I heard on the radio this morning an advert from a fast food chain saying that they had now introduced vegetarian wraps in their, er, let’s say ‘joyful feast’ (they’re not paying me so I’m not naming their product). The narrator then went on to say how the chain had reduced their saturated fat in their cooking oil by 83% between 1992 and 2010, followed by some whistling.

This got me thinking (I have a lot of time to think on my commute – I’ve solved world hunger and everything during those long car journeys); if they’ve been reducing the saturated fat in their oil since 1992, why are children in the UK more obese now with the healthier cooking fats than they were back in 1992 and the artery clogging stuff?

As my mind wandered a bit more; they’re not the only food company to have reduced sugar / salt / saturated fats in their products, most have. Since the early nineties chocolate bars have gotten smaller (I miss king-size), fries have less salt on them and the main branded cereals I had recently had lost that much sugar that I’d-rather-have-a-bowl-of-something-else.

So why then, with all this improved and healthier food available (and let’s not forget the sugar tax deterrent) are children and adults in the UK getting bigger?

I don’t have an answer but I do have some ideas.

I did a quick search for some data regarding poverty levels in the UK since the early nineties. I found a graph and some research at www.ifs.org.uk that shows child and pensioner poverty has risen and more than doubled since 1985. Comparing this with some graphs about obesity levels in the UK and there is an upward trend apparent too, albeit the two don’t rise at the same rates. Could there be a link? Possibly.

If you read The Mail Online (and I don’t know how, their website layout is appallingly bad), they would suggest that there is a link. Speaking of links, here is one to their story: Poor kids are now FATTER than rich kids because of the rise of cheap junk food

They reviewed the paper : Socioeconomic inequalities in childhood and adolescent body-mass index, weight, and height from 1953 to 2015: an analysis of four longitudinal, observational, British birth cohort studies by David Bann et al and skewed the conclusions for their headline, suggesting that the rise of cheap junk food is solely to blame for the increase in bigger children. They later went on to include a reduced rate of physical exercise being a factor too, but I’m guessing most readers didn’t get that far down the article.

The same paper was also reviewed by the NHS on their website (click here) and they suggest that the Mail Online had reached the wrong conclusions and that the authors actually suggested:

“Powerful influence of the obesogenic environment [growing up in an environment that encourages, or at least facilitates, unhealthy eating] has disproportionately affected socioeconomically disadvantaged children”, and that policies to prevent childhood obesity have been “ineffectually focused”

Indeed. I’m guessing some policy makers have been grabbing the low lying fruit and barking up the wrong tree.

As a final question up for debate, is the problem due to the easy availability of cheap food everywhere or is it that people don’t have enough money to afford better food? Incidentally however, bananas are much cheaper than chocolate bars, so is there some education needed?

Going back to the original advert, I remember when they introduced carrot sticks into their ‘joyous banquet’ and Boris Johnson commented on it. I don’t normally agree with what he says, but I did on this occasion. He said (and I can’t remember the exact words, it was a long time ago) that if he bought his child one of these ‘happy’ meals and there were carrot sticks in it, they wouldn’t be bloody happy.

Well said.