Ross Clark

Globophobia | 15 November 2003

A weekly survey of world restrictions on freedom and free trade

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The Food Standards Agency has decided that the nation is too fat, and has suggested several policies aimed at persuading us to eat more healthily. The measures include stopping the likes of McDonald’s and Walkers crisps from sponsoring sports events and banning junk-food ads during children’s television programmes. One does not have to walk far down a high street to agree with the FSA’s assessment that a lot of children eat too much. But its suggested measures smack less of a fight against obesity than one against global capitalism. A ban on sponsorship by large food companies might possibly reduce the intake of McDonald’s revolting burgers, but it would do nothing to wean children off more traditional, less advertised but arguably even more unhealthy food such as fish and chips, fried breakfasts and gobstoppers.

However much one may detest branded junk food, the fact is that it has become easier to eat healthily during the era of global capitalism than it was a generation ago. Supermarkets brim with fresh fruit and vegetables unknown to corner shops of 30 years ago. Vegetarians who would have starved in the 1970s can find as many beans, pulses and sunflower seeds as their bowels can take. That the mass of British consumers still prefer to gorge themselves on burgers rather than roasted peppers drizzled with olive oil says something about their cultural aspirations, but no one can say they do not have the choice to eat well.

If children are too fat, there is, of course, the possibility that they might not be taking enough exercise. On this issue, the government’s record is appalling. It has continued to sell off playing fields, allowed progressive education fundamentalists to remove competitive sport from school timetables, encouraged planners and road-builders to make it impossible to walk in many urban and rural locations, and promoted paedophile hysteria to the point where many parents conclude that the only safe place for their children is in front of the TV.