This week saw a number of alarming reports relating to obesity. Firstly, the WHO published a report warning that obesity (alongside smoking and alcohol consumption) could lead to a 70% increase in the rates of cancers being diagnosed over the next twenty years. Secondly, Public Health England reported that two-thirds of the UK are overweight.
It was also a week in which the European Commission announced a new campaign to encourage school children to “Eat well – Feel good”. The Commission, at a cost EUR 230 million per school year, is merging two separate projects that fund fruit and milk consumption in schools. The Commission press release states, “In a context of declining consumption among children for these products, the aim is to address poor nutrition more effectively, to reinforce the educational elements of the programmes and to contribute the fight against obesity.
A well intentioned plan but clearly not working. Given the choice between an apple (5% fructose) and a sugary-syrupy chocolate bar which one is the kid going to choose? Given the choice between a glass of milk (lactose not fructose) and a Coke (crystalline fructose in high concentrations) which one is the kid going to chose? The fruit is tossed to the bottom of the school-bag left to bruise alongside the empty “biscuit” wrappers.
Parents require nerves of steel and an unbendinding determination to prevent their children from getting access to sugary artificial food products. Even if schools ban sweets, chocolates and sugared drinks from school premises these products are so cheap they easily fall into the budget of children’s weekly pocket money meaning many children can (and do) buy it on the way home from school.
Which does rather beg the question whether officials in the Commission are really talking to each other and trying to tackle the problem of obesity with proper policies and effective legislation rather than passing laws that allow manufacturers of crystalline fructose to peddle their product to the young and vulnerable and to allow manufacturers of starch to increase their production of cheap isoglucose (known as high fructose corn syrup in the US) with which to coat Europe’s processed food?
Campaigns such as “Eat well – feel good”, though well intentioned, can never be effective so long as other aspects of Europe’s dietary consumption are ignored and glossed over. Perhaps the European Commission may want to consider this comment made by 91 year old Harry Leslie Smith who, responding to a piece on the UK Human Rights Blog addressing the issue of a “right to food”, noted:
Growing up in the North of England in the 1920s and 1930s, I knew hunger as did my ancestors who despite the “charter of the forest” lived miserable, hungry, short lives…
…… malnutrition today is not caused by want of food but the type food on offer to the poor which is empty of nutrition but rich in fat, sodium and chemicals that only a food scientist without a moral conscience could devise.
The issue in this country shouldn’t be about one’s right to food, the issue must be about one’s right to food that has quality and that is not going to happen unless we neuter the food lobby’s influence on parliament and change the way food is farmed, processed and delivered to our stores. Don’t get me wrong because what we face today is a crisis and too many lives have been ruined by this austerity. But no matter how real 21st century want is to those who must endure it, they still don’t know, thank god, the ravenous despair of the Great Depression. Yet if we continue down this road of cutbacks who knows, perhaps my yesterday will be everyone’s tomorrow?
The civil-action group “Sum-of Us” has set up a petition with the following message, “EU Food Standards Agency: Don’t allow Big Food to mislead consumers on fructose health claims.” They are looking to get 70 000 signature and already have 60 205.
Their message may be crude – but in the absence of such campaigns how else are individual consumers, concerned about their children’s health, going to get their message through to those who can affect real change in Brussels?