Lisa Markwell: Where is the prestige in healthy eating?

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The Independent Online

So the only difference between our eating habits 10 years ago and today is that now we know we're eating crap. Still doing it, just feeling guilty about it. Possibly.

A new survey of the nation's eating habits reveals that, despite relentless government campaigns and draconian food labelling legislation, the numbers who slump into obesity are almost exactly the same. We're eating less wholegrain cereals and milk, and more sausages and fizzy drinks – and just about nobody is managing to get their five a day.

Of the population surviving on empty calories and processed animal eyelids and arseholes, teenagers – girls in particular – are the worst culprits. Nearly half are not getting the recommended minimum iron or magnesium and only seven per cent are eating enough fruit and veg.

What are we – and by we I mean the adults who are on nodding terms with avocados, cous cous and blueberries – to do about it? We must do something. On getting the (excellent) results of a bone density scan recently I was asked whether I'd been a keen athlete when younger. No, I guffawed, nothing could be further from the truth. Turns out my healthy strong bones were the legacy of never being allowed fizzy drinks as a child.

But banning kids from having fizzy drinks won't work these days – they're on sale in most secondary schools. Perhaps it's time for a radical change in approach. The Government is never going to have the advertising budget of the mighty food corporations – witness the feeble animated characters of the Change4Life campaign, pictured, as opposed to the alarmingly eye-catching caveman demonstrating Coco Pops Coco Rocks (every bit as unhealthy as they sound). My son, when nine, begged for processed cheese shapes till I made him read the ingredients in the middle of Sainsbury's and he had to acknowledge that if you can't pronounce it, it's probably not natural. But who's got time to go through that palaver over every marketed-to-death fast food?

Here's the plan. Instead of insisting that our children eat up their greens and reach for the fruit bowl before the Dunkers, we should put a premium on healthy stuff and instil a little mystique and prestige around it.

It's a high-risk strategy, but the evidence is alarmingly in favour of changing the status quo. Girls between 11 and 18 always want to appear older than they are, so why not give them the impression that the adults are having all the fun by eating exotic fruit. It certainly worked at Sunday lunch last week – the kids were offered sorbets, the adults a huge bowl of chopped up mango and papaya. Soon enough, my 11-year-old daughter had sneaked the fruit into the other room, where the children ate up every scrap. In restaurants, the kids' menu is often fish fingers or pasta from a jar, so by giving them the accolade of choosing something from the grown-up list they'll feel more sophisticated.

Of course, that won't work for alcohol – and 12 per cent of girls between 13 and 15 say they drink at least once a week. On that, a carefully nuanced argument about how it gives one very un-supermodel-like stained teeth and cellulite might well help.

It may require more effort than nagging. But we owe it to the next generation to eat more healthily ourselves, then teach them how to do it – even if it means being so uncommonly cunning that they don't realise what we're doing.

Vernon has some serious romancing work to do this Valentine's Day

Who'd be Vernon Kay on Valentine's Day? Caught sending sexual text messages to women other than his wife – glamorous Strictly Come Dancing presenter and all-round sweetie Tess Daly – it's difficult to imagine what he'd write in the card to make everything all right. Not the kind of smutty patter he used for Page 3 girl Rhian Sugden, obviously. Nor the sweet nothings that "four or five" other young ladies were on the receiving end of.

Kay maintains that it was all just harmless fun and that none of the virtual flirting ever turned into physical affairs. Whether Daly, mother of their two young daughters, believes him is not yet known. It's all rather far from the ideals of Cupid and anonymous billets doux. Meanwhile the only person likely to be sending Vernon a love letter this weekend is John Terry – something along the lines of, "Thanks for getting me off the front pages, love from True Blue".

*Sorry to harp on about Valentine's Day, but is this the weekend to re-release that romantical old favourite Pretty Woman back into cinemas? You know the one: bloke goes to hooker, likes her enough to let her go shopping with his credit card and eventually decides he'll rescue her from a miserable life. Anyone other than aspiring (is that really the right word?) Wags would do better with Bright Star – bleak, tragic, beautiful – or even Fish Tank – just bleak and tragic – than that tripe.

Hard-working families will not be found with the smug mums

Reasons why the internet is a waste of time, part 74. Apparently the main political parties are taking their campaigns online to target, well, people like me. I'm a mum, you see, and, the website for middle-class parents who want to know whether Steiner is better than Montessori, or how to get that fiddly fifth daily portion of veggies into their little darling, is the latest battleground between the Tories and Labour.

Both are running adverts claiming that only (insert name of party here) is behind the hard-working family. The only problem is, I'm too busy actually being a hard-working parent (both at home and in an office) to sit poring over worthy book-group forums and advice on how to do a weekend break to New York en famille... If Dave or Gordon wants my vote, they can tell me to my face, not hide behind the skirts of the smug mums.