Knee-jerk bans of ‘junk food’ TV ads will not tackle obesity

by Matthew Eason

Obesity is undeniably a problem; we are approaching one million admissions to hospital each year where obesity is a factor. Nearly two-thirds of the adult population can be officially classed as overweight, and over 25 per cent are classified as obese. It is right that we fight this increasing scourge, at an individual, societal and governmental level.

This is a “conservative” government, and yet its first instinct to ban and restrict. This speaks volumes about the type of groupthink that needs to be rooted out of both government and Whitehall circles. Rather than relying on sensible measures or policies to cut down on obesity and unhealthy diets – it appears that no government can avoid the temptation to simply decide prohibition is the answer. This sort of draconian measure is never the answer to such mundane and ordinary parts of our lives, especially when reasonable answers are so readily available.

The mistaken perception of ready meals, junk food or otherwise being cheaper than healthy home cooked meals and thus responsible for rising obesity and unhealthy diets has never been more prevalent. Part of this is a genuine lack of awareness and the other is driven by vested interests, normally with a specific ideological angle, that seek to demonise whole industries and businesses, simply because they are large or successful rather than addressing the actual problem at hand.

There is a relatively simple reason behind this perception – fewer and fewer people actually understand nutrition and what constitutes a healthy diet as well as an increasing lack of culinary ability among many of our nation. Of course, there is also the matter of convenience. Time can be limited, as people work tiring long hours before heading home, and lethargy can be a real block on the desire to prepare a proper evening meal, let alone a healthy lunch for the next working day. However, while I do not wish to disparage the realities of long hours, it is possible to prepare healthy meals in a relatively short amount of time – something that is at the crux of the real issue.

One possible solution to this problem would be to bring back some form of Home Economics class to the nation. This class could help provide some of the essential information that children will require when they go out into the world as adults – budgeting, nutrition and cookery. These are the skills that will form the bedrock of a stable and healthy adult life. Therefore, it is right that they are taught and promoted in schools. Ideally, after a generation or two of this education we will see the fruits of this labour as those students, in turn, become parents and impart their skills to their children – hopefully negating the need for these classes in the future.

Of course, the ban itself is terribly short-sighted and mistaken in aim. However, even if you were to accept that a ban on food advertisements was a good idea, its application leaves so much to be desired – so much so that it can be suggested that even the ban itself shows the ridiculousness of the idea. Aside from the list of ordinary foods that will be banned, why does the government think a pre-watershed ban will help? Children are not the ones going out buying food. This brings us to the central point – ultimately, it is the parents’ responsibility and the individual choices of adults that cause this problem. We cannot blame children when one child under five is admitted to hospital every week for obesity-related issues. We cannot blame government or expect it to have an instant solution.

Reversing this trend will take time and require the country to take a long hard look at itself. We cannot glorify being overweight, fat or as it is now “curvy” any more than it is acceptable to celebrate anorexia or those who are underweight. We need an overhaul of how people approach nutrition, exercise and common sense. Unless we speak plainly about obesity and what causes it, things will continue to get worse and no government nanny state policy will change this.

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