LAST week, I half-heard someone on the radio say that unless Britain gets a grip on its obesity problem the NHS will be bankrupt by 2020.
It was early. I hadn't started my morning fitness regime of banging my head off a wall because of the things I hear on the radio.
Cost predictions for the health service are, like a lot of waistbands, elastic. Most of us know the dire prophecy will never come to pass. One way or another, choices for fat folk will be made. The overweight will sink, swim, or (more likely) bob to their early graves. That wasn't really the point.
The speaker was being alarmist for a purpose. Yet again, the Westminster government is attempting to "persuade" the food industry to label food consistently, honestly, or at least in a manner that isn't a post-modern joke. The speaker wanted it understood that deceit is putting an entire generation of children at risk.
As mists cleared, I came up with one of my idiot questions. Why would a proud household name, a great supermarket or a famous brand, people who make all those adverts involving happy families and savings, not brag endlessly, proudly, about their nutritious products? Then I went back to smacking my head off a wall.
No-one has ever asked me to join a quango. On their part, this is wise. Were I asked to contribute to a food-labelling "debate", I would insist on sticking big skull-and-crossbones stickers on half the goods in the average supermarket, with the rubric, "Do Not Feed This Junk To Your Children Unless You Wish to Kill Them". There would be a problem with the mission statement.
It seems odd, though, that while we fret over drugs, paedophiles, the internet and such, pizza toppings are not a child-protection issue. Lard will kill more kiddies in this generation than the Taliban. The nice men with sweeties will not be the men your mother warned about. No-one will say what the stuff on frozen pizza has done to your ability to taste – perhaps you heard of it? – food. As risks, those toppings are more prevalent, and more efficient, than most.
Unlike cocaine, they enjoy legal advertising during kids' TV. Unlike cocaine, they cannot be banished from the life of a child suckling on a two-litre cola bottle. You can get off that coke, but pizza is for life. This generation of children will die before their parents because "the industry" won't submit to legislation.
Another strangely-round number involves alcohol. The abuse of that stuff, it is reported routinely, costs Scotland "a billion a year". I only wonder why the guesswork is conservative. Having been around drink, once or twice, I suspect that the actual cost, the authentic social and economic effect in every class, would shock us rigid, if sober.
Again, it's simple. I was about Edinburgh in the 1980s. Apart from seeing things I wouldn't wish on enemies, I witnessed simple economics. Flood the streets with heroin and – but here's a surprise – you wind up with a lot of skag clowns, and more examples of an Aids-related complex than your local NHS can handle. A market mechanism is a wonder.
So what's the current supermarket proposition? Make the ability to get slaughtered with drink cheaper than a packet of fags: what follows? I have done no survey work, but I walk some streets. You get hordes of pissed teenagers to whose salt-and-sugar, fat-and-salt addiction hooch has been added. Then these children risk getting busted if they smoke a little dope.
These intakes are rewiring brains. This aspect of a public-health issue has been overlooked, I think. Cheap cider, curry sauce, some carbs and a few chemicals on a Saturday night: now there's a mature democracy. There, too, is the outcome of a price mechanism as it impinges on social policy. People get stabbed. They get hurt by folk who are not – intentionally, cheaply – in their right minds.
I'm all in favour of banning things. I'm the smoker who said that smoking in a public place was always a disgrace and an offence. Under my dictatorship, the food industry would be prevented from performing tobacco's old trick by creating – I expect US Senate hearings in 2025 – the next generation of fat addicts. When a ban protects the common good, it does not infringe on democracy.
If Holyrood and Westminster can get together on the unit pricing of alcohol – namely, a single, cross-Border price – we should all take heart. Pricing works; lives will be saved.
In the midst of a recession, once you deal with smugglers and home brew, it should work to remedial effect. The decline in cigarette use makes the case. The inverse, the ubiquity of drunk and damaged teenagers, concludes the case. But I have a problem. It isn't a pizza-topping problem. It's not – laying aside my cigarette – one of those obtuse, "libertarian" tobacco industry problems. It's not a case on behalf of the Scottish whisky trade, or of the vineyards of Burgundy: booze is just booze. My problem is in wondering how much I, or anyone, needs to be told.
Here's a press release. It comes, this week, from England's education department. Dave, the Prime Minister, wants a word. "From today, the NHS Information Service for Parents will give mums and dads advice they can trust covering a wide range of issues related to staying healthy in pregnancy, preparing for birth and looking after their baby."
If Dave is right, 85% of you have not a single clue what to do with a scrap of life. Can that be true? If it is true, better than 85% of you will be running towards the agencies of government when your scrap turns into a strapping girl who's heard about cider.
You might be too busy to notice, of course. What with the complaining. Did no-one tell you about – deep breath – drink, fags, drugs, booze, fat, marriage, work, children, the world, and how – of course – it wasn't your fault? What we ask of our children, we need to ask of ourselves: grow up.
Should corporate interests seek to put rubbish down the throat of your son or daughter, pay attention.
Should you have turned overnight into a lard bucket or a drunk, pay attention. Should your envelope have just arrived at the door for your weekend's recreation, pay attention. Nothing got fixed.
When you say it wasn't your fault, you give power to people who will take that power, call you a loser, and run your existence. Note how the absence of self-determination adds up: fat people, with fat kids, off to Tescoworld, week in and week out. Lots of bargains there, of course, organised by people who do proper drugs.
What they like to overlook is choice. Choose to live well, or choose to live badly. Smoke, drink, eat junk: everyone wants to sell you something. Take your pick. To avoid having one's life run by Cameron or your local GP is a victory, I think.
Should you wish to die quick and ugly, that would count as a choice. Should you want to eat veg forever, that might (just) count as fun. But resistance is eternal.
So: where did I put my lighter?
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