The Corner

Junk Politics

The war against the ‘obesity’ epidemic continues in all its absurdity over in the UK. The Daily Telegraph has some wise words on the topic. Unlike in the UK, calorie consumption in the US has increased, but the more general observations certainly apply to the debate over here:

“That many Britons could do with losing weight is obvious to anyone who spends five minutes on a High Street. Nevertheless, it is wrong for the Government to target food manufacturers. If our food is high in sugar and saturated fat, it is only because the food industry is doing what the Government – with our money – pays it to do. Under the Common Agricultural Policy, farmers are paid generous subsidies to produce milk, butter and sugar beet. Fruit and vegetable farmers, by contrast, receive nothing. The British taxpayer is paying twice over: once to grow fattening food and again to be told not to eat it.

“The tone of the select committee’s report wrongly suggests that fatness is a particular ailment of modern Britain…In fact, Britons are eating less than they used to. According to a study by the Royal College of General Practitioners, the food intake of the average Briton has declined by 750 calories a day over the past 30 years. The reason we are getting fatter is that we are doing less manual work and taking less exercise: we are burning off 800 fewer calories a day than we were in the early 1970s. For the decline in physical activity, especially among children, the Government has to take some of the blame. It has continued to allow school playing fields to be sold to developers and has introduced health and safety legislation which makes it more difficult for outdoor adventure courses to operate.

“To accuse the food industry of promoting child obesity is to distract attention from these issues. But there is also a cultural reason why the manufacturers of crisps, chocolate bars and fizzy drinks get blamed for promoting obesity: they represent everything which the Left dislikes about globalisation. The main difference between the British diet now and that of 30 years ago is not that we eat more sugar and fat, as a visit to an old-fashioned greasy spoon will remind anyone; it is that we eat more branded foods. Wotsits are damned not just because, when eaten in excess, they make people fat but because they are produced by a multinational company and are marketed around the world in standardised form.

“While the availability of many forms of junk food has certainly increased over the past generation, so too have the opportunities to eat well. Whereas the greengrocer of 30 years ago offered a limited range of yellowing cauliflower and frozen peas, today’s supermarket brims with fresh fruit and vegetables from all over the world. Thanks to the globalised food industry, it is possible now to buy leaner meat than 30 years ago, to buy olive oil as well as butter, skimmed milk as well as full cream. Moreover, food manufacturers now offer hugely detailed nutritional information, including calorie counts, on their packets: something which they never used to do.

“Clearly, not all Britons are making wise decisions about what they eat, but to lay the charge of promoting obesity at the door of the food industry is the easy way out. Those who get fat have themselves to blame above anyone else.”

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