Spare the Chips and Spoil the Child

On Friday I saw something that made me head straight for my keyboard in a fit of rage – a poll on the Guardian website asking if there should be a watershed for the advertising of unhealthy food, which is apparently a policy proposed by the Labour party.

To me, this seems to be the absolute apex of years of hand-wringing about King Ronald and his empire of chubby kids, who’ve never heard of exercise and couldn’t pick a vegetable out of a line-up. It’s all the fault of fast food, tarting itself about everywhere, people cry, chugging back the wheatgrass as they burn Coca Cola in effigy.

"Um... the one on the left?"

YES – if you eat too much fast food, you will most probably get fat, and that has plenty of negative consequences for your health.

YES – children should therefore not be dining in the court of the Burger King every day, and washing down their (over-sugared) breakfast cereal with a pint or two of Coke.

YES – if children were kept in herds on grassy farmland somewhere, eating only raw food and never even dreaming of the existence of chicken nuggets, they would almost certainly be slimmer.

BUT THAT’S MADNESS. If we build a massive wall topped with machine-gun towers and barbed wire between the kids and the junk food, how will we ever teach them about balance in their diets? How can we expect them, once they move out and start doing their own shopping, to resist eating ice cream for every meal just because they can? A few kids will have absorbed the propaganda and will stick nobly to the celery, but most will go on an unrestrained fresher’s week Dominos bender.

Instead of blaming the fast food companies for plying their delicious deep-fried wares at every opportunity, we need to teach our kids that a burger and fries is a nice treat, to be enjoyed without guilt, but that most often, we need to resist the siren call of KFC (no matter how often we hear it) and cook meals from scratch, with plenty of vegetables. Even if the kids are exposed to so much junk food advertising that they start demanding chips with every meal, there’s a pretty simple solution to that problem – the word ‘no’.

Since eating is something we need to do every single day of our lives, there should be room on the menu for healthy stuff AND the occasional stuffed-crust pizza. Denying that pizza exists is only ever going to be a short term solution for obesity – when kids grow up and discover that, hey, Santa doesn’t exist but never mind, deep-fried mozzarella sticks do, they’re going to be woefully under-prepared for resisting temptation. That’s why I say we need to let them see what’s out there. 

Besides, you only get one life, which is much too short to completely deny yourself one of our greatest pleasures. And even if I could lengthen that life by living exclusively off the juice diet, to be honest, I just wouldn’t be able to see the point.