TV Review: Half Ton Son, C4, Monday 12 January, 10pm


If you’ve seen any of the previous Body Shock specials about extremely fat people (see links below) then you could have predicted exactly how this one would play out. 19-year-old Billy Robbins from Houston Texas was believed, at approaching 60 stones, to be the heaviest teenager in the world. He lived in his bedroom, more-or-less confined to a large chair (although he could just about stagger to the bathroom and back) played video games and stuffed his face from morning ’til night. I watched all of the programmes listed below but do you know what? For some reason, this time, I just couldn’t summon up any sympathy. Maybe I’m suffering from fat fatigue or something. Or maybe it was Billy’s overbearing mother, Barbara.

Related: Half Ton Mum | Half Ton Dad | Half Ton Hospital

Barbara Robbins was a woman in crisis. A woman who for three years had waited on her son hand and foot. And arse. It was her, and her alone, who fetched him platefuls of food, one after the other, until his 8,000 calorie-a-day intake was done. A woman who bleats “I love you” to her son every five minutes, but whose version of “love” has brought Billy to the brink of death.

Her description of his eating habits sounded like a litany of all the “bad food” you ever heard of: hamburgers, pizza, soda, doughnuts, crisps (chips). Oh and chips, naturally (french fries). She seemed dimly to realise how embarrassing this was, and tried to make up for it by listing the “good food” he likes too. The only thing she could come up with was broccoli, and he can’t eat that without smothering it in cheese.

It’s a familiar pattern of lazy eating spiralling out of control combined with an almost pathological avoidance of exercise, repeated over many years. The difference in this case was the problem was almost as much Barbara’s as it was Billy’s. For Barbara was overcompensating for the fact that she lost her first son to a brain tumour at the age of 19 months. In her efforts to look after Billy – to provide his every need because “he is my baby” – she was effectively killing him.

In lucid moments, she was clearly aware of this too, and talked about the guilt she felt for allowing Billy’s weight to balloon to almost 600 pounds. Didn’t stop her feeding him though. And his Dad was almost as bad, muttering ineffectually about how they’d tried to cut Billy’s food intake years before, but he’d “thrown a fit.”

It seems incredible in a country packed to the gills with therapists and shrinks, that no-one had ever bothered to address the psychological reasons for this family’s dysfunction. Until, that is, Billy was told that if he didn’t do something radical, he’d die. And once in hospital, the therapists started to engage both with him and his mother.

Billy went through the usual procedures that we’ve seen before – losing weight so that surgery was even physically possible; then having an enormous five-stone slab of flesh cut from his belly to allow access for the laparoscopic instruments, a bit more diet and exercise, the stomach surgery to leave him with a stomach the size of a banana, and a short period of post-op care.

Overall during this process, Billy lost a total of 25 stone and left hospital weighing around 35 stone.

But nineteen years of self-abusive behaviour patterns are hard to break and no sooner was Billy home than his mother was feeding him a “mustard dog” as a treat for leaving hospital. A visit from Billy’s surgeon revealed that she was still preparing twice as much food as Billy should be eating. In the end, in an effort to break the cycle of destruction, Billy realised he’d have to move out, and went to live in a rehab centre to escape the semi-constant flow of food.

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