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The year in issues: Obesity
The US elections, the insurgency in Iraq, Yasser Arafat's death, this year had its big news stories. But what else made a splash in 2004?

The BBC News website looks at some of the issues that got the pundits pondering this year. Click on the links below to find out more.

Video terror




World War II

Role of the blog


Fat was never far away in 2004, with warnings of an obesity epidemic sounding across the globe.

While some challenged the notion that being overweight was necessarily a problem, the key question for debate was who should bear responsibility - the state, the food industry, or indeed, the individual.

Have we become obsessed?

Accusatory fingers were fast pointed at fast food peddlers. US filmmaker Morgan Spurlock tapped into this sentiment with his box office hit Supersize Me, a documentary aimed squarely at McDonald's which premiered in January.

The film followed the 25lb weight gain of Spurlock as he munched his way through the Golden Arches' menu - eating three meals a day at the chain and consuming every item available at least once. Each time he was asked by a server if he wanted the supersize option, he gladly accepted.

His critics pointed out that no-one was forced into McDonald's - and quite free to refuse the larger portion once inside. Nonetheless the supersize option was soon wiped from the menu - although not, McDonald's added, as a result of the film. The chain phased out its biggest portions at the same time as it introduced a range of healthier choices such as salad and yogurts.

But it was not enough for the British government at any rate, who insisted in a range of proposals to combat obesity unveiled in November that there should be restrictions on junk food advertising. The plans also included a colour coding system for shoppers to help them distinguish between "good" and "bad" food, and the offer of a free personal health trainer for every citizen.

It prompted cries of nanny statism from some, although others felt they did not go far enough.

Australia is a paradox when it comes to physical activity. There is nothing binds us together as a nation quite like our love of sport. Yet we have alarmingly high levels of obesity
John Howard
Australian PM

The US had earlier in the year moved to establish obesity as a matter not just for the large individual, but for the nation at large. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, a self-confessed obesity obsessive, declared the condition to be "a critical public health problem in our country" when he announced that the federal Medicare health care programme would abandon a long-standing policy that obesity was not a disease.

This opened the door for millions of overweight Americans to make medical claims for treatments to help them shed the pounds, financed by the taxpayer. But the move was not uncontentious - forging an unlikely union of overweight people, social libertarians and food industry representatives who argued that branding obesity as a disease exaggerated the health risks, stigmatised the fat - and made a mockery of the notion of personal responsibility.

Even Africa, where millions are starving, was not left off the anti-obesity campaigners' map. The International Association for the Study of Obesity declared obesity to be on a par with HIV and malnutrition in the continent, noting that in South Africa the condition was as serious as in the US.

But not everybody bemoaned the apparent crisis. Indeed Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe allegedly saw potential in the world's expanding waistlines. According to reports, he expressed interest this year in the idea of "obesity tourism" - bringing in fat people from overseas so they can shed weight working on farms seized from white Zimbabweans.


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