I WAS in a supermarket car park last week and the woman in the Chelsea tractor next to me was taking a moment to light up a cigarette before reversing her SUV out of the space. Which is fairly unremarkable but for that she had a boy of about eight years old in the seat next to her.

It seemed a pretty retro sight; you think smoking in a confined space with children is a habit of a previous era, that the damaging effects of fag smoke on developing lungs are kent enough that you'd avoid it.

But hey, at least she wasn't taking cake to a workplace.

My boss [Jeez, I was trying to be nice - Ed] has brought some little chocolate biscuit marshmallows into the office and they're sitting seductively in an open box to my right. I've started a fitness challenge today - how very January of me - and I'm trying very hard not to touch them.

Professor Susan Jebb, chair of the Food Standards Agency, would say the editor is guilty of a sin akin to passive smoking [I WAS TRYING TO BE NICE - ED].


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Professor Susan Jebb, chair of the Food Standards Agency, would say the editor is guilty of a sin akin to passive smoking.

In an interview last week, speaking as herself and not as a representative for the FSA, she said that bringing cake to the office should be seen as being as harmful as passive smoking.

I can say with some certainty that I'd take an office Empire biscuit over someone blowing a blueberry flavoured vape in my face any day. As an aside, can vapers please, dear God, stand downwind? Or, I don't know, exhale into a corner. Or something.

Anyway. People take their treats seriously, not least cake. This is a nation with rituals based around cake; rituals with cake-based interludes; and TV franchises based on watching people fail at making cakes.

So Professor Jebb's comments were controversial enough - I mean, we're at the point now of quoting Marie Antoinette non-ironically here, so it's serious times - that they made headlines overseas. This is such stuff as dreams are made on if you're a health expert who's hit the right note.

Professor Jebb, likely to some alarm, did not hit the right note and folk were affronted enough that the story featured in Australia publications and the Washington Post [Battenburg the hatches - Ed].

HeraldScotland: Professor Susan Jebb, chair of the Food Standards Agency, compared the effects of bringing cakes into the office to passive smokingProfessor Susan Jebb, chair of the Food Standards Agency, compared the effects of bringing cakes into the office to passive smoking (Image: Newsquest)

When I was at the Glasgow Times we had an office cake club. It started out as a nice thing to do for one another. We'd each take it in turn to bake a cake to be shared with the other members of the club. From a caring bit of cheer, the club became increasingly more competitive until the cakes were towering high, impressive confections.

We ended up doing a competitive Victoria sponge bake judged by one of the lads off The Great British Bake Off. In an outrage that incenses me to this day, I came second.

Before long an anti-cake club was formed. They still made cakes and brought them in but they were things like top hats and rice crispie cakes. No bake, easy recipes. A hipster two fingers to our earnest efforts.


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You have to be an absolute fun sponge to want to remove cake from offices. Or... a public health expert faced with the reality that two-thirds of adults are overweight, including a quarter who are obese. A fifth of children are already overweight by the time they start school, and most people in Britain are now too heavy by the age of 25.

It's a tough subject to broach because of the natural sensitivity people feel about their weight. There's a fightback from body positivity movements and there's the obvious caution needed to be mindful of people with eating disorders; the considerations, for example, that arose when it was suggested all menus should come with calorie counts.

The reality is, though, obesity puts a strain on an already strained health service and the majority of people are not overweight through active choice. Professor Jebb also commented that the majority of doctors ignore patients' weight, likely because of the sensitivity involved and the complexity.


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It's very difficult to make any kind of blanket health guidance because you are really pitching your guidance to a specific minority while making it broad enough to try to relate to the majority. This ends up patronising some and offending others – see any forthcoming attempt from the Scottish Government to address alcohol marketing – a position that leads only to your health advice being ignored.

Willpower is not the solution to tackling a large-scale public health issue. We live in an obesogenic society that makes it easy to be overweight and we have to make the environment more supportive of good health. That's the point Professor Jebb was rightly making, but going after the communal French fancies was a foolish way to do it.

Truly, when it comes to public health guidance, you cannot have your cake and eat it. [I'll take the rest of the chocolate marshmallows home then - Ed]