Health minister: poor people are obese

Anna Soubry

Health Minister, Anna Soubry, will have done little to enhance the caring reputation of the Conservatives, after she said you can spot poor people because they are more likely to be fat.

So why did she say this, and is she shockingly out-of-touch, or is she right?

Her argument

Soubry, the Conservative MP for Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire, made her comments to the Daily Telegraph. She said that when she was growing up you could tell who was poor at school because they were so skinny. Now she says it's "deeply ironic" that these children tend to be the fat ones in the classroom.

She told the newspaper: "When I go to my constituency, in fact when I walk around, you can almost now tell somebody's background by their weight," she said. "Obviously, not everybody who is overweight comes from deprived backgrounds but that's where the propensity lies."

She identified the problems as bad manners in poor households where there is a culture of "TV dinners" which has meant children no longer eat proper dinners around a dining room table. She added that as junk food tends to be cheap parents think this is the solution to feeding their children.

She had told a conference that she was calling on manufacturers to voluntarily cut the fat, sugar and salt in food or that she would launch legislation in order to force them to do so.

However, she told the newspaper that parents had a responsibility to feed their children healthily too, and to ditch TV dinners for structure and routine of proper meals around a proper dining room table.

So is she right?

Department of Health statistics would indicate that there's an element of truth to what she is saying. Some 24% of the poorest 11-year-olds in England are obese - compared to 14% of the wealthiest. The Office for National Statistics has confirmed the link, especially for children.

However, the relationship between poverty and obesity is a strange one. The Department's figures show that the groups in society which are least likely to be obese are poor men and rich women. Meanwhile, the Economic and Social Research Council has concluded that a focus on learning instead of play and the prevalence of car ownership means that children in the wealthiest families are likely to be increasingly obese too.


The rate of obesity among poorer children is not simply the result of poor parenting and a lack of structure, it is a combination of a host of factors.

First, junk food is cheap. Of course you could have a healthy home-made organic soup for the price of a kebab, but it wouldn't fill you up - and it wouldn't satisfy your family. On a calorie-per-penny basis, a kebab is going to do the job far more effectively. In poorer families, obesity isn't your main concern... it's hunger.

A study presented to the American Council on Consumer Interests confirmed that this is the reason why women and children of poorer families fill up on fat-laden, cheap food.

The reason why this is different to the days when Soubry was growing up was that in the interim globalization has made fats cheaper.

Second, poorer areas tend to have more junk food outlets and fewer sources of cheap healthy food. It's ironic that you're going to pay more for fruit and vegetables somewhere more deprived than in an affluent area.

Third, poverty and obesity are both often symptoms of the same things. People are not in a position to make positive choices about their life: they are on benefits, in a property that has been allocated to them, leading a life they never wanted, and eating the foods they find easiest.

And fourth, when income is uncertain, people are likely to make different nutritional decisions. If this could be your last decent meal for a while, you're going to make the most of it.


These factors mean that it isn't just a question of coercing parents into feeding the kids fruit, and demanding they sit at a table in order to do so, it's a case of solving these problems.

Parents need to be informed and helped so that they know how to buy and cook healthy and filling food for less. A study for the American Society for Clinical Nutrition by Adam Drewnowski and SE Specter found that education had a far bigger impact on the quality of diet than income did.

Meanwhile, the cost of filling, tasty and healthy alternatives needs to be subsidised in poorer areas, so it becomes the natural and sensible choice for anyone on a budget.

Without these changes, Soubry banging on about TV dinners isn't going to do the slightest bit of good.

But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

10 of the biggest consumer rip-offs
See Gallery
Health minister: poor people are obese

Using a mobile phone to make and receive calls, send texts and browse the web while abroad can be extremely costly – especially if you are travelling outside the European Union (EU), where calls can cost up to 10 times as much as at home.

To avoid high charges, Carphone Warehouse suggests tourists ensure a data cap is in place, use applications to check data usage, turn off 'data roaming', avoid data-intensive applications such as Google Maps and YouTube and use wi-fi spots to update social networking sites.

Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) is supposed to help people to continue meeting their loan, mortgage or credit card repayments if they fall ill or lose their jobs. However, policies are often over-priced, riddled with exclusions and sold to people who could not make a claim if they needed to.

At one point, sale of this cover - which was often included automatically in loan repayments - was estimated to boost the banks' profits by up to £5 billion a year.
Now, though, consumers who were mis-sold PPI can fight back by complaining to the bank or lender concerned and taking their case to the Financial Ombudsman Service (08000 234567) should the response prove unsatisfactory.

It could be you, but let's face it, it probably won't be. In fact, buying a ticket for the Lotto only gives you a 1 in 13.9 million chance of winning the jackpot.

With odds like that, you would almost certainly be better off hanging on to your cash and saving it in a high-interest account.

No-frills airlines such as EasyJet may promote rock-bottom prices on their websites. But the overall fare you pay can be surprisingly high once extras such as luggage and credit card payment fees have been added - a process known as drip pricing.

Taking one piece of hold baggage on a return EasyJet flight, for example, adds close to £20 to the cost of your flight, while paying by credit card increases the price by a further £10.
It may therefore be worth comparing the total cost with that of a flight with a standard airline such as British Airways.

Cash advances, which include cash withdrawals, are generally charged at a much higher rate of interest than standard purchases.

While the average credit card interest rate is around 17%, a typical cash withdrawal of £500, for example, is charged at more than 26%.
What's more, as the interest accrues from the date of the transaction, rather than the next payment date, costs will mount up even if you clear your balance in full with your next payment.

Supermarkets such as Tesco and Asda often run promotions under which you can, for example, get three products for the price of two.

However, it is only worth taking advantage of these deals if you will actually use the products. Otherwise, you are simply buying for the sake of it, which is a waste of your hard-earned cash.
To avoid paying over the odds, it is also worth checking the price per kilo to ensure that larger 'economy' packs really are cheaper than the smaller versions.

Buy a train ticket at the station on the day of travel and the price is likely to give you a shock - especially if you are travelling a long distance at a busy time of day.

However, you can cut the cost of train travel by 50% or more by going online and making the purchase beforehand - especially if you book 12 weeks in advance, which is when the cheapest tickets are on sale.
Other ways to reduce the price you pay include avoiding peak times and taking advantage of so-called carnet tickets, which allow you to buy, for example, 12 journeys for the price of 10.

Most High Street banks offer packaged accounts that come with monthly fees ranging from £6.50 up to as much as £40, with a typical account charging about £15 per month.

Various benefits, such as travel insurance and mobile phone insurance, are offered in return for this fee. But whether or not it is worth paying for them depends on your individual circumstances.
Before signing up, it is therefore essential to check that you will make use of enough of the benefits, and that you cannot get them for less elsewhere.

Overseas money transfers or travel money purchases attract the same high rate of interest as credit card cash withdrawals.

Worse still, most credit cards – and debit cards – also charge you a foreign loading fee if you use them to make purchases while abroad.
You can, however, avoid these charges by using a Saga Platinum or Nationwide Building Society credit card.

Numbers starting 0871 cost 10p or more from a landline, while those starting 09 can cost more than £1 a minute from a mobile phone.

And the operators of these high-cost phone lines, some of which are banks, often get a cut of the call charges.
Most 09 numbers are linked to scams and should therefore be avoided at all costs, while 0871 numbers can often be bypassed by searching for an alternative local rate numbers on the
Read Full Story