The new health secretary has opened up the debate again on food and in particular the question: can you tell someone what to to? Does nagging have the opposite effect?
Andrew Lansley told the British Medical Association conference in Brighton there must be an evidence-based approach to dealing with public health. Mr Lansley said people needed to take responsibility for their own health. He warned lecturing people often ended up being counter-productive. “If we are constantly lecturing people and trying to tell them what to do, we will actually find that we undermine and are counterproductive in the results that we achieve,” said the health secretary, who has pledged to rename the Department of Health the Department of Public Health (I wonder how many taxpayers pounds for that?). He said the TV chef’s approach to school food had not had the desired effect – the number of children eating school meals had gone down instead of up. “Jamie Oliver, quite rightly, was talking about trying to improve the diet of children in schools and improving school meals, but the net effect was the number of children eating school meals in many of these places didn’t go up, it went down. “So then the schools said
‘It’s OK to bring packed lunches but we’ve got to determine what’s in the packed lunches, we’ve got to decide what’s in the packed lunches.’
“To which the parents’ response was that they gave children money and children are actually spending more money outside school, buying snacks in local shops, instead of on school lunches.” He said that people proposed shopd near schools be banned, adding: “Actually, where do we end up with this?”
Protecting health Mr Lansley said the consumption of salty foods could be reduced but none of this would work unless people’s behaviour changed. He is expected to outline in detail how he plans to do this later this year in a public health strategy paper. He has also pledged to ring-fence public health budgets, saying in the past that they have been raided during times when money is scarce. Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, suggested the health secretary’s comments about the TV chef’s campaign were unfair. “I find it deeply distressing. I think what Jamie Oliver did was excellent. The whole thing managed to improve school meals and pushed the government into investing more money into them. “Of course, we could probably do a little less nagging, but you still need to nudge people. It is about creating the right environment so healthy choices are easier to take as well as encouraging them to change their behaviour.”
Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum added: “The teething problems that school meals may still be going through have nothing to do with Jamie Oliver but the schools themselves. Oliver was unique in introducing the idea of giving our children healthy meals at school and the proof is that his system is working. “From breakfast onwards research is showing that Oliver-style food is showing real benefits in terms of attention to learning and reduction of bad classroom behaviour. On top of which the children get fed properly. It would be lunacy to abandon that breakthough for a few schools that may not have got their act together yet.
So there are both sides of the argument. What seems to be true is that if we do nothing then the nation will be in serious trouble weight wise. Most young people in shools take more notice of music and sporting celebrities, so perhaps a campaign fronted by Cheryl Cole and David Beckham, letting young people know that they did not get their stunning bodies from burgers and chips might also help.