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Fed up with fat abuse

Louisa Compton | 09:44 UK time, Monday, 30 March 2009

We're talking to two members of the Chawner family this morning - they've been the subject of ridicule in the national newspapers over the past couple of weeks because the four of them together weigh over 80 stone, none of them works and they claim tens of thousands of pounds in benefits. In their home town of Blackburn when they go out they are subject to abuse. They're on the programme today to put their side of the story. You can watch a video of them here:

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We spoke to the family this morning. You can hear the interview here:

5live's Rowan Bridge went to meet the family.

"Emma Chawner is responsible for one of the most famous (or infamous) renditions of Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On. The nineteen year old from Blackburn first came to the nation's attention two years ago when she first applied for The X Factor. In a memorable audition she was roundly condemned for both her dress sense and singing abilities by Simon Cowell. He described the dress she was wearing as "like a wedding dress, and then you sang the song out of tune and a bit like a baby". But Emma and her family say the criticism dished out by the judges was nothing compared to the abuse that they have suffered since. Sitting at her laptop, Emma shows me a Facebook group set up about the family. The tone is set by the title: "Get off your fat ass Emma Chawner and your fat family and get a job". It's got over three and a half thousand members, and contains a string of comments describing the family as fat, lazy and sponging off the state.

"It's disgusting, they need to get a life, " Emma told me. "They just hate me because I was on The X Factor. They believe the papers which isn't true. There was a comment on there which said 'Iif I see Emma Chawner I'll kill her' and that upset me and I ran upstairs crying." The family say they have become so concerned about the abuse they're facing that they've contacted the police.

Emma's father Phillip pulls out a stack of newspapers to show me what they've had written about them. Flicking through the pages, the headlines all talk about their size and the fact that they're on benefits. "Introducing the lardbuckets....all that is wrong with Britain", "83st family's too fat to work and too busy watching TV to diet", "The real Tellytubbies".

But Mr Chawner insists that what's been in the papers is inaccurate. He says they have never asked for more money, and the four of them get between £10,000-£12,000 a year in benefits, not the £22,000 quoted in the press. When we were at their house filming they didn't want to pour milk on a bowl of cereal for the cameras. They were trying to make the packet last a bit longer and didn't want to throw any away.

What is beyond doubt is that the four members of the family are morbidly obese, with a combined weight of over eighty stone. But Mr Chawner insists that's down to medical problems, and not their diet. "It's not what I have been eating. I was 27 stone and I am down to 22. I have actually lost weight. They (the family) don't eat a rubbish diet. Emma doesn't eat in the morning, she doesn't eat nothing. We just eat healthy foods, salads, and that's it really. I don't eat that much at all."

Emma's mum Audrey takes me into the kitchen to look through the cupboards. There are packets of crisps and biscuits, alongside packets of soup, tins of steak and kidney pie, ketchup and crispbread. The fridge has a whole chicken, carrots, lettuce and semi-skimmed milk in it. "We have all tried dieting, even they girls. They don't gorge themselves on bars of chocolate...People look at me, they stare at you. It does still hurt deep down inside, and I am sorry, it is just making me feel really hurt and upset. Sometimes I sit there feeling quite hurt that they can't leave my daughters or any of my family alone. I hope people are going to listen to this. As I say, we do not scoff ourselves with chocolate or any fattening foods, we just eat what we enjoy and we only have one big meal a day."

The family say they are still pleased with their appearance on The X Factor and felt proud when Emma was invited back for the finale of the fourth season. But while they may have enjoyed the fleeting fame of the show, the fallout from the publicity they have had since is proving much harder to handle."


  • 1. At 10:13am on 30 Mar 2009, laughingmarmalade wrote:

    lol, classic! never eats a single fatty food but has peanuts and crisps in the cupboard.

    Another one of the "its never my fault" brigade

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  • 2. At 10:17am on 30 Mar 2009, CAPTAIN256 wrote:


    These people are in denile. I am 16 stone. This morning I woke up at 6am and got down to the Gym. They need to get off their backside and exercise.

    Eat less Excersise more

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  • 3. At 10:22am on 30 Mar 2009, zelda wrote:

    Why were these people brought to the medias attention in the fist place? How did they come to be being discussed on national radio?

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  • 4. At 10:24am on 30 Mar 2009, mikeelmes wrote:

    "They (the family) don't eat a rubbish diet. Emma doesn't eat in the morning, she doesn't eat nothing. We just eat healthy foods, salads, and that's it really. I don't eat that much at all."

    By not eating in the morning, Emmas metabolism doesn't get going. So when she's lounging on the sofa, her body is burning less calories than it would have done if she'd had a breafast of fresh fruit. They state in the video thewy eat salads and potatos for lunch and a curry for tea. A CURRY? They class that as healthy? Do they have any idea of how much fat is in a curry.

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  • 5. At 10:24am on 30 Mar 2009, Graham wrote:

    It's got to be about energy in and energy out.
    You have to burn more calories than you eat. Simple. You can eat what you like so long as you burn more calories.
    Why not set a target of doing a 10km sponsored fun run? Start with walking and build up to it over the course of a year. You'd do a lot for charity, lose weight, prove yourselves to everyone (including yourselves) regain self-confidence...and be more capable of getting a job at the end of it.

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  • 6. At 10:26am on 30 Mar 2009, mikeelmes wrote:

    They need education on nutrition, a fitness regime and benefits to be withdrawn. At the moment they have no incentive to lose weight, everything is given to them on a plate (no pun intended). If they were made to lose weight to work, I think they might have more inclination to get off the sofa and into work.

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  • 7. At 10:29am on 30 Mar 2009, laughingmarmalade wrote:

    "At the moment they have no incentive to lose weight"


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  • 8. At 10:31am on 30 Mar 2009, respectedgraham wrote:

    Yes people can be cruel and there is no excuse for others making 'cruel' comments but I do feel that they are manipulating the system. Several of their answers seem to rather suspect...lack of support from GP, fatty products left in the cupboard but not used, the use of an 'agent'.....come off it. Let the NHS carry out a 'fat removal op.' and provide a 'gastric belt' and let them get on with providing for themselves.

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  • 9. At 10:39am on 30 Mar 2009, masambuulah wrote:

    hope the family have learnt a hard lesson in going on the x factor looking for fame and fortune.

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  • 10. At 10:40am on 30 Mar 2009, chedgefa wrote:

    I happen to agree with a previous comment. Why is this on national radio? Why are the media even interested? They have an agent? Why? I don't understand.

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  • 11. At 10:45am on 30 Mar 2009, masambuulah wrote:

    it means there are people out there who think going on such programmes will bring them fame and fortune like jade goody,chanelle and the one who married the pop star for a year,not all will prosper from such sister is as big as these and works full time plus overtime.

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  • 12. At 10:52am on 30 Mar 2009, laughingmarmalade wrote:

    why are they buying ready meals when they are at home all day and have all day to prepare a proper nutritious meal

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  • 13. At 10:54am on 30 Mar 2009, mazphd wrote:

    'weight watchers curry'. Not necessarily a good 'healthy option' . Check the sugar content. Ultimately though, the Chawder's need not change their diet, just their attitude to food AND exercise.

    To begin they could start running, join a gym, find exercise classes that appeal and without changing their diet they WILL lose weight.

    Exercise is the most important thing. So is breakfast.

    Chawder's if you want to do it, you will. good luck!

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  • 14. At 10:57am on 30 Mar 2009, Schrodinger56 wrote:

    Sorry but that interview was so one sided. Did the researcher deliberately prevent more "hostile" callers from getting through and talking to this family and only allow the "nice sympathetic" ones.

    Also were this family paid to do this interview?

    Come on Victoria lets have some balance in your phone-ins.


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  • 15. At 11:00am on 30 Mar 2009, newsnightmum wrote:

    How depressing to hear, yet again, that people are fat through no fault of their own. It is such a simple issue, people. Eat less, move around more. You will lose weight. Their explanations were laughable and they have brought their problems on themselves. That said, they should not be subject to abuse because of their size.

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  • 16. At 11:02am on 30 Mar 2009, nursek wrote:

    You are what you eat!
    This family sound to me like they are in denial or they are lying.
    Why have they got high fat snacks in their cupboard? Of course they eat them! If the food is not there they can't eat it- throw it away!

    No breakfast- first rule of healthy eating is to have a healthy breakfast.

    What expense to the NHS.....!!!! When they are older they will become bedbound- we will ALL be paying for them at the expense of genuinely ill people. I am a nurse and have first hand experience of this.

    They need help!
    I hope they are able to change their ways for all our sakes.

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  • 17. At 11:03am on 30 Mar 2009, Sarnia wrote:

    Puerile radio, I'm afraid. These people aren't the slightest interested in losing weight/getting work and you fall for it hook, line and sinker.

    Surely the red light should have gone on when the fact that they have an agent became apparent?

    Take that caller's offer up - let him find employment for them within 24 hours and I bet you anything they'll find an excuse why they can't do it.

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  • 18. At 11:06am on 30 Mar 2009, Sarnia wrote:

    P.S. The clocks went forward yesterday - this website needs adjusting.

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  • 19. At 11:09am on 30 Mar 2009, Saywood wrote:

    Verbally abusing them is a bit much, but I can understand people's frustrations, especially when there's so many people out there desperately trying to find work (myself included), it's not nice to see people who are seemingly quite content to sit by and live off the system, but to abuse them in public is taking it too far. Does sound like an excuse mentality though, I don't think they should be vilified for being fat, I'm fat too, but they do need to wake up and face reality. I'm only taking baby steps to weight loss, but it's gotta be done slowly if you want to keep the weight off.

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  • 20. At 12:08pm on 30 Mar 2009, IanMichaels wrote:

    I thought that you could only get a free KitKat mug (as seen in the video) from collecting KitKat wrappers. I must be mistaken though as they don't eat any of that "junk food".

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  • 21. At 12:26pm on 30 Mar 2009, WeAreTheIndustry wrote:

    20. At 11:08am on 30 Mar 2009, IanMichaels wrote:
    I thought that you could only get a free KitKat mug (as seen in the video) from collecting KitKat wrappers. I must be mistaken though as they don't eat any of that "junk food".


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  • 22. At 12:30pm on 30 Mar 2009, irjmorris wrote:

    Just don't believe what they say their food intake is and if they are not working and only watching a few hours of TV during the evening then what on earth are they doing the rest of the day.
    Hope that bloke who says he can get them one as I will be so amused with the reason why they can't take it.
    They are just lazy..........i will omit the last two words that end that sentence

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  • 23. At 1:05pm on 30 Mar 2009, TalkfromExperience wrote:

    I know this family from when they lived in Ramsbottom. If they spent more time exercising and looking for a job than walking round with a video camera, videoing neighbours and police officers who they continually have cause to complain about, there lives would be much more fulfilled,

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  • 24. At 1:22pm on 30 Mar 2009, stirling222 wrote:

    No sympathy.

    Only eat salads eh? Right. Maybe they do have slow metabolism or whatever, but I'd lay my bottom dollar the only exercise they get is walking up the stairs.

    As far as I'm concerned there SHOULD be stigma attached to obesity. Obese children shouldn't be allowed to grow up thinking that they are normal.

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  • 25. At 2:23pm on 30 Mar 2009, cathkidston8 wrote:

    While I do not doubt that people are genetically predisposed to gain wait more readily, the diet that they are trying to say they follow cannot be right. I personally served the two daughters when I used to work in the area and they would buy bags full of sweets and chocolate.

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  • 26. At 2:37pm on 30 Mar 2009, francismusic wrote:

    I thought it was very revealing that the mother, having boasted that she'd lost weight, dodged the perfectly simple and relevant question of how much she actually did weigh.
    She also doesn't seem to know how much they get in benefits. When pressed she finally said, "10 thousand, might be more might be less". As a householder with children I know exactly how much comes in and goes out. If she's prepared to admit 10 grand the real figure is bound to be somewhat higher. She came across as completely irresponsible without any real notion of what it is to work for a living and manage a budget like the rest of us.
    "I did work when I left school", she said. Yes and that was 40 years ago.
    Like the other bloggers I don't want to see anyone being treated and spoken to as they apparently have been but this attempt to justify their 'lifestyle' backfired spectacularly.
    By the way, I thought Victoria was her usual professional and impartial self; this family self-destructed on air without the need for any intervention from the interviewers.

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  • 27. At 4:54pm on 30 Mar 2009, Department_S wrote:

    I thought this was a vile article this morning. Let's savage people because they have the temerity to be over weight.

    How dare they.

    It was like listening to what the world might have been like had Hitler won.

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  • 28. At 5:11pm on 30 Mar 2009, mokumhammer wrote:

    Shouldn't be using metric when discussing weights & measures? I thought it was compulsory. I, for one, have no idea what 80 stone is, & can't be bothered to convert it either

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  • 29. At 5:34pm on 30 Mar 2009, mikeelmes wrote:

    I just read the news article where the girl read on facebook that someone said if they met her they'd kill her. And in response she ran up stairs crying. Now I know this is an inaccurate statement, waddled upstairs crying might have been more appropriate.

    Department S - they're not being savaged for being overweight, they're being lambasted for being so over weight they are unable to work, for making excuses why they can't and shouldn't work, for sponging off the state now and for years to come when they need care for diabetes and other obesity related illnesses. They have yet to contribute to the welfare system they are perfectly happy to take from. I listened to the interview, and never before have I heard replies to questions in such aggressive confrontational tones, especially as the BBC carefully selected those callers who were sympathetic to their plight.

    And all I got from the show was how they felt it was never their fault, there was always someone else to blame and so they didn't need to change their ways, the world needed to change to for them.

    I would love to hear a follow up to see if that chap could get them a job. Or failing that, why they couldn't do a job he found them

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  • 30. At 5:47pm on 30 Mar 2009, fortrosian wrote:

    I don't know about saving wrappers for the kit-kat mug, you can get them now, with an easter egg in!

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  • 31. At 12:42pm on 31 Mar 2009, distancedieters wrote:

    The Chawners family weight problem is common and crops up frequently. They could of course have the "fat gene" in their family, as featured on an Horizon programme recently. However it is more likely that the Chawner family eating habits have been passed down through the generations and there is room to make changes. There may be some food types the family is consuming that does not help them, it may be portion control, it could be they are not eating regularly or it could be lack of exercise. All of these factors maybe contributing in some way to their predicament. For them to become a healthy body mass index it would be helpful for them to have some expert help and guidance. Someone to talk through the foods, the portion control and the exercise. In short their old habits are not helping them so they need to adopt new habits that will. By sticking to these new habits not only will they lose the extra body fat but they will also be successful in keeping it off for good.
    I wish them every success for a slimmer, healthier future.

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  • 32. At 2:02pm on 31 Mar 2009, Department_S wrote:

    "they're not being savaged for being overweight, they're being lambasted for being so over weight they are unable to work, for making excuses why they can't and shouldn't work, for sponging off the state now and for years to come when they need care for diabetes and other obesity related illnesses."

    I do not expect the BBC to be acting like the Daily Mail.

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  • 33. At 3:16pm on 01 Apr 2009, FumingPete wrote:

    lol - laughing out lard.
    Let me guess. They eat lettuce and carrot flavour crisps. How big is that baked potato they are eating?

    Its not in the genes love, its in the jeans.

    There's no such thing as a fat gene. You sponge off society and probably eat plenty of sponges too with double chocolate and cornish cream and sugar, with a razor thin slice of carrot for health benefits.

    The younger girl ought to start doing some fitness now before its too late. The rest look like a lost cause.

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  • 34. At 12:25pm on 02 Apr 2009, simisims89 wrote:

    Emma told Closer magazine and Daily Mail she weighs 17 stone... she doesnt weigh 15

    The whole family lie about their eating habits, exercise and weight.

    I am more inclined to trust their original article in the magazine before the backlash now they are back pedaling.

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  • 35. At 1:51pm on 02 Apr 2009, Nik Macve wrote:

    The amount of sugar in tinned soup, beans, ketchup etc. is ridiculous, anyone who thinks those are part of a healthy diet they should read the labels. Once you really cut down sugar consumption, things taste so much better without it.

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