Will Half The UK Be Obese Before 2050? Are The Press Credulous Nincompoops?

No. Yes. For fucks sake, what is wrong with the media? Lots, I suppose, but I’ll concentrate on their innumeracy and credulousness for now. I will also cover their prejudice and scientific illiteracy. Which is a lot to do in under 1000 words, but when you’ve such densely packed stupidity as our Obesity Crisis Bleughly etc. you can really go to town.

First, a little history lesson: in 2007 a report commissioned by the government stupidly predicted that if people continued getting obeser at the same rate by 2015 36% of males and 28% of females would be obese. By 2050, 60% of males and 50% of females would be obese. By the end of the century everyone would be obese and robots would need adamantium reinforcements to maneuver the nation’s vast bulk. A nightmare scenario, I’m sure you’ll agree. Here’s the chart:

British fat

Yesterday, the National Obesity Forum stupidly updated that stupid extrapolation. Rather than half of Britain becoming obese by 2050 they believe this will happen much sooner and that we need to something about this. Especially for the children. It’s always for the children (or the women). Their report helpfully recommends negging on fat people, bullying children who don’t like PE and the creation of government sinecures for ex-Forum busybodies. 

To come up with their dread warning, they’ve used an extra five years of data from the UK to update the projection above. It’s a projection not a prediction because of the data they leave out. If they included data from the US their scaremongering would fail and these busybodies might have to get real jobs: America’s stopped fattening. We don’t need to hypothesise about how fat we could get, we know. None, none more fat.

America fat

Something that can’t go on forever, won’t. That’s a simple thought, but scaremongers know when you’re scared you don’t think. Waistlines can’t expand forever. Eventually a population has to stop getting fatter and now we now know when this happens. America, the land where everything’s big, is no longer the land where everything’s getting bigger. When a third of a society get obese obesity levels off.

Predicting that half of Britain will become obese, when we’ve recently discovered the obesity event horizon should earn you derision. Instead it gets you wall to wall coverage. Incapable of crunching the numbers, the press report as fact a ludicrous projection using incomplete data and biased methods. I don’t want you to confuse my anger with surprise, this is par for the course. Innumeracy and credulousness covered, let’s talk about the press’s prejudice and scientific illiteracy.

Being fat is unhealthy right? Wrong. Okay, not fat, but being obese is bad, right? Wrong. Dead wrong, in fact. And I have a meta-study to prove it.

final_cochrane_logoThe words “I have a meta-study” should inspire joy or dread, depending on your position. A meta-study is a study of studies and they’re incredibly useful. You can read more halfway down this old post on how they save lives and reveal truths that might otherwise be hidden.

We’ve been looking at obesity for a very long time, and lots of individual studies have been done, but each has its own problems and each has its own margin of error. Collating several studies allowed researchers to look at 3 million subjects, from 12 countries, and use only the best data to assess the effects of weight gain on health.

The results might surprise you. They found that people with a Body Mass Index of 18.5-25, the “healthy” people, have higher mortality risk than every group of people up to BMIs of 35. The obese were less likely to die than the “healthy” people and the overweight people were significantly less likely to die than the “healthy” people.

Pick a random 5’4″ woman weighing 8 stone (remember to say hello). She has a higher mortality risk than a 14 stone woman of the same height (say hello to her too). You might be incredulous, you might even be angry: but I have a meta-study.

The below table isn’t very layman friendly, but click through to the paper, or read this op-ed, if you don’t believe me. I’m not saying you should gain weight, or lose weight, I’m saying that weight is a particularly poor indicator of health and that you should care about your weight a lot less. Especially care less about other people’s weight.


Not only are predictions of a looming obesity crisis based on nonsense maths, they’re based on nonsense science and reported by a nonsense press. The press are incapable of holding people with a shiny pdf and a slick press release to account. Because of this its all too easy for people to be bullied and for public health (physical and mental) to suffer.

The Mail Monsters

I’m familiar with the “but we need bastards” argument. But sometimes its not dead white guys who get picked on. And sometimes the results are worse than hurt fee fees.

Lucy Meadows was monstered.

A coroner told the press “shame on all of you” as he ruled that a primary school teacher had killed herself after her gender reassignment became national news.

Michael Singleton, coroner for Blackburn, Hyndburn and Rossendale, singled out the Daily Mail as he accused the paper of “ridicule and humiliation” and a “character assassination” of Lucy Meadows, 32, who took her own life in March.

Stephen Gately was monstered.

The Press Complaints Commission has received a record 22,000 complaints about Jan Moir‘s article about Stephen Gately since Friday – more complaints in a single weekend than the regulator has received in total in the past five years.

Moir’s article, which was published the day before Gately’s funeral in Dublin, provoked widespread outrage on the web. The original headline on the Mail Online website, “Why there was nothing ‘natural’ about Stephen Gately’s death”, was later amended to the print edition headline “A strange, lonely and troubling death”. The article has also prompted a complaint to the Metropolitan police.

The poor have been monstered.

The Daily Mail has sparked outrage today with its front page, which appears to blame the killing of six children on the welfare state.

The right-of-centre newspaper, which has frequently campaigned against what it sees as the generosity of the UK’s welfare system, today (April 3) splashed with the conviction of Mick Philpott – who killed six of his own children in a house fire – using the headline ‘Vile product of Welfare UK’.

Brooke Magnanti had to out herself, to gazump the Daily Mail.

She had kept her identity secret for six years, defying millions of readers – and a host of literary experts – who had speculated about the author responsible for one of the internet’s most widely read blogs.

But today the mystery was solved when a scientist from Bristol outed herself as Belle de Jour, the former escort behind the anonymous Diary of a London Call Girl.

Foreigners are lied about.

For, according to a flurry of alarming reports, Eastern Europeans are stalking the creatures of the River Nene and, to the horror of local residents, are reputedly now targeting the city’s swans.

Rather than simply enjoying the spectacle of these majestic birds, it was claimed that immigrants see the swans as a rich source of food, and are trapping the birds, then roasting them on open fires along the river bank.

This isn’t a post criticising the Daily Mail. I don’t really do them anymore. This is a post criticising you. Everyone, in fact, including me.

The disabled get attacked:

As readers of this blog are well aware, there is a serious lack of accessible parking spaces available throughout the majority of the UK. Quite why the Daily Mail feel the need to promote an agenda to remove these spaces and replace them with parent and child parking is beyond me.

Every time you write or say that The Daily Mail “crossed a line” you’re wrong. This is the Mail’s modus operandi. If this time is different it’s because someone white and male was attacked who had a white, male and above all powerful son to do something about it.

Helping the weak and vulnerable is what matters. That’s why I’m left wing.  Defending dead Jewish intellectuals is sure fun, but you should all spend more time helping trans* people, gays, sex workers, women, the disabled, immigrants, and the poor.

Please can the press do their job?

I know you’ve all very excited you’ve just found out what twerking is (and that you can “legitimately” watch Robin Thinke’s video at work), but can everyone turn on their safesearch and do some war reporting please? Rules from here:

You Can’t Be Too Skeptical of Authority

  • Don’t assume anything administration officials tell you is true. In fact, you are probably better off assuming anything they tell you is a lie.
  • Demand proof for their every assertion. Assume the proof is a lie. Demand that they prove that their proof is accurate.
  • Just because they say it, doesn’t mean it should make the headlines. The absence of supporting evidence for their assertion — or a preponderance of evidence that contradicts the assertion — may be more newsworthy than the assertion itself.
  • Don’t print anonymous assertions. Demand that sources make themselves accountable for what they insist is true.

Provocation Alone Does Not Justify War

  • War is so serious that even proving the existence of a casus belli isn’t enough. Make officials prove to the public that going to war will make things better.
  • Demand to know what happens if the war (or tactical strike) doesn’t go as planned?
  • Demand to know what happens if it does? What happens after “victory”?
  • Ask them: Isn’t it possible this will make things worse, rather than better?

Be Particularly Skeptical of Secrecy

  • Don’t assume that these officials, with their access to secret intelligence, know more than you do.
  • Alternately, assume that they do indeed know more than you do – and are trying to keep intelligence that would undermine their arguments secret.

Watch for Rhetorical Traps

  • Keep an eye on how advocates of war frame the arguments. Don’t buy into those frames unless you think they’re fair.
  • Keep a particular eye out for the no-lose construction. For example: If we can’t find evidence of WMD, that proves Saddam is hiding them.
  • Watch out for false denials. In the case of Iran, when administration officials say “nobody is talking about invading Iran,” point out that the much more likely scenario is bombing Iran, and that their answer is therefore a dodge.

Don’t Just Give Voice to the Administration Officials

  • Give voice to the skeptics; don’t marginalize and mock them.
  • Listen to and quote the people who got it right last time: The intelligence officials, state department officials, war-college instructors and many others who predicted the problem we are now facing, but who were largely ignored.
  • Offer the greatest and most guaranteed degree of confidentiality to whisteblowers offering information that contradicts the official government position. (By contrast, don’t offer any confidentiality to administration spinners.)

Look Outside Our Borders

  • Pay attention to international opinion.
  • Raise the question: What do people in other countries think? Why should we be so different?
  • Keep an eye out for how the international press is covering this story. Why should we be so different?

Understand the Enemy

  • Listen to people on the other side, and report their position.
  • Send more reporters into the country we are about to attack and learn about their views, their politics and their culture.
  • Don’t allow the population of any country to be demonized. All humans deserve to be humanized.
  • Demand to know why the administration won’t open a dialogue with the enemy. Refusing to talk to someone you are threatening to attack should be considered inherently suspect behavior.

Encourage Public Debate

  • The nation is not well served when issues of war and peace are not fully debated in public. It’s reasonable for the press to demand that Congress engage in a full, substantial debate.
  • Cover the debate exhaustively and substantively.

Write about Motives

  • Historically, the real motives for wars have often not been the public motives. Try to report on the motivations of the key advocates for war.
  • Don’t assume that the administration is being forthright about its motives.
  • If no one in the inner circle will openly discuss their motives, then encourage reasonable speculation about their motives.

Talk to the Military

  • Find out what the military is being told to prepare for.


Is this OK?


Of course it’s not. But then I think this goes someway towards underlining the extent to which patriarchal societal norms are vigorously enforced by women for other women.

I haven’t read inside (pbuh), but I’m going to presume that OK’s focus is purely physical. There are many, severe mental health problems associated with childbirth. Many are covered here by NICE and they aren’t discussed enough.

So I thought I’d break my baby based silence to comment briefly on those two things.

How to guarantee your shiny new nuclear power plant is over budget

September 2012 - EPR reactor construction site - Flamanville, France © EDF, Morin Alexis

September 2012 – EPR reactor construction site – Flamanville, France © EDF, Morin Alexis

First of all, nuclear power is a safe and clean energy source. However, building nuclear power stations is really, really hard and they are often delivered over budget and behind schedule. You’d think, since we’re on the verge of building a new one at Hinkley Point, we’d be doing everything we can to make sure it’s done right. Right? Wrong. To incentivise its construction the government and EDF are doing everything they can to destroy any incentive of building to time and budget.

To understand energy investment in the UK today you need to understand the government’s energy market reform. Trust me I’ll keep it short and use bright colours.

The government doesn’t want to, and legally cannot, willy-nilly subsidise energy investment in the UK. One because they’re Tories and they don’t want any spending on balance sheet because they’ve fetishised the UK’s debt and two because EU state aid rules mean they’re just not allowed to subsidise private energy producers. In the next few years lots and lots of power stations are going to be retired because they’re old and nobody wants to replace them without a subsidy. We are at an impasse that leads to an energy crisis. Can an impasse lead somewhere? Yes. Shut up.

The solution is an elaborate system of contacts, payments, counterparties, bargaining, auctions and horseplay that we know as Electricity Market Reform. The system is really simple. You sign a contract agreeing to produce electricity and the government guarantees you for a set number of years a certain price per Megawatt hour. If the market price is below that contracted price consumers receive a surcharge on their bill, if the market price is above it they get a bonus. How often do you get the bonus? Shut up.


Eventually the contracts will be auctioned which should mean that payments to consumers occur roughly as much as payments from them. But to begin with the contracts will be negotiated. Because we’re in such a poor state generation wise we’re getting blackmailed by the French.

Taken from here.

Taken from here.

EDF want to build a nuclear power station using a reactor developed by Areva called the EPR. In order to build it is reported that EDF are to receive £93-96 per Megawatt hour. This is more than double the current market price of electricity. To justify the investment EDF claim to need an ex-ante internal return of around 10%. Their problem isn’t that a nuclear power plant is an unproductive investment, they produce a phenomenal amount of electricity. It’s the construction.

Olkiluoto, the first EPR to be built will be 200% over budget and six years late when complete. Flamanville, the second EPR will be about 150% over budget and 4 years late. Linear projects are a fool’s game, but fuck it, at this rate Hinkley Point C will be two years late and double the cost expected. Since the UK is desperate for new, low-carbon generation EDF know they have us over a barrel and a likely cost overrun on their hands. Hence why we’ll be paying them double the market price for electricity.

It doesn’t end there though. If you thought the incentives were bad enough as I’ve describe, it gets worse. To prevent massive windfall profits the government are going to insert a clause into the agreement which will allow for excess profits to be clawed back. Mull that one over.

If EDF build over budget they’ll make a modest profit because they’ve been guaranteed a high energy price.

If EDF build to budget they’ll make a modest profit because government will confiscate the payments consumers pay to EDF because they’ve been guaranteed a high energy price.

As well as being an arsebackwards roundabout way of getting you and me to subsidise the building of power stations it completely eviscerates any financial incentive for EDF to run the project to budget and to schedule. I’ve a soft spot for giant infrastructure projects, complicated engineering and carbon free electricity, but we are running this project like we want it to fail and to cost everyone a lot of money to get there.

What about a #Leveson looking at society?


Regulating the press is generally a shitty thing to do, but our press is generally shitty. This puts me in something of difficult position. Leveson looked into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press, but what about looking at the British people who maintain that press? The vast majority of the time the vast majority of the people get the press they want.

I have actually read the draft Royal Charter, beware those who haven’t (which is everyone, because it’s so dull). I dislike the regulation of the press on principle, but that there isn’t anything particularly dangerous in the charter other than this principle. It may ultimately be unworkable, but it isn’t currently oppressive. You can read my live tweeting of the Royal Charter here.

In principle a free press is vital to the functioning of a free society, but the press we have actually agitates for a more authoritarian world – war, misogyny, xenophobia etc. The Media category on this blog is not a nice place. But the basic problem isn’t that the press and journalists are evil. Its a problem of a system not a problem of individuals. It is also a problem of supply not demand.

You see, I largely read the Financial Times and lots of blogs (many of which cross check one another). This is because I want reliable, truthful and insightful writing. Most people don’t want this. They want digestible infotainment that reinforces their prejudices and are largely indifferent to whether it is true or not.

People might not say they’re indifferent to the truth, or that they enjoy being lied to, but one look at what sells reveals what people actually want. Consider two statistics: On the one hand, The Sun outsells the FT 10 to 1. On the other, there are 150,000 online only corporate subscriptions to the FT and I cannot even find a comparable number for The Sun.

This is because companies and people face different trade-offs. It really doesn’t matter to the public whether or not their political opinions are correct or whether their prejudices are challenged or reinforced. The costs of becoming less wrong are high (between work and leisure I spend thousands of hours a year on this), whereas the benefits are very small. I mean, have you read this blog?

For a company though the calculus is reversed. The FT provides a very good value service of high quality, well sourced, reliable news. The benefits of this are concentrated within the firm in the form of a better informed, more productive workforce. Regulation won’t make the FT a more truthful paper but it might make The Sun a less entertaining one.

I am highly sceptical of the pursuit of social progress through press regulation. Legal and social censure of explicit racism and sexism worked, but the regulation we are moving towards isn’t taking aim at anything so easily targetable. Stories like Zoe Margolis‘s libel by The Independent need to become less rare and there are provisions within the Royal Charter which should achieve this. But the amount of editorial control required to prevent newspapers meeting the demand for misleading news entirely would be too much to countenance. You may as well shut them all down.

Regulation will change the press, but not much because there is a demand for the press we have. There are no shortcuts, if we want to change the culture, practices and ethics of the British then we have to win arguments. It’s back to the grass roots I’m afraid. Get off this blog and go talk to some people and change their minds.