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Fatheaded – this plan to tackle child obesity


NOT long ago I wrote about the perceived life-threatening evils of bacon, as advised by the World Health Organisation, only to receive many comments about the sheer delight of eating these traditional foods. I put this hysterical report down to the eccentricities and picky food habits of your typical woke researcher.

But the other day I read that Transport for London had banned an advert from its stations, which depicted a happy and healthy-looking family smiling over their kitchen table, groaning with food – some of it apparently junk food, hence the ban. You know – junk food such as bacon (again), and butter and eggs and jam – the baddies on the table. Eggs? Junk food? And jam? I suppose jam jars will now need an extra label – eat jam responsibly. (Just how many jars of jam, or even salty Marmite, do people spread on their slice of toast?) Nowhere on the table was there a Big Mac, or a KFC, or even a Krispy Kreme Doughnut.

It seems this is all part of a government initiative to reduce childhood obesity, and encapsulated in a grand plan – the Child Obesity Strategy, launched in 2016 as a ‘conversation’, and since mid-2018 relaunched as COS Part 2, identifying the killer foods that are threatening our children’s lives.

I grew up in the post-war years: sweetie rationing, Food Office orange juice and cod liver oil, not a lot of meat though always herring and bacon, and plenty of spuds, cabbage, leeks and Scotch broth, plus rhubarb from my grandfather’s patch. (It was my mother’s rhubarb and crab apple jam that made tapioca pudding even swallowable.) It was genuinely austere, but very good for us. We grew up big and strong and even slender.

So I just had to read this 2018 report, to find out how the 2016 ‘conversation’ was to be translated into action. Challenging, just to get past the jargon: for example

. The food inequality gap

· Navigating the food environment

· A fair food environment that doesn’t drive excess consumption

· Legislation to mandate consistent labelling for the out-of-home sector

· The Nutrient Profiling Model

· A trail blazer programme with local authority partners

· At least 30 minutes’ physical activity while at school

· The Daily Mile

· Healthy Start vouchers for the disadvantaged

· Delivering the National Ambition

Oh dear – the ‘ambition’. That suggests airy-fairy notions, not action. What it is trying to do is transform every UK family into a responsible, well-informed, caring, well-budgeted, healthy-eating social unit. Many of us already are, thank you very much, and resent having to pay for those that aren’t. And those that aren’t are not going to give a toss about this patronising report.

This is what they are planning for us. Read all about it here

· They can lean on food producers to ease up on the salt and sugar. (But of course, if you want to, you can always just add your own – no restriction on the purchase of either.)

· They can lean on the TV advertisers enforcing a 9pm deadline. Have they not yet worked out that with TVs in their bedrooms and smartphones under their pillows, children can watch anything they like, all day and all night?

· They seem to have forgotten why the food firms have created such a massive and faithful market. Flavour enhancement, usually through adding sugar/salt/fat. Hope you enjoyed that sugar/salt free breakfast cereal, guys. And that natural yoghurt for afters, with no added fruit or sugar or honey.

· And when did you last eat a chip without a comforting shake of salt (is vinegar still allowed? No mayonnaise, God forbid.)

· And – dare we say it – there’s that racist divide. Black kids, admits this report, are even more likely to be obese. (It’s not for nothing that in their predecessors’ history, obesity was recognised as a sign of wealth and status.) Is it actually ‘racist’ even to mention it?

· And in the 21st century, obesity is an unacceptable drain on public resources – yes, it’s the NHS again. Obesity-related conditions, in both children and adults, are costing the NHS £6.1billion a year. And the total cost of obesity to society is estimated at around £27billion (nowhere specified.)

What the report never refers to is the crucial underlying cause. Yes, TV adverts, giant food corporations, supermarket supremos, and even benefit cuts can play a part, but the reality is that parents have the responsibility to feed their children and nurture them to grow and thrive. The only reference I saw to this, in the strategy, never mind the conversation, was this: ‘Families need to play their part in tackling childhood obesity’. Families . . . talking about parents seems to be a bit tricky. But the government doesn’t even think families are up to it without state intervention.

The big question is whether all this intervening will make a blind bit of difference. The report says that it’s an issue which affects poor families much more than better-off families. Is that because real food such as eggs, butter and jam is more expensive than junk food? Or because some families prefer eating McDonald’s? I recall Jamie’s attempts to introduce affordable healthy food into school meals, and outraged mothers brought the burgers and chips to the school gates. Porridge oats and dried pasta with tinned tomatoes are among the cheapest foods available, but of course, they require cooking.

We all know what causes obesity – in children and adults: consuming more than is expended in staying alive, whether active or inactive. So many lifestyle factors now actively foster obesity, without even looking at what foods are consumed. It’s certainly about portion sizes, and the regular expectation of treats and rewards; sold-off playing fields and the perceived unfairness of competitive sports; inactivity with children sitting glued to screens instead of climbing trees or playing footie or just manically running around. Not to mention the dearth of walking – to school, to the shops, to everywhere; and the dangers of cycling in a car-dominated environment.

I was led to believe that starvation was the really big food issue – anorexia, children coming to school without breakfast, dependence on food banks. But it seems an even bigger threat is sheer over-indulgence, especially in junk food, such as eggs and jam and butter.

Oh well, perhaps all that taxpayers’ money lavished on the report will have been wasted anyway, because according to some parallel government departments, after 29th March no one will be able to afford food at all, even supposing there’s any on the supermarket shelves.

It’s an ill wind . . .

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Janice Davis
Janice Davis
Janice Davis is a grandmother and former girls’ grammar school teacher

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