There’s very little an MP, particularly a Labour MP, can say in today’s United Kingdom without inflaming a large and vocal chunk of the public. There’s also very little negotiation with our (or our childrens’) almost perverse fascination with eating sweets, or what tastes like sweets, for breakfast on a daily basis, guided through a journey of acidic, sugary, hypnotic brilliance by the hand of one of a few dozen anthropomorphised mascots that could easily be mistaken, ten or so years later for the result of eating a very different kind of ‘biscuit’.
So when a typically concerned-looking, approachable, but still slightly brazen and bumbling Andy Burnham suggested it might be a good idea to ban one particular cereal, Frosties (and its totally normal-looking and acceptable mascot, a talking tiger whose contract with Kellogg’s is so terrible the only item of clothing he can afford is a red neckerchief), there was literally no situation better suited to the phrase ‘storm in a cereal bowl.’ That’s a thing, right?
The thing is, as banal, mean, and somewhat intrusive as this suggestion (which, it should be emphasised, is NOT Labour Party policy) sounds to many parents, as well as offensive in that it implies they cannot be trusted to buy healthy food for their children, Mr Burnham’s concerns are aptly described as drastic measures brought on by a drastic situation. An OECD report last week found that 26.6% of all British girls are obese, with the figure for boys only slightly lower, at 22.7%. Considering the slight skew in the overall population toward women, that’s roughly a quarter of British children classed as obese; almost twice the level found in France, a nation which seems to pride itself on food so unacceptable to all other living creatures it could only find a home there.
We are constantly warned by our venerable, revered and dependable *cough* government that the NHS in its current form simply will not face the strain of the next decade of healthcare, and will still be difficult to maintain after its reforms; so why should these same people bridle at legislation which will reduce the number of people dependent on the service? By banning foods which contain frankly obscene amounts of sugar, salt, trans fats et al, obesity levels would be reduced, and pressure on the health service would decrease.
Of course, little like this has ever been attempted in the UK before, so its effectiveness is up for debate; but a look across the pond shows great promise. In 2005, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City introduced a ban on trans fats in all restaurants in the city limits. This was not a big man’s torment of roadway cafés and questionable burger joints; amongst the chains affected were fast foods behemoths Burger King and McDonalds. Of course, the legislation did not equate to an outright ban on foods, as rather than risk this, the suppliers involved simply removed the trans fats and other ingredients containing them from their products. An FDA study conducted in 2007 revealed that by doing this, in a mere two years, the average trans fat content of a fast food meal in NYC dropped from 2.9g to 0.5g; an amount the FDA considers ‘negligible’, and well below the daily limit of 2g it recommends.
It seems that for once, American politics may have a more sensible answer than ours; whilst it perhaps was foolhardy and ill-judged of Mr Burnham to suggest an outright ban on a popular children’s cereal, particularly considering Labour’s (ill-conceived and silly, but nonetheless vivid) image as the party of the smoking ban and the ‘nanny state’, thoughtful legislation on the actual content of food may be a far more reliable way to start the fight against childhood and adulthood obesity than asking companies nicely, as the Coalition’s ‘Responsibility Deal’ apparently does; where the actual figures to prove this are, I’m not quite sure. Perhaps Oliver Letwin threw them in the bin again.
Last year, Mayor Bloomberg struck another left hook to the flabby gut of podgy toddlers and parents with a law limiting the size of soft drinks sold at entertainment venues and restaurants to 16oz, down from 20oz; a reduction that suggests that if a New Yorker were to drink one 16oz cup a day as opposed to the 20oz cup a day they would previously have drunk, they will save an astounding four pounds of body fat in calories a year. America, for now, is still a fatter nation than us. Let’s keep it that way.