Sunday, February 25, 2007

Health Fascism

I’ve got to admit, I’m a bit of a wind-up merchant. We were having a little farewell party for our excellent student teacher. I told the class we were having a “healthy” party – water, nuts, celery, spinach, and broccoli. Their little faces fell.

Lest you get the wrong impression, long before the obesity panic set in I’ve hated junk food. I don’t think I’ve gone near a McDonald’s for years and as a matter of principle I made by own swimming certificates when the Amateur Swimming Association plastered Frosties
‘Tony the Tiger’ all over theirs (the second most sugar-laden children’s cereal next to Sugar Puffs).

The Healthy Schools Scheme is something that should have been done years ago, before the food advertising sprites got their claws into children and brain washed them. In school we’ve changed our tuck shop so that children are given an alternative to fat-soaked, salt-rich crisps (Gary Lineker hang your head in shame). The 5-a-day posters are prominently displayed all round school. Canteen staff, Jamie Oliver is definitely not their favourite person, have been sent on training about healthy diets.

Our party went really well, apart from Brian who got sent out for nicking sweets before we’d started the party, there was musical statues, Jean the student started crying, Sheila who hates anyone leaving burst into floods of tears, some of the sugar-free lemonade got spilt on the new carpet, and the cheese puffs and sweets went down a treat.

After school relaxing in the classroom, someone came in to “have a little word” apparently to qualify for a
‘Healthy School Award’ all sweets are banned apart from partial exceptions at Christmas and Easter. That’s it no sweets, all time, any time.

In my view healthy eating should be about healthy
choices not health dictatorship. There’s an interesting parallel here with the temperance movement of the nineteenth century, they did some excellent work rescuing people from the perils of drink, of that there is no doubt. The problem was that the movement got taken over by the zealots of teetotalism, ‘no drink shall pass your lips’. Temperance adopted a high-handed moralistic attitude and some of the propaganda was laughable – you only needed one drink to descend into the hell of alcoholism.

Where do people drink responsibly today? In countries like Italy where young people are introduced to alcohol in a family setting and taught by example to drink in moderation. The Netherlands has a liberal approach to smoking cannabis and less young people smoke it than in Britain where it is still slightly illegal. Children who are denied any sweets by their parents are usually the worst at stuffing their faces with sweets when they get the opportunity.

One of the reasons for the decline of Methodism is that the popular perception was that rather than preach about the joy of salvation they were morose killjoys who wanted to suppress all forms of fun or frivolity – at different times the branches railed against drinking, reading novels, football and dancing (banned in Methodist halls until 1964).

What I hate about the current obesity scare is the incipient “health fascism”, this is most notably displayed on Channel 4 by “Doctor” Gillian McKeith (brilliantly exposed by
Ben Goldacre in ‘The Guardian’) where overweight people are humiliated and berated if they stray one millimetre from her prescribed diet. On the other hand I hate the phrase “Nanny State” because it’s used by right wing libertarians to argue that the state should do nothing. Faced with the multi-billion pound junk food advertising industry the state has a duty to its children to promote healthy food.

However, you have to keep a sense of proportion, trust teachers about how often they let children have sweets. Interestingly our staff room is always awash with biscuits, cakes and chocolates. Now we wouldn’t want to appear as hypocrites... so next staff meeting I’m going to move that they’re banned as well. Should be an interesting meeting.


Liking the recent articles on here, particularly stress week and the food police stuff.

Pretty much agree with you, except for the idea about getting rid of junk food from the staffroom - I'm convinced it's our break time sugar fix that neutralises stress just enough to keep us going until lunchtime! The thought of no biscuits at break makes me shudder.
It's my sugar fix as well! Just winding the other staff up.

Mr Read
I also like the stress article, perhpas teachers' TV can do a Pope Catholic exclusive next after their discovery of stress among teachers...
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