in women
Does thinking we’re in a national fat crisis make us afraid of independence?
Brilliant letter Prof, concise and eloquent. Some one has to bring these people to book, what they are doing is criminal. They are merely puppets of the state and people are forced by law to pay for their own propaganda lies and brain washing its disgusting. Goebbels would be in awe of this disgusting farce that is the BBC.
Keep up the good work, Shared.
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Thanks. They seem particularly obsessed by this.
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An advantage ( one of the very few 😦 ) of being in one’s eightieth year is that it’s possible to remember the way things were in an earlier time. For example, I can recall going to the ‘shows’ at Girvan harbour with my grandparents in the 1940s. One ‘attraction’ I recall clearly was a tent with a billboard outside which said something such as “Roll up, Roll up! Come in and see the Fat Lady – 6d.”. I didn’t go in, but quite a few people did and apparently enjoyed some form of titillation from looking at an ill, unfortunate woman of extreme fatness.
I thought that our civilisation had moved forward a bit from these barbaric days, but the content and presentation of the programme here in question does make me wonder.
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Historical perspective is useful.
Not much changed it seems just the price to view has gone up
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beeb Jockland seem keen to tell us that we’re over-fond of our lollipops in Scotland hence our (demonstrably over-stated) beeb epidemic of ‘scottish’ morbid/super obesity. I was, however, pleasantly surprised to note that the ‘real’ beeb on their ‘real’ UK politics page carry a story about numerous Local Authorities reducing their numbers of Lollipop folk in which the author actually takes the trouble to notice that there appears to be some difference in approach north and south of the border. Perhaps another example of ‘divergence’ in public priorities across these islands? Link and snippets below:
Schoolchildren safety fear over fewer lollipop men and women
By Laurence Sleator BBC Political Research Unit
Safety campaigners say cuts to the number of lollipop men and women near schools are “jeopardising lives”.
The number of them funded by councils in Great Britain has fallen by 1,500, almost a quarter, in five years, figures obtained by the BBC show.
The Scottish council of Midlothian was one of the few to increase the number of wardens it has available, with numbers jumping 20% from 54 in 2013 to 65.
Of the nine councils to have revealed an increase in staff, five were in Scotland.
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Nice thematic licking.