By Sarah Best.
Did you catch the article in last week's Sunday Times about the fact that UK children are being raised on diets so devoid of nutrients it is stunting their development and threatening the nation's economy? ['Every bite is eating away at their future' by Lois Rogers]. In terms of the consequences, that's just the tip of the iceberg, of course. However, just how huge this is is really starting to enter the mainstream consciousness, and this article is but one manifestation of that. Here's an excerpt from it:
"Among the blizzard of detail accompanying last week’s revelations that junk food is damaging our children’s brains was buried one startling fact: the majority of the nation’s babies are, to a greater or lesser extent, now weaned on fizzy drinks and crisps.
Despite the evidence that we are facing an impending crisis, people remain implacably resistant to the messengers. Instead of being commended for producing evidence of the link between poor diet and poor brain development, Pauline Emmett, a senior research fellow in nutrition at Bristol University, says she has become the target of internet hatred.
'I am just amazed by the aggression in the responses,' she says. 'People have ridiculed the findings and accused me of scaremongering, but the fact is that fizzy drinks, crisps, pizza, or burgers and chips, are not real foods. If you give a three-year-old a bag of crisps and a fizzy drink, they won’t eat a reasonable meal afterwards because they don’t have the capacity. You are pushing proper food, with proper nutrients, out of their diet.'
Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, believes the nation has been heading inexorably towards a diet-linked economic problem since the 1980s and is now approaching crisis point. 'I was recently with some health visitors from Poole in Dorset, which is quite an affluent place,' he said. 'They told me babies are being fed on the minced remains of last night’s Chinese takeaway. People shove anything down their kids because there is a total lack of education about how to feed children.'
An answer to the question of what exactly we should do about this remains elusive. Michael Green, director of the nutrition and behaviour unit at Aston University, said: 'There have been innumerable government-sponsored attempts at promoting healthy eating and none of them has worked. High-sugar, high-fat foods are cheaper than anything else and always to hand. They are what we are predisposed to like to eat. It is a problem which undoubtedly has vast economic implications, but I’m not sure what we do about it.'"
Well, the obvious solution would be a tax on junk food! Call us radical, but when people can afford to feed their kids Big Macs but they can't afford to feed them broccoli, radical is needed! Tax junk food and use the proceeds to subsidise local, organic fruit and veg and make it affordable for, and available to, everyone.
Junk foods come cheap yet their personal and societal costs are anything but. Let's see their true costs reflected on the price labels at long last and let people decide then whether they can afford them. If people want to live on a few different mixtures of empty carbs, trans fats, factory-farmed meat, dairy, refined salt and chemical additives - i.e. on burgers, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, fries, pizza, chocolate bars, doughnuts, crisps, soft drinks and so on - their call.
Let's just draw a line under this mad era where our political leaders are too afraid to stand up and say that society will not foot the bill anymore - that that lifestyle choice must be financed. To tax junk food would not be to have a "nanny state", as some have claimed. A nanny state is what we have now, where it's seen as socially acceptable for grown adults to choose this self-sabotaging, health-destroying lifestyle, and model it for and impose it on their kids - and not only that, but when it ends up being very costly in terms of time off work and/or medical bills, no problem - it's on the taxpayer!
The sad thing is that many people choose this SAD lifestyle of suffering because they simply don't know any better. Few people actually want to be sick, tired and overweight. But they're not told how harmful junk foods are and nor are they told the truth about how much fruit and veg they need - instead they're told that "five a day" is enough.
If our government cared about health more than it cares about not upsetting the powerful multinational processed food corporations it is now consulting for nutritional advice, it would, through a campaign of hard-hitting nutritional education and hard-hitting taxes, quickly effect a sea change in eating habits that would dramatically improve the lives of millions.