According to our Prime Minister, obesity is "one of the biggest threats" we face. For some time now politicians have employed the same terminology to talk about health issues as they do about waging wars – which generally entails maiming and killing people. Being fat isn't acceptable – it's talked about as an "epidemic" or a "battle" that must be fought, just like operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It does seem a bit rich to be using such emotive language to describe nothing more than a plethora of love handles or beer guts. And I'm not sure that spending millions of pounds on public service advertising telling us all what we all know already – if you eat too much you pile on the pounds – isn't a complete waste of time.
The latest bit of armoury to be deployed against fatties is the extraordinary notion of offering cash or vouchers for leisure centres for successful dieting, copying an idea adopted by some US states, where obese adults are paid $14 (about £7) for every 1 per cent reduction of their weight. The British Heart Foundation is running a competition called The Biggest Loser, which hands out £130 gift vouchers for the entrant who loses the most weight. The Government would like to see this adopted by employers up and down the land – and they may be made tax deductible as an added incentive.
Sadly, when it comes to tacking child obesity, the Government, which set a target three years ago to reduce it by 2010, has revised the target downwards because it is unachievable. Instead, the Department of Health want the number of overweight children to drop by 2020 to the level it was in 2000 – from the current 30 per cent down to 26 per cent. That hardly smacks of a battle being waged with any commitment, does it?
At the moment around a quarter of all adults are classified as obese, and if the level continues to grow the burden on the NHS will be considerable. New ideas include better food labelling, a £75m advertising campaign to promote healthy diet and exercise, and more cycle lanes. The NHS website will also offer personalised advice about what to eat and how to exercise.
There's some way to go: an episode of Dispatches on Channel 4 the other week looked at why people think they are obese – the reasons offered by the Mr and Mrs Blobbies filmed were patently risible – ranging from thinking it was "genetic" to "glandular". One family claimed to eat a healthy diet but a secret camera filmed mum stuffing food into her mouth with both hands while walking.
I am not quite sure why the Government is spending our money on advertising healthy eating, because the best way to get any kind of message across is through programmes like this, reality shows and popular entertainment. Once you start issuing health warnings it smacks of the nanny state and turns off fatties even more. I've said it before, and still the Government seems reluctant to acknowledge, that by the time a child is 10 the war on a trim waistline is won or lost – and that is where, if we are going to fight a "war" we have to direct all our efforts to teach all kids to cook, understand nutrition and be able to shop sensibly before they leave primary school. Instead of government targets of a paltry two hours' physical exercise a week, kids should have an hour every day, achieved by walking to school or playing sport at lunchtimes.
The number of adults who manage to lose weight and keep it off permanently is very small. Waving vouchers or promising cash as an incentive is doomed to failure. It would be better to abandon the current generation of fatties and pour all resources into ensuring that the next ones grow up fit. Instead of offering stomach-stapling and fat reduction free on the NHS, charge double for it.
Please don't tell me obesity is a result of poverty – it's a result of wilful self-abuse. It's perfectly possible to eat well and substantially on a low income, preparing food that doesn't take hours to cook. We have to stop making excuses and accept that some people are determined to eat their way into an early grave. No government handouts or warning stickers will stop them.
This house is not worth the fight
An Englishman's home is his castle, but one chap who took the saying literally has just had his mock-Tudor mansion in Surrey given the thumbs-down by local planners. Farmer Robert Fidler was determined to build his dream home (despite being refused planning permission) and so over two years he constructed it secretly – inside a giant haystack on his property. The family even moved in, even though all they could see out of the windows was straw. After two more years, they removed the bales and applied for a certificate of lawfulness which, if granted, would allow the structure, which cost £50,000 and features a kitchen in a turret, to remain. The council is determined it will be demolished and both sides are fighting it out at a public inquiry. Mr Fidler has also built a go-karting track on his land, which lies in the green belt and is subject to strict planning controls. He might get full marks for resourcefulness, but the end product is an eyesore. I'd be happier if he'd built an eco-house inside that straw, instead of what looks like an over-sized semi with battlements.
Make mine a latte, and easy on the calories ...
Walk the streets of London and you're never further than 10 yards from a rat – and probably not much more from a coffee shop.
Intensive competition has seen Starbucks, the UK's most prolific chain, challenged by Costa and Caffè Nero. People head for the office clutching giant cups of the stuff as if they're hooked up to a life support machine.
Last November Starbucks announced plans to expand with another 100 outlets in the UK and Ireland. But the consumer group Which? has discovered that a trip to Starbucks can really pile on the pounds.
A large latte can contain as many as 284 calories, a medium-sized mocha (made with semi-skimmed milk) 266, and a blueberry muffin a whopping 591. What's worse, in a tasting survey, their coffee was deemed bland, over-priced and watery.
In the US, Starbucks' shares plunged last November, after it posted a profits warning following a drop in sales. Top executives were denied bonuses and Howard Shultz, the group's founder and chairman, took over as chief executive. Starbucks jumbo cups contain enough coffee to satisfy four insomniacs so I'm not surprised the milky contents are so fattening.
Meanwhile, sandwich-maker Pret a Manger has just been criticised by the National Consumer Council for only placing the nutritional content of its food on its website.
It's about time that all takeaway food, from coffee to sushi and muffins, had the calorific content clearly labelled on the packaging. My chocolate bar tells me each chunk is a whopping 80 calories – and so I've had two instead of four. Well, it's a start.Reuse content