Childhood obesity: the Government takes care

Old-fashioned obesity prevention

Under new plans issued by the British government, restaurants, cafés and takeaway outlets will be forced to display calorie counts in a effort to halve childhood obesity levels within 12 years. Besides calorie labelling on menus, the government wants to ban the advertising of unhealthy foods on television before the 9pm watershed and to remove such goods from checkouts and two-for-one deals.

Even if we accept the government’s estimate that 1.4 million English children aged between two and 15 are obese, obesity among children and adults could be seen as the downside of living in a land of plenty. Most poor countries in the world do not have such a problem, and indeed it is one of the reasons that so many wish to come here.

Moreover, the ‘children’s calorie campaign’ could be seen as the perfect combined public-relations-and-distraction exercise for any government tired of the electorate’s demands for results. Its subtext is that ‘we have your children’s best interests at heart, but actually it’s your fault; you are the problem’.

And while governments virtue-signal about how much they care for children, as with so many campaigns espoused by cultural Marxists, anyone who ventures to disagree automatically positions themselves as a child-hater. As an added bonus, they can also show how much they mistrust capitalism, despite the fact that it generates the wealth that enables us to buy food, whether healthy or unhealthy.

Similarly, a fifth of meals are now eaten outside the home. Children today spend at least twice as much time eating out as children did in the 70s. Eating home-cooked food might be the solution, but peeling and cooking vegetables takes time, meaning that women would not be able to work quite so much outside the home; and since this is the sine qua non of official feminism and therefore has become the basis of all governments’ “family” policies, mentioning this problem would be shockingly unacceptable.

However, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt says parents need help in keeping their children healthy, especially when supermarkets surround their checkouts with “offers for sugary sweets and snacks”.

He insists: “Parents want what is best for their children, but keeping them healthy and active can be difficult. It is near impossible to shield children from exposure to unhealthy foods”. Therefore, under the government’s plans, “supermarkets will be told to get rid of ‘guilt lanes’ that see parents pestered by children to buy chocolate and sweets while queuing for the checkout”.

Government officials maintain that removing unhealthy foods from buy-one-get-one-free deals was also an attempt to mitigate toddlers’ “pester power”.

It might be argued that parents should exercise more discipline on their children’s eating habits – that they must “just say no”.

But in addition to the fact that saying “yes” is much easier for harassed working mothers, for many years now parental discipline has been officially frowned upon as harmful to children’s mental health. In fact, one mother who did say no had her son taken into care by social services because she refused to buy him an ice cream and would not let him get his hair cut “in the way that he liked”’, thus she had failed to meet her son’s “emotional needs”.

That case is no doubt the tip of a very large iceberg which remains invisible because of draconian secrecy laws – all in the child’s “best interests”, of course, but a convenience denied to parents. And although the government might be hoping to signal that they care for children more than parents do, the manifest failings of our ever-burgeoning “care” system would suggest otherwise.

However, the proposal for more school exercise included in the Government’s plan is a positive one. The obsession with health and safety may have something to do with children's lack of exercise, when schools confiscate conkers in the autumn, and in summer weather insist on sun hats and sun protection, helmets, knee and elbow pads, and high-vis jackets. By the time they have ticked all the health and safety boxes there is little time left for actual exercise. 

Parents also have responsibility in this area although, once again, children using iPads and going to school by car are signs of greater prosperity. However, time-poor mothers having to drop children off at school on the way to work rather than going on foot threatens to disturb the peacefully ruminating sacred cows of left-wing feminism and seldom receives a mention. And thanks to the rising levels of crime under this government, it would be foolhardy to allow them to take themselves to school.

Obesity is a health problem, and it is even argued that it has become “the new smoking”, with nearly 10 percent of the health service budget devoted to treating diabetes, most of which is caused by excess weight.

No good parent would deny that they make mistakes in bringing up their children. But when governments make mistakes they tend to be on so immense a scale that they cannot afford to admit them. The amount of compensation that might be claimed by people who watched public information films in the 1950s telling them that sugar was a good cheap source of energy would be too much of a financial burden for even the most health-conscious government -- although it would be borne by the same taxpayers damaged by excess sugar consumption. 

Most parents have good intentions and when they have erred they eat humble pie and say “sorry”. But the good intentions of governments are dangerous; in fact, they guarantee that when they have erred, they don’t ever have to say “sorry”.

Ann Farmer lives in the UK. She is the author of By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control, and the Abortion Campaign (CUAP, 2008); The Language of Life: Christians Facing the Abortion Challenge (St Pauls, 1995), and Prophets & Priests: the Hidden Face of the Birth Control Movement (St Austin Press, 2002).  


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