Britain’s obesity crisis does not come down to personal responsibility. That was the angle pursued in Michael Mosley: Who Made Britain Fat? (Channel 4). When you guzzle that takeaway or load your trolley with family-sized chocolate bars, you are not to blame. It is the government – and the government before that, and the ones before that – which has failed to keep you slim.
We are helpless, argued Mosley and his contributors, when food laden with fat, salt and sugar is marketed to us through slick campaigns, and allowed to tempt us from the supermarket shelves, and politicians do nothing about it. “We make an average of 200 decisions a day about what we eat while being bombarded by advertising for cheap, unhealthy food, so that’s a lot to ask,” he said. “Instead, the government needs to improve the things we’re choosing from.”
All that successive government campaigns have done, since the days of John Major, is ask us nicely to eat less and move more. Even the last part of that is suspect, according to the program, because evidence shows that exercise – while good for fitness and mental health – is of limited benefit for weight loss.
You may think this all reeks of the nanny state, but it does seem scandalous to me that England stars such as Harry Kane are promoting McDonald’s, or Cadbury is allowed to sponsor the “Big Six” football clubs. Because the statistics are grim: a quarter of children in Year 6 (aged 10-11) are clinically obese. A doctor in charge of the UK’s specialist childhood obesity units said her young patients suffer from conditions including diabetes, sleep apnoea and fatty liver disease. Some of the patients are one-year-olds.
Mosley claimed that the sugar tax was a great success, speaking to the Chancellor who brought it in (George Osborne, who couldn’t resist a dig at Theresa May) and the campaigner who fought for it (Jamie Oliver). They were good interviews, with Oliver making the startling claim that he suffered multiple break-ins and cybersecurity breaches after taking on the food and drink giants.
Mosley argued that the sugar tax should be extended beyond fizzy drinks, and perhaps that could have a positive effect on the nation’s health. But as online food delivery apps mean we no longer even have to burn calories by going to pick up a takeaway, and high streets are packed with fried chicken shops offering £ 1.99 meal deals to schoolchildren, can any government initiative really turn the tide? The question of who made us fat is academic now.