Today Boris Johnson has finally and formally launched the government’s efforts to reduce obesity here in the UK, and has underlined the launch saying it will be ‘supportive rather than excessively nannying or bossy’.
While I welcome any initiatives in this direction and indeed it is far overdue, looking at the number of deaths due to Covid-19 that could potentially have been avoided, I think if the priority is to manage how the initiatives are viewed rather than making really robust, comprehensive changes that will save lives , then I am hugely sceptical that about just how effective the new plans will be.
Fact; Obesity is the single biggest cause of lifestyle disease and deaths having overtaken tobacco, and is linked to cancer, Covid-19, Diabetes Type 2, Dementia, and heart disease among others.
A few changes which rely on the individual to take full responsibility, neither addresses the socio economic differences which play a huge part here or the education.
The government has said it will ban junk food adverts before the 9pm watershed and launch a short consultation on whether that should be extended to a blanket ban on adverts for sweets and fast food online. Without question is should.
If the government acknowledge the damage this is doing, and it does, then why go half way. Either these things (and I cannot call them food since they offer nothing in the way of nutrients and are only detrimental to our health) should be eliminated from our diets and marginalised or they shouldn’t.
I have seen this mentioned a lot today and it is a parallel I draw a lot in discussions, but the tobacco industry was in this exact same position back in the mid 60’s. In fact television advertising of tobacco was banned in the UK in 1965 under the Television Act 1964. In 1971 the first health warning was put on the side of cigarette packets under a voluntary agreement between the government and industry.
There ensued a number of further steps to safeguard the public and educate them on the dangers of smoking which included limiting marketing of such products. The industry rightly became marginalised in respect of public media and within that those who still choose to smoke do so in full knowledge of the risks they are taking.
As a food coach working with a range of clients and many parents, I know education is key. As long as we have advertising, marketing and the government allowing detrimental ‘food’ products to have visibility, then the problem is not properly addressed. Adverts after 9pm say to the audience ‘ this is ok’, when it clearly is not!
Why do we have this mental block when it comes to food that is harmful to our health? As a parent, we don’t want our children to smoke and would educate them strongly about the harm it does. Similarly with alcohol and certainly with other drugs.
We are now in a situation where we KNOW the damage fast food, junk food, fizzy drinks does and exactly how this links to obesity and then exactly how obesity leads to acute illness and death in many cases. Covid-19 has taught us this. On top of various other studies and scientific data to support this evidence.
There is also no proposal to extend the earlier tax on sugary drinks to other products despite the fact that the figures and data illustrate huge leaps forward from doing so.
Why? What reasoning would see this data and ignore it? The use of taxes to compel people to make healthier choices has a long history with both tobacco and alcohol. Studies illustrate if you raise prices you induce adults to stop buying and children never to start. We know people who drink one or more sugary drink a day have a 26% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who drink one a month. Public Health England have also highlighted that the UK levy on sugary drinks has resulted in a 29% reduction per 100ml in retailer own brand products and has definitely pushed consumers towards low or zero sugar products. Win…but the government will not extend this to sugary foods!
Boris ‘ just trying to help people a little bit to bring their weight down- not in an excessively bossy or nannying way I hope….we want to be really sympathetic to people , to understand the difficulties that people face with their weight and just to be helpful’.
Boris – people don’t need a ‘little’ help. Take a look at the stats and the deaths that could possibly have been prevented. There needs to be a comprehensive mindset change and the government need to have a joined up and responsible stance on this. Not half measures that seem ambiguous.
Why do I say this?
Because again, going back to the tobacco analogy, we always knew that smoking was addictive and that people needed categoric advice, support, guidance and accurate information with no mixed messages in order to give up and change, what were often sometimes, lifelong habits.
Just like eating foods that are bad for us and detrimental for our health. They contain such a wide array of sugars, salts, additives and preservatives that our taste buds no longer work as they should or the receptors in our gut which have been ‘numbed’ for absence of a better word.
We knew that tobacco did this to us. I have worked with no end of people who delight in getting their sense of taste back after being a smoker.
Eating real food is the same.
So in the same way having a cigarette or alcohol is not good for us, nor is eating junk food. Only instead of once or twice a day, maybe 4 times a week, we do this at least 3 times a day, sometimes up to 10/12 times a day. Feed ourselves food and drink that is detrimental to our health and wellbeing and will conclusively shorten our lives.
Someone once gave me the analogy of a car left by the seafront in a storm. One storm could cause considerable corrosive damage, but we would move it, clean it thoroughly and hopefully not let this happen again.
But we do this to our bodies day in day out. Week after week, month after month and sometimes year after year.
What we choose to eat is the single biggest factor in determining not only how long we live, but our quality of life – beginning to end.
So no Boris.
A ‘little’ help is not good enough.
Being prime minister is about taking responsibility. Raising your head above the parapet and having the *** to make bold decisions even if they may seem unpopular at first.
Look at the evidence.
The fact we need to reform our whole food system ( I touch on this somewhat in a previous blog) is part of this problem.
But what we need is strong action.
And in the current situation, we need this NOW.