Another fine mess

There has been much confusing and conflicting information about food this week. Cancer Research UK projects that over 42 million UK adults “will be overweight by 2040”. This is hot on the heels of the government’s decision to kick its £100 million programme to tackle obesity into the long grass. Many may concur with Lord Hague’s assertion that this is “morally reprehensible”. 

In a rather feeble nod towards the growing income squeeze, the money, we gather, has been diverted to a Living with Covid plan. 

Winning the award for Worst Defence of the Indefensible, public health minister, Maggie Throup, said the government was still determined to tackle the problem of childhood obesity. “Pausing restrictions on deals like buy-one-get-one-free will allow us to understand its impact on consumers in light of an unprecedented global economic situation,” she said. 

At this point, ask yourself when was the last time you saw a BOGOF on fruit or veg of any sort? For that matter, ask yourself when was the last time you weren’t offered a Galaxy the size of Boris Johnson for a pound when you bought a paper or some water at WHSmith?

You really have to ask what on earth goes on in the corridors of power. Apart from illegal parties and nocturnal visits to the Number 10 fridge to score a bit of cheese? 

According to the International Diabetes Federation, 58 million people are currently affected by diabetes in Europe. The financial implications are estimated at 145 billion euros a year. That’s a tad less than the UK’s annual health budget.

The UK is marginally fatter than Europeans and the cost to the NHS is £6.1 billion to treat obesity-related ill health. This is set to rise to £9.7 billion per year by 2050.

It beggars belief that any responsible administration should even countenance slacking off measures to tackle this, er, growing problem.

Who can save us from this craven political cowardice? Step forward cook, campaigner and the people’s geezer, Jamie Oliver. He’s given an ultimatum to Boris that if the U-turn isn’t overturned by Friday, he and his followers will demonstrate by flinging Eton mess around Whitehall. This is presumably what he means by “doing it classy”. 

Oliver’s tenuous reasoning for smearing meringue, cream and fruit around Downing Street is that Eton mess was the result of turning an accident into an opportunity. Some may observe that at a time of  “apocalyptic” food prices, his choice of weaponry is more Marie Antoinette than peasants’ revolt. 

But good on him. He’s a long time campaigner for better food in schools. It turns out Jamie’s ire stems from a spat with Boris 15 years ago when BJ supported the mums who shoved Maccy Ds through the school railings to their youngsters, who were distressed at being confronted by Jamie’s fresh fruit and veg. “Let them eat what they like”, BJ opined. 

So, how can the man who, only a year ago, made this movie about how important it is to lose weight, ignore what is happening to his citizens? Powerful food lobbying probably.

At one level, obesity is a straightforward issue. You eat too much, don’t exercise enough, you gain weight. The deep rooted causes of obesity tend to get a bit more complex. Lack of access to affordable healthy food is consistently cited as one of the biggest contributory factors. Put another way, it’s great to know KFC et al is fabulously available at the press of a button.

Is obesity realistically something the NHS can, or should treat? The debate rages. The government’s doomed programme was all set to give people better access to healthy eating advice through GPs. Like they haven’t got enough to do, or are the right people to actually help and support obese people. The problem is undoubtedly compounded by political correctness. 

Surely a relatively easy way to tackle obesity, and health generally, is to start at an early age? Health and nutrition as part of the curriculum? To give every pupil school dinners would cost around £4 billion a year. The NHS would barely blink if that sum were to be taken off the annual budget. 

We shall await with bated breath to see if Jamie’s messy protest gains any momentum. Let’s hope it does – but a more effective strategy would be to let him back into schools to educate our children about food.

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