Leading Article: A sin the British cannot resist

Click to follow
FOREIGNERS are fond of observing how uncomfortable the British are about sex. But the real vice anglais is not to be found in old-fashioned public schools. Rather, it is a sin indulged in on a daily basis by millions of British adults and children of both sexes: sweet-eating. This sin may be unwholesome; if it does not turn you blind, it will at least make your teeth fall out. But it has in its defence that it is enjoyable, harmless to others and cheap.

International comparisons show Britons somewhere in the middle of the industrial world's confectionery consumption league tables. Yet it is astonishing how many people in this country will confess to a secret craving for Opal Fruits, an inability to walk past a newspaper kiosk without buying a Toblerone, or - perhaps gravest of all - a secret stash of miniature Milky Ways in the bottom drawer of a desk.

Those doctors and dentists who deny that a sweet tooth is hereditary will insist that it is usually the result of being fed sweet foods and drinks at an early age. Manufacturers of baby foods are clearly the equivalent of television pornographers in this sense: it is they who are responsible for the beginnings of our perniciously sugary habits. But God, too, must take his share of the blame; researchers have recently discovered that even breast- milk is sweetened. It contains a substance called maltose - which itself sounds suspiciously like a kind of chocolate.

Whatever the reasons, sugar is the drug we turn to when we are listless or depressed. It is not for nothing that sweet foods are those that are the bane of bingers' lives; nor that women with particularly bad premenstrual tension find themselves forced to stock up on confectionery a week before their periods.

So it is tempting to dismiss the worthies of the British Association for Toothfriendly Sweets, who yesterday announced a campaign, spearheaded by a doubtful character called Mr Happy Tooth, to persuade us to eat more sweets made with artificial sweeteners. If there really is an artificial sweetener that can be used in the manufacture of our favourite junk foods without altering their taste, then a day of national rejoicing should be declared. If not - and we suspect that there is not - then the choice will remain the same: virtue and a dazzling smile; or comfort and fillings.