Channel 4’s prying birthathon One Born Every Minute ventured into the realms of fatsploitation when it returned last night with a weightier edition. One Born: Plus Size Mums confounds the viewer into a paralytic state of morbid curiosity, rubbernecking three obese mothers as they prepare to give birth.
Pregnant women often crave types of food during pregnancy but even so, alarming figures show that almost a fifth of British mothers-to-be are clinically obese. As well as the threat of their baby dying, these women face increased risks of haemorrhages, high blood pressure and deep vein thrombosis.
Not that police switchboard operator Jenna seems too fussed. “You go on about it and it makes you want to eat!” she laughs, inexplicably. “Go and get me a bar of chocolate!” Jenna, it turns out, weighs 21 stone and lives in Middlesbrough, so it’s no wonder she’s so blasé about the harrowing threat of deep vein thrombosis.
In fact it emerges that Jenna is in a state of complete denial, frequently querying why the nurses are so alarmed about her weight. Although Jenna’s condition poses danger to her unborn child like heavy smoking would, it’s clear that obesity remains a taboo area, with nurses careful to tread on eggshells whenever they are forced to bring up the subject for fear of upsetting sensitive patients.
Foster mum Lucy has a body mass index of 57, over twice that of a ‘healthy’ person. To put things into perspective, morbid obesity registers at 40 on the BMI scale. Her weight has soared during pregnancy and she is in danger of getting blood clots.
Geordie, Anne weighs 19 stone, and looks and sounds like a crumpled Vic Reeves. Unlike Jenna and Lucy, she has managed to maintain a steady weight during her pregnancy.
I spent most of my time watching the programme utterly confounded by how anyone could get so big. Not in a judgemental way you must understand, but out of general bafflement. You’d have to be knocking back a Herculean amount of calories on a daily basis. It’s as if these women saw Morgan Spurlock shovelling three Big Macs-a-day down his throat in Super Size Me and mistook the footage for NHS-approved dietary advice.
All three women are from working class backgrounds, but there’s not much context here. Many questions are left unanswered. Why are one in five pregnant women morbidly obese? Could increased measures be taken to educate people about nutrition in order to curb high rates of obesity?
The fly-on-the-wall nature of the show results in it veering unavoidably towards exploitation of its subjects; attempts at heartrending fat-trauma are undermined with clips of the women pining for junk food, purely so that the audience can sneer at them. The programme is sympathetic, but always has one eye on entertaining the viewer and fails to delve deep into wider issues surrounding obesity.