A lot of advertising is devoted to pushing the foods that contribute to obesity.
In particular, they are heavily advertised on the television and specifically in connection with programmes that children watch, except in the relatively few places (such as Sweden and Quebec) where this is forbidden.
This is especially worrying partly because of the great increase in childhood obesity and partly because the food habits we acquire when young tend to persist throughout our lives.
Representatives of the food industry naturally disclaim any responsibility. They argue that its parents that decide what their children eat.
Advertising, we are assured, has no effect. It may sound odd that they are spending millions of pounds on something that they dont think helps them make money.
Weve heard this sort of story before, from the tobacco companies. They insist they should be allowed to keep on advertising cigarettes, because so they say the ads do not increase the number of smokers.
All they influence is choice among brands. No one is tempted to take up smoking because of tobacco advertisements, but some who are already smokers may move from one brand to another.
That sounds a bit far-fetched, but suppose it were true. It still wouldnt apply to food advertising because there is important difference between tobacco and food. We dont all smoke but we do all eat.
The tobacco companies explain that the huge amount each of them spends on advertising is not wasted because it can lead people to prefer their products over the others on offer. But in the case of foods, thats precisely what we are worried about. We dont need ads to make us take up eating.
The question is about preferences, and if the advertisements can change these as the tobacco manufacturers claim and as the food manufacturers must also believe or they wouldnt spend so much money on advertising then it is wrong to allow ads aimed at making us, and even more so our children, choose foods that are bad for our health.
Thats on the input side. On the output side, we should be encouraging people to walk and to use public transport. A standard recommendation is that people should take about 30 minutes of exercise five times a week.
Many of us can do that by walking briskly to and from the bus stop on our way to work instead of getting into the car and driving there. Measures to improve public transport can also be measures to improve health, and thats before we include the benefits in terms of cleaner air and fewer road accidents.
Above all, we should encourage children to walk to school which also means putting in place measures to make the journey safe.
There have always been obese people, and it may well be that drugs or other special treatments have something to offer them.
But the hard scientific data, accumulated through 50 years of over-eating and under-exercising by millions of people, tells us that we can make a major impact on the problem by eating less, exercising more and avoiding the high energy fast foods and junk foods that have been spreading from country to country and bringing obesity with them.
Best of all, there are no harmful side effects from eating less and exercising more.
Thats only common sense, but it is also what good science tells us. We mustnt confuse science simply with "high tech"; they arent at all the same thing.
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