The Olympics and an Unhealthy Interest in our Behaviour

First published in Huffington Post

The past couple of weeks have been a once-in-a-lifetime treat as we’ve witnessed the spectacle of incredible sporting feats performed by the world’s greatest athletes on our very own doorstep. Indeed, as a resident of E17 I was only a javelin throw away (or so) from the action. I was lucky enough to get tickets to see the legendary Usain Bolt in the 200m heats at the majestic Olympic Stadium and gold medalists Nicola Adams and Katie Taylor in action at the Excel Centre.

Meanwhile, far from joining in the celebrations or marvelling at the extraordinary spectacle of the London 2012 Olympics; the behaviour-police achieved new lows in unfounded and unrelentinglymiserable opportunism. The Games became an unlikely vehicle for tackling everything from child obesity to climate change. We were told that what might look like sports fans were in fact sex tourists exploiting young immigrant women; or drink-fuelled domestic abusers, and carriers of sexually transmitted diseases and a potential flu pandemic.

Neville Rigby, convenor of the highly dubious sounding International Obesity Forum wrote a piece for The Guardian in which he claimed: ‘the Olympic dream is a nightmare that ignores the reality of today’s obesity epidemic’ by allowing ‘peddlers of junk food’ to sponsor the event. That’s Cadbury and Coca Cola to you and me. ‘Successive governments’, he continued, are guilty of ‘swallowing the big food companies’ mantra that healthy eating is all about personal choice’. If that’s the case, then along with the occasional dairy cream egg and diet coke, Neville … so am I!

Rigby was seemingly outraged that anybody, especially an evil multinational, should contradict the received wisdom of the government’s Change4Life campaign. But he shouldn’t have worried. Its instructions for healthy living were given a new lease of life with the Games4Life campaign. Apparently concerned that we might be enjoying ourselves too much this summer with Euro 2012 and then the Olympics of all things keeping us entertained, 2.6 million activity packs were reportedly distributed in an attempt to get people off their well-worn sofas.

For all the hysterical nonsense about how are lives are ruled by the ‘peddlers’ of fizzy drinks and chocolate bars, it is in reality the political class and the state who are really worth worrying about. It is they, and their hectoring friends who are treating us like naughty school children who don’t know what’s good for us. For instance, health secretary Andrew Lansley is reportedly supportive of the so-called ‘make every contact count‘ plan. As Professor Steve Field, chair of the NHS Future Forum explains: ‘A routine dental checkup or eye test … is a chance to offer advice to help someone stop smoking … Collecting medication from a pharmacy is a chance to offer someone help with cutting down on alcohol. A pre-surgery checkup is an opportunity to talk over concerns about smoking, diet and physical activity.’

Is it really any surprise that ‘lifestyle rationing’ is beginning to undermine the notion that all are equally deserving of care and treatment in the NHS, when the medical profession are being urged to take an unhealthy interest in the way people choose to live their lives? When asked ‘Should the NHS be allowed to refuse non-emergency treatments to patients unless they lose weight or stop smoking?’ over half of doctors responded yes.

Amid all this self-righteous puritanical anti-Olympic spirit I was disappointed to have missed what must have been a laugh at the behaviour-changers expense. The Fattylympics featured the actor who played Roland in children’s TV series Grange Hill back in the 1980s. With events including ‘Rolling with Roland’, ‘Chub-robics’ and ‘Spitting on the Body Mass Index Chart’, it was the kind of irreverent, sacred-cow slaughtering stunt that autonomy advocates like myself would like to see more of.

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