There are three guarantees in this life: death, taxes and Jamie Oliver interfering in the dietary habits of the British public.
Mr Oliver, I suspect, would have been delighted by George Osborne’s introduction of a sugar levy on soft drinks yesterday, set to come into effect in 2018. His rallying for a penalty on teeth-eroding beverages took off late last year, and as I wrote here on my blog a few months ago, I was as unenthused by it then as I am now.
But unlike the UKs favourite celebrity chef, I’m not really a fan of the ‘Nanny State’ approach to modern societal behaviour. I find it to be an extraordinarily useless and condescending waste of time. Government interference in our personal lives and the economy is inevitable, but a punitive tax on sugary drinks will harm only the poorest in Britain.
How telling it is, too, that it was the Conservative Party, of all parties, to bring in the new measure. If anybody was in any doubt as to whether or not the Tories were New Labour in disguise, this decision should act as a wake-up call. Were the Tory Party in any way socially or morally conservative, no such interference would have been suggested.
In their surprisingly naive response to the announcement, the NHS declared that the measure is the “first step to tackling childhood obesity”, and that obesity “now affects one in five children, already costing the NHS £5bn per year. Obesity is the new smoking”. Well, forgive me, but seeing as taxation didn’t work with cigarettes, why on earth would such a policy be effective in countering our nation’s growing obesity problem?
Obesity is becoming rampant throughout Britain, without doubt. You only have to walk down the average high street for two minutes before you see the mouth-wateringly grotesque fat community, waddling in and out of fast food restaurants, concealing their lard rolls with appallingly baggy clothing and taking up entire seat rows on public transport. I may sound contemptuous and frustrated, but it is becoming a real problem.
When I was little, fat kids at school were called names. Those fat kids did not like to be called names, and in many cases (though often some years later in life), chose to lose weight as a means of pushing back against the bullies and dealing proactively with name-calling. In the age of hyperactive political correctness that we are now pretty much nestled into, advocates of social stigma are, of course, considered to be bigoted or extreme in some manner. But stigma works, and the process is far less damaging to those unaffected by obesity.
But, alas, Jamie Oliver has his way once more, and struggling parents and students will feel the strain of his agenda on their wallets and bank accounts. “Education, not tax”, too, is a commonly-propagated line which, to some extent, I agree with. It is a sensible proposition, but seems to fly over the heads of many parents who routinely fail to select healthier options for their children, or restrict the treats that they are permitted around the house.
If a little more parental responsibility was enacted, I’d suggest that many of the UK’s childhood obesity issues would begin to subside. Even children are fully aware that the more they eat and less active they are, the fatter they will become. It is a simple principle, which doesn’t seem to be registering as well as it used to. Education programmes have now been proven to be futile; taxation is a silly, penal measure which punishes everybody (to varying degrees), regardless of weight or dietary habits, leaving only a resurgence in social stigma as a plausible candidate to turn our woes around.
Schools, governments and parents can only do so much, though, and so it does seem to me to be time for society to play its role. But, whatever your opinion on the matter, Jamie Oliver certainly isn’t the answer.