A former BBC presenter sparked widespread outrage on social media this week after he said that obesity is caused by overeating and suggested that fat people should be allowed to die in order to save taxpayers money on health care costs.
Michael Buerk, 77, made the remarks in a recent article for Radio Times magazine, British outlet Sky News reported. Averring that obesity should not be classified as a disease, he called on society to “leave couch potatoes alone” because they are “weak, not ill.”
The veteran broadcaster said fat people who died would be making a “selfless sacrifice” to alleviate overpopulation and bring down costs for the National Health Service, England’s publicly funded national healthcare system.
“How much would he or she cost if, instead of keeling over with a heart attack at 52, they live to a ripe, dementia-ridden old age, requiring decades of expensive care?” Buerk averred.
According to Public Health England, a government agency whose mission is “to protect and improve the nation’s health and to address inequalities,” the NHS spends £6.1 billion annually on overweight and obesity-related ill-health costs.
Buerk rejected the notion that society should “reduce the stigma (of) fatness,” instead directly addressing obese individuals with a blunt message: “You’re fat because you eat too much.”
Michael Buerk ignites the ire of fat positive activists
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Buerk’s comments proved controversial. London-based journalist Gillian Fisher penned an opinion piece for the British tabloid Metro, in which she drew from her own experience as an overweight individual to slam Buerk for his “thoughtless and misplaced aspersions” of fat people.
“This blame mentality, that being fat is automatically a problem and is something you ought to change again reinforces the negative view of fatness,” Fisher wrote. “It fails completely to address how challenging weight loss can be, especially if emotional issues or personal problems underlie your relationship with food, as is the case with me.”
The debate over the science of fatness is complex. The question of whether obesity is a disease or a choice is complicated, but most modern experts, including the American Medical Association, generally classify it as the former. And while some critics have argued that we shouldn’t equate being fat with being unhealthy, studies show that obese individuals are “at increased risk for adverse health outcomes, when compared to individuals of normal weight.”
Several commenters accused the one-time news anchor of “shaming” fat people.
Michael Buerk spectacularly misunderstanding the many causes of obesity. His opinion piece has so many things wrong with it: "it's the poor that are porky", "healthy food is cheaper", "they're weak". Plus the fat-shaming language is uncalled for. Just nasty. pic.twitter.com/KbQBBE4AXD
— (((Snigdha))) (@snigskitchen) August 6, 2019
“Perhaps the RLNI shouldn’t be a resource available to overpaid BBC misogynist’s that twat about on their 43 foot Yacht. The gender equality ratio would certainly improve if we let these old buffoons just die out at sea,” wrote one commenter.
Others accused called Buerk a “nazi” or suggested he’d committed a “hate crime.”
If this was written about any other aspect of health, it would be a hate crime.
Why aren't all of you shouting about this? Maybe you don't care either? I'm very angry this morning. #PublicHealth #Obesity https://t.co/oemWC5o73E?
— Fiona Quigley (@FionaQuigs) August 6, 2019
In recent years the emergence of fat acceptance and body positivity activist campaigns, which borrow much of their mentality from progressive social justice movements, has added yet another layer of complexity to the issue. At the extreme end of such movements, some activists have claimed that there are racist dimensions to how society and the scientific community views “fat bodies.”
- Former BBC presenter Michael Buerk, British journalist Gillian Fisher.: Screengrab/Twitter