Thursday, 28 August 2008

Don't take the pizza (2)

Well I did say I was going to come back on this sooner, but I've been rather enjoying the spat between Devil's Kitchen and Chris Hutt on the first post. I don't think you can really argue with the 'it's your fault you're fat' line, although it's a bit harsh and some people do really struggle to lose weight. (The Times was rather naughty to use this picture of Andrew Lansley to accompany its piece, and even naughtier to caption it how they did).

According to the Times, the Tories would oppose further bans on junk food advertising and a traffic light 'warning' system on high fat, high salt foods. They think that increased peer pressure will do the job instead. So it's OK to persuade and cajole and nag people, but it's not OK to legislate.

I can see how this might work for something like binge drinking, where young people could conceivably be discouraged from drinking too much if their peers send out the signal it's not big or clever (lazy shorthand on my part... it's late, I'm tired). But doesn't society already send out rather a lot of not-at-all ambigious signals that being fat is unattractive and unhealthy? I can't see that it's acceptable to be obese. In fact I'm sure many obese people encounter disapproval - and abuse - on an almost daily basis. There's possibly a certain tolerance amongst some parents of their children's obesity, I suppose.

The Tories are also suggesting a 'responsibility deal' with food companies, to try to get them to reduce portion sizes and the amounts of fat, salt and sugar in meals. If it's the responsibility of the companies to make their products healthier, isn't that rather taking away the right of customers to exercise an informed choice? Some people would rather eat full-fat desserts once a week than low-fat options every day. (We have some 99% cocoa, no sugar chocolate in the office at the moment; it's vile. Tastes like turnips).

I actually think producers do have some responsibility in this matter, and particularly a responsibility not to dress their products up as something they're not (e.g. "low fat" products which compensate by being higher in sugar). I'm all for Government talking to them, and encouraging them to produce healthier food (and reduce their packaging while they're at it). And I'd rather it was done that way than through legislation - more healthy food, yes, but doughnuts for those who really want them. What I don't see how Lansley can get away with saying that this approach is any less about 'nannying' than better labelling or less aggressive marketing would be. In one case, it's the food companies (nanny?) who would serve up healthier food; in the other, it would be the consumer who is given the choice whether or not to buy it.

10 comments:

Devil's Kitchen said...

Bravo, Kerry; precisely the right line to take and let us hope that your colleagues realise that.

A couple of points:

"and reduce their packaging while they're at it"

Sure; but unfortunately a large proportion of the packaging regulations originate in the EU so that is where you will need to start your lobbying efforts.

"(e.g. "low fat" products which compensate by being higher in sugar)"

Yep, but again, this has been heavily influenced by the low salt drive -- based on erroneous information -- since sugar tends to bring out the flavour that was previously supplied by the salt.

"But doesn't society already send out rather a lot of not-at-all ambigious signals that being fat is unattractive and unhealthy?"

Yes, but I think that this is one of the reasons why obesity is, generally, predominant amongst the poor and disenfranchised. You might be able to suggest other causes, but I suspect that such people are those who a) don't really care, and b) only really mix with other obese, disenfranchised people.

DK

thebristolblogger said...

I don't think you can really argue with the 'it's your fault you're fat' line

Can't you?

Have you got any scientific evidence to back this claim up?

There was a time too when you couldn't really argue that a woman's place wasn't in the home and that black people weren't obviously more stupid than white people.

Devil's Kitchen said...

bristolblogger,

"Have you got any scientific evidence to back this claim up?"

You obviously missed the last exchange, so I shall repeat what I said then.

"It is simple: if you put more energy (in the form of food) into your body than you burn (in exercise, maintaining body temperature, etc.), that energy will be stored as fat."

This doesn't really require any "scientific evidence" other than that which is considered to be scientific fact.

"There was a time too when you couldn't really argue that a woman's place wasn't in the home and that black people weren't obviously more stupid than white people."

These examples aren't really comparable, are they now?

The former is a societal opinion and the second is based on some flawed scientific study.

Of course, had you said in the 70s that black people were stupider than whites, you could actually have pointed to some "scientific evidence", i.e. the Bell Curve study, to back up your assertion.

Ironic, eh?

DK

thebristolblogger said...

"It is simple: if you put more energy (in the form of food) into your body than you burn (in exercise, maintaining body temperature, etc.), that energy will be stored as fat."

Yes but that's a theory. Has it been tested and proven with evidence?

No. Because how come people with similar diets and lifestyles can massively differ when it comes to weight?

Could there maybe be biological and environmental factors involved as well?

We're people. Not BMWs off a production line.

Kerry said...

Obviously people's metabolisms differ, but I think the general rule stands - what you eat, and how active you are, are the main factors. That said, however, there are obviously considerations which make it more difficult for some people than others - income, age, physical limitations on your ability to take exercise, where you live and the lifestyle you lead. I think the Government does have a role in removing some of those obstacles.

Devil's Kitchen said...

bristolblogger,

Had you read my comment in full, you would have seen that I followed the bit that I quoted with this:

"Now, there may or may not be metabolic or genetic reasons why you may require less fuel than others, or you may have trouble resisting food but, fundamentally, the above statement on energy intake still holds."

And as for this...

"Yes but that's a theory. Has it been tested and proven with evidence?"

Yes, it has. It is a fundamental of biology and, indeed, physics. You can, of course, test it yourself: try not eating for a couple of weeks -- you will find that you get thinner. Then try doubling what you eat -- you will find that you get fatter.

Next...

DK

Chris Hutt said...

Next? it must be my turn.

Here's another experiment that you, DK, might like to try.

Take a group of people who are a cross-section of the population.

Bombard them with propaganda (advertising and marketing in other words) extolling the virtues of being slim, taking regular exercise, walking and cycling, and eating healthy foods in moderation - you will find they get thinner.

Then bombard them with propaganda extolling the virtues of being fat, sitting around watching TV, driving everywhere and eating junk food to excess - they will get fatter.

it's fundamental psychology.

Devil's Kitchen said...

"Bombard them with propaganda (advertising and marketing in other words) extolling the virtues of being slim, taking regular exercise, walking and cycling, and eating healthy foods in moderation - you will find they get thinner."

But haven't we had an awful lot of such propaganda in recent years? And yet people aren't getting thinner.

DK

Chris Hutt said...

You're deliberately missing the point that advertising and marketing IS propaganda, albeit on behalf of business interests rather than the state.

As I argued on the earlier thread advertising and marketing budgets promoting "fattening" lifestyle choices dwarf those promoting "thinning" lifestyle choices, hence we are getting fatter.

However different sections of society are subjected to (or choose to be subjected to) different strands of propaganda, depending on what media they (and their peer group) choose to read/watch/listen to, which perhaps explains why being fat is associated with being in the lower socioeconomic groups much more than the higher ones.

All of which doesn't sit comfortably with your assertion that fat people choose to be fat. Our choices are heavily influenced by external pressures and so we must constrain the advertising and marketing activities if we are to allow people to make more "rational" choices.

Dick Puddlecote said...

"And I'd rather it was done that way than through legislation - more healthy food, yes, but doughnuts for those who really want them"

Devil's Kitchen has already applauded you for this approach Kerry, and expressed his hope that your party think similarly and so would I.

So, how about a system of pubs along the same lines. To paraphrase, 'More non-smoking pubs, yes, but smoking ones for those who really want them'.

It would at least be consistent. :-)