Austerity, not ignorance or laziness, lies at the heart of eating problems in the young
While it’s good to see that number of obese and overweight children has (slightly) fallen for those starting school, one in 10 children is still entering reception obese or overweight, rising to one in five at the start of secondary school.
More startlingly, the figures from the Health & Social Care Information Centre show that 25% of children in poorer areas are obese, compared to about 11% in more affluent areas. Let’s absorb that disturbing fact – right now, Britain’s poor children are more than twice as likely to be obese or overweight.
Responses to these statistics have included calls for a ban on junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed, but is this really the most productive way forward?
What if it’s not so much about “junk food”, as we define it, but, rather, that all too often these days the junk is the food and the food is the junk – and that sometimes, for people on tight budgets, this is all that’s reasonably achievable?
Once poverty enters the equation, it’s simply not about junk food as we understand it anymore. Say junk food and an image springs to mind of people allowing their children to scarf down crisps, sweets, and the now notorious fizzy drinks, or burgers, pizzas and fried chicken from overflowing buckets. The implication is that the problem lies with the treats and extras, consumed on top of real meals and that children are being overindulged, to the detriment of their health.
However, this image of feckless, uncaring, underprivileged Britons encouraging their fat children to over-snack simply doesn’t ring true, especially considering that these are households where, by definition, money is tight.
On the contrary, it seems obvious that the actual meals are contributing hugely to the problem – and that this is where austerity is having a terrifying and sustained impact.
While healthy food is often prohibitively expensive, less healthy options are relatively as cheap as, well, chips. When parents have to find the cheapest food available for their family, it’s nearly always going to be less likely to be fresh; more likely to be highly calorific (therefore “filling”), as well as packed with additives whose addictive and metabolism-skewing properties should not be discounted.
You also have to factor in how exhausting poverty is. Often the last thing that stressed, skint parents need at the end of the day is to start a meal from scratch.
This is why, however well meant, the “why not buy some veg from the local market and make a lovely stew?” rationale so often takes on the shrill ring of Marie Antoinette’s fabled suggestion about the poor eating cake.
That’s the cruel thing about cooking. It’s not all about “lazy proles” and their lost culinary skills. Something that’s a hobby, a stress release, in an affluent household, too easily becomes an extra source of tension in an impoverished one. Moreover, “real” cooking can be expensive – from the ingredients, and the herbs and spices, to the equipment, even the gas or electricity. Hence the microwave, the ripping open of the packet, the easier solution. Who’s to judge? Plenty of people do.
Perhaps it could be acknowledged that the very concept of junk food has become absurdly dated and misleading. That shifts in fundamental food culture (the creep of junk into normal meals) appear to be a much more profound problem than merely overindulging in signposted treats. Kids eating rubbish has always been with us but it is only now that the staples, the dietary cornerstones, are also unhealthy, that their weight problems are escalating. Nor is the problem confined to junk food advertising – if only it were that simple. Like with most things that become uncontrollable in life, money lies at the core. Poverty isn’t only exhausting and limiting, it’s also highly fattening.
Coe did the right thing. But why did it take so long?
Even though Sebastian Coe has finally resigned from his £100,000-a-year role as Nike ambassador, he still insists that there was no conflict of interest with his position as president of the IAAF. Is he on another planet or am I?
Coe’s resignation doesn’t prove that there was any wrongdoing, even with the email that surfaced relating to Eugene (birthplace of Nike) winning the right to stage the 2012 World Athletics Championships without others being allowed to bid. As things stand, Coe’s conduct appears to have been above board. Nevertheless he has to stop this ludicrous sulking as if a big fuss is being made about nothing.
This is a prime example of a big fuss being made about… something. Obviously, it is not feasible for the president of IAAF simultaneously to be signed up as an ambassador to a major international sportswear company. Likewise, Coe’s main argument concerning the longevity of his association with Nike (38 years) is resentful, entitled nonsense.
It’s time for Coe to be philosophical. This was a blatant conflict of interest and the only mystery is how it wasn’t dealt with when he became president earlier this year.
Let Katie Hopkins damn herself
It seems as though every week now there is a terrible darkening of the skies as a giant candlesnuffer slams down over the flickering wick of free speech.
This time, it happened at Brunel University, where Katie Hopkins was spouting her usual informed, enlightened views on welfare. (Oh sorry, I went a bit funny there.)
Hopkins wasn’t banned from speaking. Instead, just as she began to talk, a large bunch of students stood up, turned their backs on her and walked out of the hall. It was an action that was widely billed as a wonderful compromise protest, but it wasn’t really.
Of course it was better than banning – but only because anything is better than banning. It wasn’t spontaneous, and therefore looked staged and just a little pompous. Nor, crucially, did it respect one of the foremost principles of free speech.
Free speech is not just about someone being allowed to talk, it is also about them being properly heard and debated, and this holds true, even when that someone is as idiotic and offensive as Hopkins. Especially then.
For free speech to work, you have to let people speak first, and then challenge them via debate, which means no bans or, indeed, back-turnings and walk-outs.
Otherwise, all that happens is that people such as Hopkins remain wedded to the delusion that they’re fearless speakers of truth. Ideally, they should have their arguments brusquely shredded in a public forum.
The Brunel University walk-out was not a compromise protest, it was just a way of banning without actually banning. Everyone has to stop panicking and just allow people to be annoying bigots. Last time that I checked, the good people of Britain could cope.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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