How to cut obesity

We live, it is said, in a "nanny state" that constantly tries to regulate our lifestyles. This is almost the exact opposite of the truth. A nanny's first duty is to have a care for her charges' bodily health, ensuring good diet and frequent exercise. In this respect, successive governments have been scandalously negligent. They have stood by while obesity - a condition that leads, for example, to type-2 diabetes, strokes and cancers of the colon and the ovary - has reached epidemic proportions. Even infants, according to a report just out from a committee of MPs, are dying from heart failure caused by obesity. The number of obese adults has nearly trebled in 20 years and Sir John Krebs, chairman of the Food Standards Agency, has suggested that, as the obese population soars to 40 per cent of the total "within a generation", we could see the first fall in life expectancy for a century.

The idea that the government should decline to "interfere" in our "consumer preferences" is preposterous. Big business interferes the whole time, filling shops, pubs, restaurants and high-street takeaways with high-fat, sugar-rich junk food, and filling the media with propaganda to persuade us and our children to eat it. No doubt it is true that, if we all took more exercise - if children walked briskly to school or if housewives stayed home and scrubbed the floors as they did in the 1950s or if middle-aged men touched their toes a dozen times a day - we would be healthier, slimmer and fitter. But we live in a society that seems almost designed to discourage exercise: long commuting distances; out-of-town superstores; computer games; a dearth of school playing fields; a compulsion to drive your children to school lest they be run over by other parents driving their children to school; and so on. Nothing can be done in the short term about all this and, in any case, medical researchers at Oxford calculate that it would take the average child 45 minutes to run off a bag of crisps. The manufacturers of fizzy drinks, crisps and sweets (sales of which have risen at least 25-fold since the 1950s) have a vested interest in promoting the idea that we can eat what we like as long as we go to the gym. Given the propensity of capitalists for keeping a step ahead, they are probably buying shares in private fitness centres even now.

But the key to what doctors call our "obesogenic environment" is the relentless promotion of junk food to children. Almost incredibly, ministers have allowed the manufacturers to exploit the education system, through schemes whereby children "earn" books or sports equipment for their schools by collecting tokens from crisp or cereal packets or chocolate-bar wrappers. Some of these wheezes have been backed by the Department for Education. Many cash-strapped schools also benefit financially from allowing soft-drink dispensing machines on their premises. Regulations and cash limits for school meals do nothing to help providers keep junk off the menu and buy fresh, local, nutritious food.

The government cannot ban snacking and the sale of fast food. But it can turf the manufacturers out of schools and it can ban the advertising of sweets, snacks and soft drinks on children's TV in the same way that it bans the advertising of tobacco even to people supposedly old enough to make their own judgements. A ban would curtail nobody's freedom except that of advertisers to exploit "pester power". The manufacturers make the feeble case that children's TV would suffer, and perhaps disappear from the commercial channels, because it would no longer attract revenue. So what? Children might then go out to play and get more exercise. Nor would it be a blow to liberty if ministers were to legislate for the clear and proper labelling of fatty, sugary and salty food. On the contrary, it would allow consumers to make informed decisions about what they and their children eat without having to decipher technical descriptions in eye-straining print. Finally, unhealthy food should be taxed on the grounds, first, that it is of little nutritional value and so does not deserve its VAT-exempt status; and, second, that the money is needed to help finance the costs of obesity to the NHS.

Ministers will be reluctant to do any of this because of the lobbying power of both manufacturers and retailers, and the bogus "scientific doubts" that will be raised by the academics and think-tanks they fund. The US administration - a case of producer capture if ever there was one - now talks of "insufficient evidence" on the causes of obesity, just as it does on global warming. But the effects of bad food and drink are now as clear, and as much in line with common sense, as the effects of smoking. To allow advertisers to push junk at children on the present scale is to condone child abuse.

Were the lizards behind it all?

The CIA claims Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi exile whom America hoped to install in power, is in effect an Iranian agent. As he was the source for most of the US's pre-war fears about Iraq, this would make Saddam Hussein's overthrow part of the long Iran-Iraq rivalry and the US an unwitting tool. This may seem far-fetched, but it makes sense of what seemed an inexplicable war. One would like to think somebody knew what he was doing, even if it was an Iranian ayatollah. When secret services are involved, anything is possible. At one stage in the cold war, say some, the British and Soviet spy services were each running the other's operations. A top Soviet defector claimed the Sino-Soviet split was a put-up job to confuse the west. It is all very confusing. Perhaps Mossad, Israel's secret service, is running Iranian intelligence. That would make sense. Or perhaps the world is run by lizards, as David Icke says. That would make sense, too.

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