OEN Trustees are delighted to announce Dame Jenni Murray as Patron of the Network at our Annual General Meeting 2022. In this post, Jenni shares why the OEN mission matters to her and how she hopes to see things change for people affected by obesity.

Why does the mission of OEN matter to you?

It matters to me because I have had horrendous experiences living with obesity, and I don’t want others to have the experiences I’ve had. We must stop fat-shaming and we have to improve the treatment that is available for those suffering from obesity.

My most recent book is called ‘Fat Cow, Fat Chance’, which is a strong title, chosen because of the many times I would be walking down the street, riding my bike, or sitting at the lights in my Mini, and some bloke would shout ‘Fat cow’ or ‘Eh, love, who ate all the pies?’. Currently hate crime laws don’t protect people suffering from obesity from this verbal abuse. I want to get the message out that we have got to stop shaming people and understand why some of us can eat a whole bowl of chips and not put on an ounce, and people like me can look at one chip and put on a stone.

I’ve been on every diet known to woman. I would lose a lot of weight and then put it all back on again. But what I learned when I started to study the science is that our metabolic system works to ensure we put that weight back on and more, unless we measure every ounce of what we eat. I’ve realised that obesity is a disease with complicated origins, and body weight isn’t simply about energy and energy out. We need effective prevention, and we need treatments that address the metabolic dysfunction and psychological challenges when a person has obesity. When I had breast cancer and had a mastectomy, nobody questioned whether the NHS should be spending money on that surgical treatment. But when it comes to treating obesity, there is an opinion that the NHS shouldn’t spend money on treating ‘fat’, ‘lazy’ people. We’re not fat, we’re not lazy. We’re suffering from a disease and metabolic surgery was the treatment I needed.

What does empowerment mean to you?

Understanding. Knowing that your weight isn’t your fault. That you aren’t greedy or lazy, but that the causes of obesity are a complex interplay of multiple factors and include factors which are completely outside of our control (genetics, the environment, the food industry, our hormones, gut microbiome, and psychology). Understanding that obesity is a disease and getting treatment. And understanding that healthy body shapes can vary.

What changes would you like to see to improve the health and lives of people living with obesity?

Firstly, I would like to see people being far more sympathetic to those of us who have this problem, and not disparaging and denigrating us in the way that they currently do. 

Second, I would like to see bariatric/metabolic surgery made much more accessible on the NHS. 

Currently, you must go through a year of being told things you already know, i.e., what you’re supposed to eat and not supposed to eat, whether you’re supposed to exercise, how you’re supposed to exercise… When all you want is the operation that will help you lose weight by changing your metabolism. 

There has been so much resistance to making these operations easier to obtain. It is hard to understand this resistance, as the operations cost ~£10,000 and totally pay for themselves within three years. For example, they help prevent type two diabetes and other terrible problems that we know damage the health of people living with obesity: when people have bariatric/metabolic surgery, they don’t get type two diabetes because their body starts working differently. So, the accessibility of bariatric surgery is one of the most important things I would like to change.

The other thing I’d like to see change that’s come up recently is obesity among children. I worry terribly about children being shamed for being overweight. Also, I feel very strongly that parents need to be supported to feed their children fresh nutritious food.

How do you think those affected by obesity can be involved in bringing this change?

I think it’s vital that we have individuals, such as our OEN Champions, who can educate others about obesity, its causes and how upsetting it is to be stigmatised. Professionals in hospitals, GPs, nurses working in the community, anyone working in a care setting, need to understand the complexity of obesity and how devastating it can be for children and adults to experience weight-based stigma. There are ways of using language that is empathetic, and the stigma has got to go. Champions’ voices are vital for this.

Dame Jenni Murray is the former presenter of Woman’s Hour who suffered the stigma of obesity for many years before having metabolic surgery and reducing from 24 to 14 stones. She is the author of Fat Cow, Fat Chance: the science and psychology of size.

A statement from the Trustees:

We would like to thank Dame Jenni Murray for her support of OEN UK and commitment to improving the health and lives of people affected by obesity through empowering their voice. It is an honour to welcome Dame Jenni as our first Patron and we look forward to working together in the years to come.

Professor Rachel Batterham, Chair of Trustees