We are what we eat, and what we eat has to be a matter of free choice

Apparently 60 per cent of the British population is officially obese - but does that mean we should add tax or make bad foods harder to find?

Share
Related Topics

Nothing quite illustrates the extreme class divisions in Britain like our relationship with food.

Yesterday I turned from an interview with a woman called Lucy Boyd, who said that she regarded it as an offence against nature to eat asparagus out of season, to a report highlighting the significant rise in the number of people dependent on food hand-outs in the UK.

London has now become the global restaurant capital where you can pay £87 for a steak, but out there in the real world, people are eating "value" beefburgers that are made from horse. The glossy magazines are full of delicious recipes using seasonal ingredients, and the supermarket shelves are replete with ready meals and chickens at £2 each. One group of people wants food to be authentic, another wants it to be cheap. If we believe what we are told, obesity is a big issue in this country, and now a panel of doctors believes that the answer to this problem is to protect us from ourselves.

They want the government to add tax on fizzy drinks, legislate against unhealthy food in hospitals, and ban fast food outlets within waddling distance from school. Let them eat polenta, they might as well have said.

I was listening to a radio phone-in yesterday, which presented as fact that 60 per cent of the adult British population, and one in three children, is officially obese. This strikes me as a rather startling statistic, so I spoke to my regular adviser on medical matters who, for anonymity's sake, I call Dr G. He said that this alarming figure may be a result of the standard measurement used to denote obesity, the Body Mass Index.

This, he says, is something of a blunt instrument and is a calculation based on a person's height/weight ratio. "Using this method," says Dr G, "the entire England rugby team would be classified as obese." This is because muscle weighs much more than fat. He believes that waist circumference is a much better indication of obesity.

By any measure, we are a fatter nation these days, and it is hard to argue against the idea that, if crisps, fried chicken and fizzy drinks were banned, or at least made harder to find, there would be an improvement in public health. But is this the right way to tackle the issue for a mature, liberal democracy?

We are what we eat, and what we eat has to be a matter of free choice. Surely, education, parental influence and cultural change are what's needed to effect real change. It has worked with smoking, even though it's an easier message to get across. Smoking causes cancer and kills you: there's no such emotive link to be made with eating cheeseburgers. Dr G's advice? No grazing!

He believes that one of the neglected issues is the British propensity for snacking between meals, diving into the fridge when we get home, or the chocolate bar on the Tube. He says that in France for instance, where they have less of a weight problem, they have two big meals a day but hardly eat anything in between. We Brits, however, have a very different relationship to food. Which reminds me. Time for elevenses...

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The UCAS clearing house call centre in Cheltenham, England  

Ucas should share its data on students from poor backgrounds so we can get a clearer picture of social mobility

Conor Ryan
A study of 16 young women performing light office work showed that they were at risk of being over-chilled by air conditioning in summer  

It's not just air conditioning that's guilty of camouflage sexism

Mollie Goodfellow
Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks