A weighty problem

by Richard on May 30, 2004

Andrew Careaga is in denial. And if recent media reports are anything to go on, he isn’t the only one. Every news bulletin of the last couple of days has carried some reference to Britain’s “epidemic of obesity” and there is particular concern about the amount of weight many of our children are carrying. I think it would be fair to say that opinion is divided about what should be done.

On the one hand, there is a clamour for the government to “do something”. Ban junk food advertising. Get soft drink machines out of schools. Bring in stricter food labels. Prevent celebrity endorsements of fatty snacks. You get the picture. On the other hand are those who say that this is all a matter of personal responsibility. Nobody is forced to eat too much. It is no business of the government what a person’s bathroom scales say, or what they choose for a mid-morning snack.

I’d say that the truth lies between these positions. Of course, it *is* a matter of personal (or parental) responsibility. But it is also true that these things are very much the government’s business because it is an issue of public health. The food industry does not force people to buy and eat its output, but it is responsible for the product it promotes. High fat and high sugar equals high profit, so of course they will sell it for as long as they are allowed to.

Regulation of labelling and advertising must be part of the solution, but only a part. Education will be another ingredient in the mix. But until we learn that “easier” and “more convenient” doesn’t always mean “better”, I suspect that obesity due to over-eating and under-exercising is here to stay.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Swan 05.30.04 at 6:31 am

I’m even more in denial than Andrew…

2

Anon 05.30.04 at 11:11 am

Away with stoutist propaganda! Stout & proud!

3

Camassia 06.01.04 at 6:47 pm

I’ve covered this issue a fair amount for my reporting job, and it is complex. Adults who try to lose weight tend to gain it back again, and keep seesawing up and down, which is actually at least as dangerous as just being fat. Children have been shown in studies to be far more trainable in their eating habits. So to the extent that schools are partly responsible for children’s eating, government does have a role to play.

However, the research I’ve seen generally suggests that overeating isn’t the problem so much as inactivity. You can be overweight (within reason) and still be quite healthy if you’re active. The U.S. government has lately embarked on a program to encourage kids to be more active, which I think is the right focus, though I don’t know how effective it’s been so far.

4

Soap Box 06.03.04 at 5:05 pm

This subject is quite complex. whatever happened to family mealtimes?
there’s a whole generation of parents who have little knowledge of preparing an adequate nutitious diet for the children.
what is wrong with pubs/restraunts providing something other than burger, chicken nuggets/chips on the child menu
Bring back basic nutrition/food preparation in schools with an emphasis on economical meals

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