Thomas Sutcliffe: Face it... obesity is a form of child abuse

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The Independent Online

Should you be minded to harm your children, you're probably best advised to feed them rubbish. As a way of inflicting damage on a minor this has its drawbacks, of course. It isn't a quick-fix solution, as with many other forms of cruelty and neglect. Indeed you may have to wait for years to see any kind of payoff. Sure, they call it early onset diabetes, but remember, these things are always relative. Against those downsides though, you can set one large advantage, which is that you're extremely unlikely to be prevented from destroying your child's health in this way.

The nanny state, so intrusive when it comes to assault and battery, so fussy and censorious when it comes to sexual abuse, is - to put it mildly - in two minds about nutrition. Should you set out to starve your child you are likely to find that state agencies take a dim view of your parenting skills. They may even take your children into care to prevent completion of the project. Malnourish them by excess, on the other hand, and you will almost certainly be left undisturbed.

In fact if anyone tries to thwart your nutritional assault you may even find you have political backing. Remember how Boris Johnson spoke up for those disgruntled mothers in Yorkshire who had been pushing burgers through the school gates to children brutally deprived of saturated fat? So, load up the baby's bottle with Coca Cola (not the diet stuff, it makes her cry) and get started early.

The consequences of this loophole for neglect were unmissable this week - with the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence apparently considering stomach-stapling for excessively obese teenagers and Ofcom recommending a ban on the advertising of junk food to children. The Advertising Standards Authority was also reported to be finalising regulations designed to restrict junk food advertising in teenage magazines. In both cases the implied villain was the food industry - with its wicked, moustache-twirling plot to brainwash the nation's children into eating colon-clogging garbage.

This isn't entirely wide of the mark, of course. Anyone who's seen the advert for Kellogg's Coco-Pops Straws - a chocolate-lined biscuit tube marketed, astonishingly, as a nutritional aid - will have encountered corporate cynicism at its most shameless. But most such advertising depends upon a parent to close the loop between childish desire and fulfilment. McDonald's itself is notoriously resistant to pester power. You can stand at the counter for hours, whining for a Happy Meal, and they just won't cave.

Parents do, of course. And the truth about the current obesity epidemic is that it has its origins in parental abdication. Children don't have a set of fixed tastes to which they cleave in defiance of adult instruction, so much as a panoply of distastes, which any healthy food culture will slowly erase. And absence of choice plays a crucial role in this process. In some societies scarcity will supply this without resort to parental resolve.

I imagine the occasional Aborigine child kicks up rough about the taste of wichetty grub, but soon discovers that the alternative is nothing at all and that they don't taste that bad after all. Here there is always something sweeter, fattier or saltier - and only parental denial will lead the palate on to better things. In all but a tiny number of cases, having a dangerously obese child should be regarded as non-accidental harm. But don't worry if you do ... you're unlikely to be called on it.

The reality of a life in showbiz

It didn't take long for the wicked fairy to catch up with Connie Fisher, left, winner of How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria. On Friday of last week Fisher was enjoying her own Cinderella moment after opening in the lead role of Andrew Lloyd Webber's new production of The Sound of Music. The sceptical trolls of the press had been charmed and the box office was busily spinning straw into gold. Then on Sunday morning, with a malignant cackle, The News of the World announced that it had caught her kissing someone she shouldn't have been kissing. If this astonishingly accelerated career trajectory continues, she'll have a serious substance dependency by Wednesday, be checking out of The Priory by Thursday evening and staging a triumphant comeback concert next weekend. In the meantime I prescribe raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.

* Given that websites like YouTube are predicted to put traditional forms of media out of business, I feel a frisson of colluder's guilt at suggesting that you visit it and type the phrase Panda Sneeze into its search engine. Occasionally, though, a fragment of reality comes along that is too short or nugatory to feature in a news bulletin, but too richly delicious to go unrecommended. Panda Sneeze - a tiny masterpiece of slow build and comic reaction - is one such.

Avoid the videos which bear a logo in the top right hand corner - which sully the essential purity of the thing with a cheesy soundtrack and studio laughter - and click on one of the links lower down.

If it doesn't make you feel better about life, if only for 15 seconds, then go and see a doctor. You must be in the grip of another kind of virus altogether.