The prevalence of obesity in children is at present around 5 per cent. The vast majority are thus not obese, and an increasing proportion of children are showing poor growth and low bodyweight resulting simply from an inadequate intake of energy (not protein or vitamins and minerals). The cause is poverty. Since energy is the major determinant of growth, the choice of cheap energy-dense food (such as chips) is to be commended. Cutting the price of high-fibre low-calorie fruits and vegetables would be oflittle help.
The claim that the foods listed are "inferior" is a very misleading one. Inferior to what? Hamburgers made from top-quality steak and fish fingers made from whole cod (unmashed) could be of higher nutritional value but would undoubtedly cost a great dealmore. Is a glass of mineral water superior to a can of soft drink (140 calories)? Is an apple (47 calories) superior to a bag of crisps (164 calories) which, incidentally, provides not only more fibre than an apple but also more of the antioxidant vitamins C and E and is the richest common dietary source of potassium, a mineral, thought to prevent the development of hypertension.
People are receptive to health education that acknowledges the socio-economic factors that limit food choice and is couched in terms that are easily understood. The layman may be baffled by the chemistry of his dietary fats but is able to tell his flora from his fauna. Coercion by pricing is unlikely to bring about a change in eating habits, even among the adult population and the dogmatic approach favoured by the Food Commission generates resentment, not enlightenment.
Should the supermarkets decide, however, to cut the cost of items believed to have a role in the prevention of atherosclerosis, then may I suggest that they begin with table wines?
Yours faithfully, DONALD J. NAISMITH Department of Nutrition & Dietetics King's College University of London London, W8