Obesity, Awareness, and Media

During Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, it is useful to consider some wider and deeper reflections on awareness, which is a neutral term in itself. However, seen as a spectrum, the quality of awareness can stretch from positive to negative. People have many different thoughts about the effect that so much media awareness of obesity has had, over the years. Take Barry Austin, for instance. When asked about his career, Google comes up with such gems as, “Related searches — how many times a day does Barry have bowel movements?” Think of it as just one of the many prices of fame.

A broadcaster named Tom Ross is quoted as saying, “Barry’s weight was an issue for some people, but never for him… Barry was always happy within himself…” Really? Among other things said by Britain’s fattest man:

I have let a lot of people down over the years…
I have really messed people about saying I was going to change, but never doing anything about it, and I know I have hurt a lot of people.
People need to know how dangerous obesity is. It is an illness…
I feel desperately sorry for people who get trapped in the cycle of over-eating because I know what they are going through…
I have no one else to blame for the state I am in but myself.

In 2014 a journalist confirmed, “Barry admits that for much of his life he has been eating himself to death.” And in a piece whose title included the words “perilously ill” and “bitter remorse,” Dr. Ellie Connon wrote of how, unable to breathe properly and suffering the effects of multiple infections, Austin regretted his “misguided quest for fame.”

He realized, or at least felt it was appropriate to say, that weighing several hundred pounds was not actually the “badge of honor” it had previously seemed. Dr. Connon wrote,

For Barry, a film or photoshoot became the only reason to make the considerable effort to go out. But he concedes: ‘TV shows didn’t help me. They put me up in a hotel and said eat and drink whatever you like. It was like giving a heroin addict drugs.’

It seems unsurprising that Barry finds a great deal of affirmation in fame.

“Everyone knowing who you are, giving you respect and love, that’s a nice feeling,” he says.

Yes, perhaps a bit too nice, when the respect and love are given for reasons that are ultimately harmful. In his youth, Austin received attention and praise for consuming more than any other eating contest entrant. Later, he garnered the same rewards for making a public spectacle of his efforts to lose weight. Apparently, both kinds of acclamation could prove to be equally toxic.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Britain’s ex-fattest man’s last message to friend before his tragic death at 52,” Mirror.co.uk, 01/02/21
Source: “World’s biggest natural loser?,” FridayMagazine.ae, 03/07/14
Source: “Bitter remorse of Britain’s fattest man,” DailyMail.co.uk, 12/07/13
Image by Snap/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.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


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.

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