It’s not often that you will see a comment like this this from me but today the Government has made exactly the right decision over their clampdown on advertising of products which have high levels of fat, sugar and salt. Basically, producers and retailers will no longer be allowed to advertise their products except between the hours of 21.00 to 05.30.
This will mean a massive reduction the advertising of burgers, fizzy drinks, sweets where often the products are targeted at children and teenagers. This check on these products is well overdue. Obesity is a killer and these types of product are major causes of obesity. I have put the childhood obesity figures before on this blog but let me remind you of them:
- 10% of 5 year-olds are obese.
- 3% of 11 year-olds are clinically obese
- 30% of 11 year olds are obese
We all know that eating and other habits formed early in life are very difficult to break later in life. Bad habits get ingrained and the eating of products like these will last, for most people, throughout their lives.
This has a terrible effect on people’s health. Do you remember all the times in the early days of the pandemic when this type of announcement was made, “xxx people have sadly died today of which 95% had an underlying health condition”. A large number of these underlying conditions were related to obesity. Being obese can lead to major problems for your heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, lungs and joints.
The clinically obese 11 year old is likely to have two more major health incidents before they are 65. They are likely to need a large number of continuing health inputs and they will have an impaired life in a number of ways especially those things which relate to mobility. They will then die early.
The advertising ban will do little for them but it might help the other 27% get away from poor eating habits. It will certainly help parents and teachers and the NHS in future when they try and reduce improper food consumption. As a father and a grandfather I know how difficult it is to resist ‘pester power’. Kids want to do what’s on the telly and they want to do what their mates do.
None of what the Government or I would suggest would stop people eating facts food, fizzy drinks or burgers. BUT these would in future be occasional treats and not a basic part of a diet. We have already seen manufacturers change the formula of their products since the introduction of the fizzy drinks tax. The Government hopes that this trend will be continued with companies reformulating to healthier ingredients so that they can get round the advertising ban.
This does not necessarily mean healthier products. Zero cola products, for example, replace sugar with aspartamane which has its own bad effects on the body. Its fizz is still carbonated which is a major problem for teeth and the dentists who look after them. 16,000+ major dental operations are required every year for those under the age of 16 and most of the problems have been caused by gas and sugar.
We know that obesity hits most our poorest communities. Just look where the takeaways are mostly clustered. There are more in Liverpool 8 than Liverpool 18. They are in communities where parents have little energy left for providing balanced meals in lives that often have so many problems. They are in houses where people cannot afford the blenders, slow cookers, decent cookers and fridges for mums to and dads to produce good meals. They are in homes where the gas and electricity have to be purchased at a high cost.
This advertising ban is welcome but not enough. There are two more things that can be done.
Firstly, we have to show the alternatives. Fruit and veg are lovely to eat if you get accustomed to them and they are properly cooked. I used to hate broccoli, cabbage and sprouts because the old way of cooking them was to boil them to death. Now they are cooked al dente. Many people would welcome the introduction of good cooking lessons and practical help with creating good diets. There have been and are many projects which help people learn to cook affordable and nutritious meals. Perhaps in future such courses could be set alongside the excellent work that is done by our food banks. Perhaps boys and girls could learn to cook at school by redesigning the curriculum to allow more space for none academic subjects.
Secondly, we can positively promote fruit and veg in a fun way. I have been delighted to see on my telly lately an advertising campaign from Sainsbury’s to encourage kids to eat fruit and veg from a fun perspective. Supermarket chains part follow trends, so people must be demanding healthier products, they also create trends as people see a wider range of goods both available and advertised.
Changing people’s habits takes time. It took 40 years to reduce the number smoking from 80+ to -20%. It was done by a combination of legislation, health messages, advertising controls and taxation. The number of people with lung problems which in some cases led to heart problems has been massively reduced.
So, the Government is taking the right step today in the way it has in the past for alcohol and tobacco consumption. It is rumoured that the changes have come about because Johnson realised how serous obesity was when he had his own Covid episode last year. So perhaps permanent changes in the way that we look after ourselves will be a long-lasting result of the sadness and badness of Covid.