Link to this page: https://secure.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/1097/31161
Tories' obesity plans - blaming individuals not the profit system
Heather Rawling, Leicester Socialist Party
First, the elderly were told to shield from Covid-19. Then, statistics revealed a disproportionate number of people from ethnic minorities were dying from the virus. Now, obesity is being linked to a serious risk of fatality from the virus.
The common factor, however, is poverty. And poverty is written into the DNA of capitalism.
According to the Nuffield Trust, there is a strong association between deprivation and obesity in children. In 2018-19, the prevalence of obesity in those aged 10-11 was 27% in the most-deprived areas and 13% in the least-deprived areas. Almost two-thirds of adults in England are overweight.
Poorer people suffer from a lack of decent housing, the gig economy and zero-hour contracts, low wages, Universal Credit and poor diets.
Government data revealed that during the first months of lockdown 3.7 million were forced to use food banks. You take what is offered, whether it is healthy or not.
Pre-pandemic council cuts have closed swimming pools and sold off playing fields and other sports facilities. Private gyms are too expensive if you're on a low wage or benefits even if you could afford the kit.
This pandemic has exposed inequalities in a most cruel way. Poverty, obesity and its related diseases make some people old or dead before their time. But don't worry, Boris Johnson has announced government plans to tackle obesity, possibly because of his own Covid brush with death.
The proposals include:
- A ban on TV and online adverts for food high in fat, sugar and salt before 9pm.
- End of deals like 'buy one, get one free' on unhealthy food high in salt, sugar and fat.
- Calories to be displayed on menus to help people make healthier choices when eating out - while alcoholic drinks could soon have to list hidden 'liquid calories'.
- A new campaign to help people lose weight, get active and eat better after the Covid-19 'wake-up call'.
In other words, it's the individual's responsibility. "If we all do our bit," says Boris, living on a different planet to the rest of us, "we can reduce our health risks and protect ourselves against coronavirus".
How much choice do we really have in the food we buy and eat? Working parents arrive home shattered and have little time or energy to prepare a home-cooked dinner.
Families living on housing estates are often miles from shops selling fresh food as local shops cannot compete with the superstores.
Public transport has been drastically cut back and most people on benefits don't have cars. Chances are, though, there will be fast food outlets offering trans-fats, high-sugar, and high-salt cheap meals, made with inferior ingredients, nearby.
Obesity is not an 'individual's problem'. The food industry is responsible for driving down food standards and aggressively marketing unhealthy foods.
You can bet that even now, the food manufacturers are lobbying the government to water down its inadequate proposals.
ITV and Channel 4 have warned the government that the media sector will lose £200 million in advertising revenue from these proposals.
We can't even trust the research. The British Nutrition Foundation was funded by the sugar industry, with a vested interest in keeping our sugar consumption high. Instead, the emphasis on obesity is a lack of exercise or unbalanced diets, not junk food.
The Socialist Party demands:
- The major food producers and distributors should be nationalised and democratically run as part of an overall plan of production to enable people to eat healthily at affordable prices
- A minimum wage of £12 an hour - £15 in London
- Increase benefits to the level of the minimum wage
- No more cuts! Organise a mass campaign to demand the government fully fund council budgets. Councils should provide easily accessible sports and leisure facilities
- A fully funded, national public transport system
- Make the roads safer for cyclists and walkers
In The Socialist 5 August 2020:
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