The End of the Barry Austin Story

Apropos of Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, let’s talk more about the biggest purveyors of awareness (whether right or wrong, fair or biased, accurate or ridiculous) — the media.

A decade ago, journalist Nick Harding wrote about Barry Austin, who had long held the title of Britain’s Fattest Man before losing it to someone else. To briefly recap, the 770-pound Austin was in physically terrible shape, unable to get out of bed, and “waiting to die.” He both loved and hated the constant barrage of media attention that had brought him to that place.

Harding made some pointed observations about the kind of “fatsploitation” that leads to morbidly obese people being “wheeled out on reinforced gurneys for our entertainment.” He also noted the irony of media programming that ostensibly warns against obesity while selling products that promote obesity.

After that article was published, Austin’s health improved and he became engaged, on Valentine’s Day, to his longtime sweetheart. Early in 2014, the same journalist wrote about the same morbidly obese fellow again.

At the time, he had pretty much been housebound for five years, with type 2 diabetes and an assortment of other health issues. Austin told Harding,

I am the best visual aid against overeating there is… I decided to do something not just for me but for other people and to raise awareness of obesity…

That is what Austin said at the age of 46, having made a New Year’s resolution to lose 450 pounds without bariatric surgery, although he did get some kind of a balloon inserted in his stomach at one point. At any rate, he aimed to become the poster boy for massive weight loss.

In 2013, he brought in personal trainer Donville Hendrix who outlined a diet to help with the mission. Apparently, for some period of time, Austin was going to a gym three times a week, which presented logistical problems because he could not fit into a car and had to be driven there in a minibus. At first, he could only exercise sitting down, and later could stand for a few minutes at a time, and then needed to sit again.

Together, the two men hoped to visit health centers and schools to talk about obesity issues, and a filmmaker was recruited to make a documentary about the effort. With any luck, maybe they could change the attitudes of people like the friends of Austin’s youth, who always encouraged him to enter the eating and drinking competitions that he invariably won. This was on top of a customary consumption of up to 29,000 daily calories.

When he inevitably became the fattest man in the United Kingdom, he enjoyed the infamy at first. No stranger to media attention, he was featured in the documentary “Inside Britain’s Fattest Man” as well as many other filmed works including a comedy-drama called “The Fattest Man in Britain.” By the time this 2014 interview was published, Austin was saying,

I could have a by-pass but I would feel like a cheat. It is a severe operation and not a quick and easy fix. My way is the more healthy way of doing it. I ate myself into this mess and I am going to diet and exercise myself out of it.

Sadly, he was unable to achieve that goal. Almost a year ago, at the age of only 52, Barry Austin died.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “World’s biggest natural loser?,” FridayMagazine.ae, 03/07/14
Source: “Britain’s former fattest man who ate 29,000 calories a day, drank 12 litres of soda a day and weighed 65 stone dies aged 52,” DailyMail.co.uk, 01/02/21
Image by milfodd/CC BY 2.0

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Presentations

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources