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Independent Green Voice

Delivering Thinness in a
Modern Scotland

Alistair McConnachie writes: No, that's not another classic title of a new report from the Scottish Executive - we just made it up - but in all seriousness, perhaps it should be.

The Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland www.rehis.org claimed in a press release on 14 Sept 06 that, "a third of Scotland's children are overweight, while one in five is classed as obese, and the problem is getting worse every year."

We suggest there are several factors implicated in rising levels of obesity:

  • Modern work is increasingly sedentary and it's easy for us, especially when we get into our 30s and beyond, to put on weight.

  • Hectic lifestyles can mean there is less time for a parent to prepare good food for the family. This can lead to reliance on ready-made processed foods, higher in calories and less nutritious - not to discount sheer laziness as a factor here too, of course!

  • The growth of large supermarkets, which import cheaply from abroad, has forced the closure of local butchers and greengrocers who sourced more nutritious food locally. This hits, especially, people on low-incomes and those who live in deprived areas, without access to the income, or the better shops, which provide more nutritious food.

  • Children who are not food disciplined will eat what they want, and will get fat. Children who are not disciplined to sit at a table, or finish their meals, will get fat.

  • People who are unable to do basic arithmetic in their heads in order to add, subtract, multiply and divide calories as compared with weight of food eaten, will be at risk of getting fat.

  • Some parents may be unable or unwilling to impose food discipline on their children, and this may be particularly so where the discipline of a father is absent.

  • Family breakdown means that many single parents are stressed and some may be unable to concentrate on providing good food for their children.

  • Children are saturated with messages to eat junk food, which is high in sugar, salt, carbs and fat.

  • The sell-off of playing fields and the reduction of PE in schools has impacted negatively on children's health.

THE ROLE OF THE STATE IN ALL OF THIS
Taking care of oneself and one's family is primarily a matter of personal initiative, responsibility and leadership.

We don't subscribe to the childish school of thought which blames the government for everything or expects it to run our lives for us - unlike the extreme Left whose policies include, for obesity, shortening the working week so people will have more time…supposedly to exercise (!) and raising the minimum wage so they have more money to spend…supposedly on healthy food (!) and "free school meals for all" -- even though school meals are already free for those who need them. (All 3 suggestions courtesy of Carlo Morrelli, "Fat is a socialist issue", Socialist Worker, 23 Sept 2006).

Hey, guys, why not free liposuction on the NHS too!

But nor do we subscribe to the equally infantile "libertarian" view of some on the Right who -- fixated on themselves and their "individuality" -- want government to somehow "stay out of our lives" or "leave us alone".

Rather, it is for the government to maintain the circumstances which enable us to make informed choices about our lives. In some cases this will mean regulating information, where appropriate, to enable us to be response-able, and develop our response-ability.

POLICY PROPOSALS

We covered a lot of good suggestions in our policy document Integrating Healthy School Meals and Localism. As we point out, orientating food supplies from global to local will not only improve local economies, but will provide more nutritious food for us all. Here are some more suggestions:

  • Full Nutritional Information including Complete Calorific Content and Guideline Daily Amounts to be prominently Displayed on all Alcoholic Products
    Alcohol is a major factor in levels of obesity among adults. Alone of all food and drink products, bottles and cans of alcohol do not state calorific content!

    People know that alcohol is "fattening" and delivers precious little nutritional benefit, but few are in a position to realise the true extent.

    There is no doubt that clear calorie info on bottles and cans of alcohol would have an effect on drinking habits for the better and would also help people gauge the calorific content of draft alcohol.

    The alcohol industry would be expected to oppose this labelling because they would fear, accurately, that it would damage their business -- but this information would have a powerful effect on lowering levels of obesity among adults.

  • Consider a Ban on Alcohol Advertising on TV
    This could be either an entire ban, or perhaps a ban on niche alcohol markets, such as alcopops, which are marketed at teenagers.

  • Move Junk Food Ads to after the 9pm TV Watershed
    Difficult questions arise, here, regarding the definition of "junk" food, and the extent to which processed meals, or biscuits and cakes could be considered "junk".

    Furthermore, in an effort to escape the "junk" label, manufacturers may try to lower high levels of natural salt and sugar by replacing them with synthetic additives, which may be more unhealthy!

    However, providing we can settle on a definition of "junk" then moving junk food adverts to after the 9pm watershed is a good start.

    The Children's Commissioner for England has also called for celebrities to be banned from endorsing and promoting junk food. (Graeme Wilson, "Call for ban on celebrity junk food ads", The Daily Telegraph, 18-9-06, p.10)

  • Consider a Total Ban on Junk Food Ads on TV

  • Family Friendly Tax Policies
    Encouraging the financial circumstances which keep families together will help parents to stay together, to share the workload of raising a family, to look after the best health of each other and their children, and generally to contribute to the psychic health of self and society, necessary for physical health.

Jennifer and I are very old-fashioned in our approach to parenthood. I make sure each of them eats what is put before them and they never leave the table without saying thank you for their meal.

Georgina Dickinson interviews Sylvester Stallone, "My girls are a knockout",
Sunday magazine, News of the World, 27-8-06, pp.12-15.

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