Kevan Christie: Judge politicians and officials by ability, not BMI

Jeane Freeman, the new Health Secretary, came under fire for allegedly smoking (Picture: John Devlin)
Jeane Freeman, the new Health Secretary, came under fire for allegedly smoking (Picture: John Devlin)
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The public shaming of NHS Scotland’s chief executive and our new Health Secretary – who were told to quit their bad habits and “practice what they preach” – overstepped the mark in terms of intruding into people’s private lives.

No doubt, Tam Fry, chair of the National Obesity Forum, and Glasgow University nutritional expert Professor Mike Lean have enjoyed the 15 minutes of fame that their rudeness brought them.

These paragons of virtue effectively ‘called-out’ Health Secretary Jeane Freeman for allegedly smoking, having previously made an attempt to quit, while NHS Scotland’s chief executive Paul Gray was outed as a ‘fatty’ and told to lose weight.

It’s not my concern if Freeman smokes like a laboratory beagle – as long as she does something about NHS waiting times and delayed discharge. The same goes for Gray. He could go home at night and attach himself to a Toblerone drip for all I care. The important question here is – can he do the job?

The calls from music hall double act Fry and Lean mark a worrying trend and do little to quell the sort of body fascism that leads to teenagers developing eating problems.

READ MORE: Kevan Christie: Jeane Freeman makes good start as Health Secretary

I wouldn’t hesitate to criticise the Health Secretary on these pages or the chief executive of the NHS for that matter, but would never dream of making it personal by commenting on their habits or appearance. Their personal choices are their own to make.

It fair to say both have risen to their posts through a combination of hard work and perseverance. The individuals in question are in key posts that bring a high degree of stress and it could be argued Freeman has the most difficult job in the Scottish Government.

Both are adults and, yes, both will know that smoking and obesity are killers. When they have time during the stressful lives they lead, they are probably trying to change bad habits – who isn’t?

But to be subjected to this kind of personal attack, which came out of left field, is preposterous and stuck out like a sore thumb in the current climate of political correctness.

Last December, a UK study estimated that one in four nurses are obese, and making a link between the long hours they work and their diet is easy to do. These dedicated health professionals probably eat on the go and are often too stressed and tired to rustle up a low-carb stir fry with extra quinoa.

READ MORE: Scots NHS ‘staffing crisis’ as thousands of nurses quit

Fry is on record as saying that “it’s absolutely essential that people in the public eye practise what they preach”. I don’t agree.

Granted it would be nice, but we’re in dangerous waters if people start getting employed based on their body mass index as opposed to their ability.

In fact, someone like Gray is the ideal person to talk about obesity as he has ownership of the problem and first-hand experience of the difficulties some people face in trying to lose weight.

We’re encroaching into similar territory as someone saying for instance, you can’t manage a Premiership football team unless you’ve played at the highest level – but Jose Mourinho has rubbished that kind of thinking.

And does anyone seriously believe Freeman is a role model for people to emulate? She’s not Beyoncé.

So, while I agree with Fry and Lean’s central message on health. I feel on this occasion there was no need to shoot the messengers.