Natalie Haynes: We may be fat, but we don't like the Government going on about it


Natalie Haynes
Monday 20 August 2012 19:29

Perhaps it's because I am returning from a week of reviewing in Edinburgh, but when I read the headline "Don't tell me what to eat", I can only hear it being belted out by Barbra Streisand, to the tune of Don't Rain on my Parade. Which has undeniably made the new report from the Adam Smith Institute a little jauntier for me.

According to its recent research, we don't like being told what to eat or drink by the Government, or at least 48 per cent of us don't. And since the Government's consumption advice is rarely to have a second plate of chips and a chunk of cheese, who is surprised? The Government, as is well known, wants us to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day, and not solely in the form of lemon curd and potato waffles. That is advice many of us don't want to hear.

A mere 22 per cent of us are keen on the Government telling us what to eat, and those people are presumably too young to have seen Sir Cyril Smith in parliament. Or indeed Eric Pickles. The numbers skew slightly on gender lines – more women think the state should butt out of their lunches than do men (49 per cent to 45). But the real difference is in the age of the respondents: only 28 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds oppose Government cheesecake-intervention, whereas a hefty 57 per cent of over-60s do.

Interestingly, these figures directly reflect what many of us already believe – that young people need their hands held all the time, while older people are vastly more self-reliant. So it's worth mentioning that, statistically, the people who reject government advice are also more likely to be overweight or obese.

The independent Social Issues Research Centre has been studying obesity for several years. Its numbers are intriguing. Children, despite endless headlines suggesting that they are all now spherical and would be rolled over their school sports fields if they still existed, are getting slimmer. Fewer children are either obese or overweight than in 2004, and more now eat five portions of fruit or veg a day. Fewer of them smoke or drink alcohol than did so in the late 90s. And slightly more now take an hour of physical exercise a day than children did a decade ago.

Under-24s are vastly less likely to be overweight or obese than older people. Young men are more likely to be underweight than obese. Being middle-aged or retired are the danger years for fatness: which encompasses the exact people most likely to eschew Government health warnings about booze and food intake as the machinations of a giant Mary Poppins complex.

So while it may be tempting to stuff muffins in our ears to avoid being told what we already know, perhaps we should exercise a little restraint. The really interesting question, I would suggest, is whether more older respondents said they disliked government interference, precisely because they already know they're overweight. No one likes being told something they know is true when they wish it wasn't.

Some truly moving works of art

In the interests of full disclosure, I should confess that I am writing this while eating a slice of cake. This is because I am on a train, and travelling long distances without cake is as stupid as doing it without wheels. Also, I need the energy, as I am in the middle of a week of reviewing hiking artworks. By which I mean that I am hiking, and the art is also moving.

On Sunday night, I climbed Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, having been armed with a lit-up walking stick. Given my tendency to wear floor-length black at all times, I like to think I resembled a hardy nocturnal wizard. As I clambered up the hill, runners (wearing dark costumes covered in lights) formed patterns on the inclines nearby. It was serene and lovely, and only occasionally precarious and alarming.

Today, I head to Norfolk, for Robert Wilson's descriptively titled "Walking" art installation. I like art on the move: it's more fun than standing around in a gallery, and I can wear sensible shoes with pride.

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