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Schools and Obesity


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I think John has done his best here to polarise the debate and characterise my criticism of the "Nanny State" as somehow right wing and also to associate it with some quite vile practices from the past - eloquently done, but entirely spurious :blink:.

As a democratic socialist and lover of freedom (these are not mutually exclusive!), I can think of little worse than an elite of well meaning but essentially fussy and bossy individuals telling me how to live my life. I note also with some hilarity that yesterday such trends were taken to the extreme of telling me how to watch the television without risk of injury! See

HERE.

Educators and representatives have a duty to inform not hector, and also to safeguard and encourage personal choice. Governments should also legislate to outlaw bad practices in the food industry where they exist. But unless individuals are empowered to be rational, self governing, self aware citizens there is no hope for any sort of socialism other than that of the elite dominated models of Fabianism or Leninism.

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As a democratic socialist and lover of freedom (these are not mutually exclusive!), I can think of little worse than an elite of well meaning but essentially fussy and bossy individuals telling me how to live my life. I note also with some  hilarity that yesterday such trends were taken to the extreme of telling me how to watch the television without risk of injury!

Could you give me some examples of proposed government legislation that you disagree with? It is possible that we are not in disagreement.

For example, I would like to see the following:

Severe restrictions on the food industry ability to advertise to children.

Strict controls placed on foods and drinks available in schools.

The banning of ingredients in foods, that are clearly harmful, such as hydrogenated fats.

The introduction of free milk and fruit in schools.

Dramatic increases in the taxes on tobacco and alcohol (the money to be used on health spending).

Increased punishments for drunken behaviour.

A ban on smoking in public places.

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Each item on your wish list has some superficial appeal. What I object to however is the enervating underlying paternalism and its inevitable undesirable negative consequences.

The best result is for children to be educated to make sensible choices and even to take risks if they wish in adult life. Restricting and structuring choice will do nothing to equip a child with the capacity to make their own decisions in any areas of their lives. A nation of people who cannot make decisions for themselves can be never be democratic or egalitarian.

Issues such as "Mars bars versus apples" require an educative engagement with children. Just banning sugar and fat from the canteen will not work.

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Banning sugar and fat from the canteen may not work, but having healthy foods as an option would certainly be a good start. In one of the school I worked, the only vegetables on the menu were chips, and at another the only choices at breaktime were chips or pizza. Obvious choices for the private catering companies bearing in mind that they are ridiculously cheap to produce.

If anything, privitaised canteen have already created a 'nanny state' all-be-it an evil nanny, as the only choices available are bad ones! You MUST select the chips if you want to support free trade and industry!

However, I don't think making milk and fruit free is the answer. Anything which is free holds no 'value' to the people who receive it. Simply make it an option and an affordable one at that.... or don't tell the kids it's free!

There is a wonderful series on Canadian TV right now about a group of primary aged kids learning how to cook, and not just packet mixes and baked potatoes but full on lasagna from scratch (making the pasta, bolognaise and bechemel sauce). The result is children knowing what goes into their food and taking a pride in their creations.

Sadly so few parents know how to throw together a decent meal, or have time to do so, so the only chance kids get to learn how to cook is at school.

This isn't a nanny state issue. We insist that students wear a uniform, attend classes on time and don't colour their hair pink.... just because we want to (! sorry, there are of course reasons!) so why not insist that they walk the 50 yards to school and take chips off the menu. It seems ridiculous to control matters that have no impact on their health and yet leave them to eat themselves into an early grave for fear of interfering.

Rowena

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The nanny state gets up to all sorts of things, like preventing me from exercising my right to drive on the right-hand side of the road when I visit the UK! The question for me is not whether there are going to be controls or not (obviously there are going to be), but rather what kind of controls they are going to be, and who is going to decide over them.

The idea that there's a 'free choice' in a situation where millions are spent on advertising to shape children's preferences for particular kinds of foods (the unhealthy ones) is, at least, naive.

At the same time if you hand over a service like school meals to the private sector, without imposing strict controls, the law of the free market will tend to result in them offering worst possible service they can get away with without actually losing the contract. And since the contracts are not awarded by parents or children, it's not immediately obvious that providing nutritionally awful food is a negative factor.

Edited by David Richardson
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The nanny state gets up to all sorts of things, like preventing me from exercising my right to drive on the right-hand side of the road when I visit the UK! The question for me is not whether there are going to be controls or not (obviously there are going to be), but rather what kind of controls they are going to be, and who is going to decide over them.

The idea that there's a 'free choice' in a situation where millions are spent on advertising to shape children's preferences for particular kinds of foods (the unhealthy ones) is, at least, naive.

Agree entirely. People initially are opposed to regulation that controls the way they live. For example, the British people were initially opposed to the wearing of seat-belts in cars. In the days following this legislation Barbara Castle, the Transport Minister, was the most unpopular politician in Britain (stirred up by the tabloid press and the motoring organizations). However, the move was a great success and has saved thousands of lives.

The introduction of legislation against racial discrimination was also unpopular at the time, but is now seen as a vital aspect of a modern democracy.

The important thing about this kind of legislation is that it changes people’s behaviour. At first they retain their views, for example, a belief that black people are inferior or that they prefer to drive without a seat-belt. According to Festinger’s theory of Cognitive Dissonance, people find it an unpleasant experience to act differently to the way they think. Therefore, in time, people change their attitudes to fit in with their behaviour patterns. After all, who do you know who does not wear a seat-belt (alright, Princess Diana, but we all know what happened to her).

Interestingly, public opinion polls show that people have already been won over to legislation on these health issues. This includes all classes (despite the views of Health Secretary John Reid). A survey published yesterday showed that:

When people were asked which workplaces they wanted to see smoking banned in:-

· 96% backed a ban in NHS hospitals

· 85% in shopping centres

· 79% in restaurants

· 78% in cafés

· 62% in railway stations

· 49% in pubs and bars

· 47% in nightclubs

Support for a ban was seen across supporters of all political parties.

For further details see:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3794499.stm

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Makes me think of Dr John Snow and the Broad Street Pump. Here's a link:

http://www.ph.ucla.edu/epi/snow/broadstreetpump.html

but I bet John Simkin's got something about it on Spartacus.

I'm sure that the 'widow in Hampstead' would have thought that it was terrible that the authorities stopped people from drinking from her favourite pump, the one she'd sent across London for the water from because she thought it tasted so good. She didn't think that, of course, because the same water had already killed her.

At the risk of being accused of polarising or taking things too far, I'd say that the current exposure of schoolchildren to junk food is of basically the same nature as the exposure of the inhabitants of East London to the raw sewage that had leaked into the Broad Street well. Junk food doesn't kill you quite as quickly, and more people exposed to it survive, that's all.

Perhaps the Victorian era was different … but the way we achieved our current society where people don't die of cholera regularly was via intervention from the nanny state. If we'd left it to the private sector, the Victorian network of sewers and water pipes wouldn't have been built. What makes me say this is that the network is just beginning to break down now, not having been maintained and repaired properly by the private sector during the 'golden days' of the 1980s and 1990s.

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This thread rather unfortunately seems to have been driven in the direction of ancient arguments between laissez-faire liberals and state interventionists. I wonder why John and David have chosen to do this? Could it be that they feel on more comfortable ground in taking the debate to this place?

Interestingly though I am not a laissez-faire liberal and have nowhere in the debate so far suggested that I am. My argument is with those "socialists", and "interventionists" or whatever you want to call them who apparently believe that the world would be so much better for everyone if the world just did as they said because "they know best," rather than attempt any democratic or educative engagement with the people. It seems to be based on a staggeringly negative view of the mental capabilities of most people and, equally seriously, to be based on a fundamentally anti-democratic principle. There is currently a sort of "health fascism" abounding amongst the assorted quackery which makes up medical opinion in England which perpetuates this myth. Hence the recent grave advice (and without a hint of irony mark you), on how safely to watch the soccer on telly. ;)

No one in their right mind would argue against seat belt legislation or the requirement of the state to supply fresh water to everyone, or the notion that child labour is a bad idea and should be outlawed. It is also just possible however that the people might be able to understand these things for themselves. Indeed I would struggle to think of any real improvements to ordinary peoples lives that haven't been won by the actions of themselves rather than springing from the minds of their "betters".

It is of course quite possible that elites, teachers and leaders can make significant numbers of people stupid and passive. Paternalistic elite direction has the very negative side effect of getting people used to obeying the commands of their "betters", and worse still to expect them. Rather neatly this process creates an artificial need for "leadership."

Thus I believe that the best way of tackling obsesity in schools is to empower children to make choices using their critical faculties, rather than for "Nanny" whoever she or he may be, to make those decisions for them. This does not of course imply that I don't believe that their should be some regulation of the food industry and the suppliers of school canteens.

:feed

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My argument is with those "socialists", and "interventionists" or whatever you want to call them who apparently believe that the world would be so much better for everyone if the world just did as they said because "they know best," rather than attempt any democratic or educative engagement with the people.

Could you make it clearer what proposed legislation that you are objecting to. Until you do that, I am not sure what we are disagreeing about.

A recent survey suggests that the disadvantaged desperately need help to help break their addictions. For example, 76% of the unemployed who smoke want to give up and are in favour of legislation that will help them do this.

Tobacco smoke pollution is the only class A carcinogen from which workers have no protection. It is estimated that around 2,000 people die each year from tobacco smoke pollution. This includes one non-smoking bar worker per week.

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We are disagreeing about approaches to achieving what I imagine is a shared ideal - a healthier, happier and more egalitarian and autonomous society. I have been suggesting that a paternalist approach will not lead to the furtherance of any of these objectives.

You are yet to engage in discussion on this central point.

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I'm not trying to say that legislation alone is going to be the answer either. Of course there'll be a need for a lot of 'remedial' work to counteract the influence of the junk food producers. My point is that pupils are not making 'choices' about what kind of food to eat and what kind of lifestyle to lead in a neutral environment. Rather it's an environment where the suppliers of junk food have got massive propaganda resources, and they're able to exercise a great deal of control to limit the pupils' access to certain types of foods (how many fruit vending machines are there is schools, compared with fizzy-drink vending machines?) and promote others.

There's a problem with obesity and junk food in Sweden too, but it's nowhere near the problem in the UK. There are still very strict nutritional standards for school meals (which are free, by the way, and often include breakfast as well). Pupils just don't know what 'packed lunches' are, since everyone eats at school. Physical education is integrated into the curriculum at a very early age, as are lots of other types of outdoor physical exercise (there are even some day nurseries for pre-schoolers, where the kids spend most of all day, every day, summer and winter, out of doors). One of the items on this evening's news was the shock-horror story that five out of a thousand 11-year olds can't swim, and what are we going to do about that?

It's an integrated system, where strictly-enforced nutritional standards, access to open countryside and properly-controlled physical education are all essential factors. The system would almost certainly break down without at least the first and last of these factors.

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It's an integrated system, where strictly-enforced nutritional standards, access to open countryside and properly-controlled physical education are all essential factors. The system would almost certainly break down without at least the first and last of these factors.

Now here are the beginnings of something with which I can agree.

I also agree with David that people currently do not make real "choices" about what they eat, and that frequently those choices are structured by economics (the cheapest food is often the least healthy) and saturation advertising.

However it is important that people are allowed to make choices about how they live their lives - once the food industry has been cleaned up and regulated, and once a consistent, balanced and un-hypocritical educational input has been set up -without some foul school marm telling everyone what to do. Not least because prohibition always fails.

The debate reminds me very much of former debates on Drugs Education. What passes for drugs education in the UK in the last 25 years has been characterised by the law and the consequences of breaking it (regulation and the threat of dire consequences/punishment), and false horror stories of what drugs can do to you (much of which is based on a lie). Most damagingly of all much of it delivered by smoking semi alcoholic hypocrites. It is not difficult to see why Drugs Education has failed. If you lie to children you lose them for good.

Living in the modern world involves complicated moral, ethical and personal choices. The desire to make these decisions for "the poor, the weak or the less intelligent", whilst in some may be very strong should always be resisted in favour of the desire to empower and to educate. Should we do all these things and yet some individuals still choose to eat burgers and chain smoke then that is no ones business but theirs.

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I also agree with David that people currently do not make real "choices" about what they eat, and that frequently those choices are structured by economics (the cheapest food is often the least healthy) and saturation advertising.

However it is important that people are allowed to make choices about how they live their lives - once the food industry has been cleaned up and regulated, and once a consistent, balanced and un-hypocritical educational input has been set up -without some foul school marm telling everyone what to do. Not least because prohibition always fails.

I am also against prohibition but as with issues like seat-belts and child labour, I am in favour of compulsion. Until you specify the legislation you object to, it is difficult to say whether we actually disagree on this issue. However, obesity is an issue that this government has so far refused to tackle.

As I said earlier (18th February) I prefer the position of the government in Finland. They have shown that with the right legislation you can reverse this trend to produce larger and larger people. However, it does mean that the people of Finland have had to endure restrictions on their freedom. As the BBC report pointed out: “In this country (Britain), the accusation of presiding over a 'nanny state' is the worst form of insult that can be thrown at a politician. But in Finland politicians seem to smart less at such allegations.”

Next Friday, Cancer 2025, a report written by the country’s top cancer specialists, will be presented to the government. It will claim that cancer cases will treble over the next 20 years. It warns that a cancer underclass is developing (overweight poor people who smoke). The report predicts that by 2025 the NHS will have to treat 3 million people suffering from cancer. It warns that the cost of this treatment will bankrupt the NHS. They claim that unless the government acts on this issue they will be forced to introduce a semi-privatised NHS. In other words, the treatment people receive will depend on their ability to pay.

This report illustrates the dilemma facing the government. An unwillingness to introduce legislation now will result is some unpleasant decisions being made in the future. The problem we face is that governments tend to leave unpleasant decisions until as late as possible. After all, they will say to themselves, why should we make decisions that make us unpopular when future politicians will gain the benefits for these actions. It is very similar to reasons why governments are reluctant to take unpopular decisions to protect the environment. It is in fact one of the disadvantages of democratic government. All we can do is urge our governments to make decisions that are good for future generations. As intelligent individuals we have a responsiblity to do that.

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Whilst I would not wish to suggest that fat children who grow up to be unhealthy adults shouldn't be a concern for government I have to say that I would welcome a more critical response to the medical elites hysterical reactions to people gaining poundage.

Health properly defined is surely the capacity to cope with the human realities of life, death, pain, and sickness. Medicine has arguably gone too far launching into this Godlike battle to eradicate death, pain, and sickness. In doing so, it turns people into consumers or objects, destroying their capacity for "health" and making them ill. More and more problems are seen as susceptible to medical elite inspired government intervention. The medical elite have taken over control of us and what should be done to us. Individuals have been disempowered. Our bodies have become alien to us and beyound our own control.

Healthy people are self governing people who are able to live their lives fully and naturally because they understand the natural cycle of life and do not create taboos out of pain and death. Medicine wishes to hide these truths away to such an extent that they wish to police our pantries, larders and lunch boxes.

I doubt whether any of well meaning interfering legislation into how people lead their lives inspired by the medical elite will improve the "health" of the nation in any way at all. :rolleyes:

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I've been on leave for a week (visiting my son on the beautiful and balmy Sunshine Coast in Qld) and have just been catching up. Wonderful philosophical discussion above, but have just read in the local paper the REAL answer to it all by our state P&F President - children are obese because teachers no longer spend after school and weekend hours coaching sport teams. "In his day......." So, that's all right then, we know whose fault everything is!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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