Professor John Ashton of the Faculty of Public Health was on BBC Radio 4’s World at One today speaking about children’s health. One of our major food manufacturers has seen a need to put a warning label on a range of its products which says, “Not to be eaten more than once a week”. We’re a society whose food products are so bad for health they have to carry warnings. In this particular case, on account of their high levels of sugar, salt and fat.
Professor Ashton said, “We really don’t value children’s health in this country”.
Two questions arise from this. 1) Why doesn’t the manufacturer discontinue production of these items? (They are very profitable. People obviously like them and in some cases are literally addicted to them – on account of their excessive sugar, salt and fat.) 2) Why do people choose to buy harmful products? (See above. Also – many parents have little understanding about food preparation and cooking. Many parents are ‘time poor’ and see a need to open a jar, a bottle or a can – rather than spend time preparing meals using basic healthy ingredients.)
On the part of the manufacturers we see greed, indifference to public health, and concern for profits above all else. On the part of the public – lack of information, lack of education and lack of understanding. Is it any wonder that worldwide there’s been a massive increase in obesity (often alongside increasing poverty) as more and more of these relatively cheap but unhealthy products become available around the world.
As ever, the solutions lie in public policy, which may have to be driven by public outrage and public demand, especially where there’s a failure to lead politically by our elected representatives.
We have to demand high quality personal, social and health education – in schools, on the internet and on television. We need lifelong learning. As our understanding of health issues develops it must be disseminated far and wide. But health education must be on offer for every child, throughout their time in school, both primary and secondary. And this crucial learning must be compulsory – with no opting out by either the children or the schools.
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