SARAH VINE: Save our young from sinking in fast-food swamps

Catch ’em when they’re young, the old saying goes, and never has it felt more true.

Today’s youngsters are exposed to a stream of seductive marketing, from pop music to video games.

Arguably, however, none of these is as detrimental as the lure of junk food.

Wherever there’s a school, fast food is not far off — at least one outlet selling high-calorie, low-nutrient fried chicken, burgers, chips and pizzas, plus corner shops stuffed full of sugary treats.

The problem has caught the eye of Unicef, which has coined a new phrase (brilliant, if it weren’t so tragic) to describe these wastelands of empty calories: food swamps.

Today’s youngsters are exposed to a stream of seductive marketing, from pop music to video games. Arguably, however, none of these is as detrimental as the lure of junk food (stock photo)

Today’s youngsters are exposed to a stream of seductive marketing, from pop music to video games. Arguably, however, none of these is as detrimental as the lure of junk food (stock photo)

Today’s youngsters are exposed to a stream of seductive marketing, from pop music to video games. Arguably, however, none of these is as detrimental as the lure of junk food (stock photo)

In a new report, the organisation points out that our poorest streets are littered with these fast-food child-magnets, drawing a direct correlation with the fact children in these areas are twice as likely to be obese as those from more affluent parts of the country.

And Unicef makes no secret of where the blame lies: ‘The UK food retail environment encourages unhealthy foods consumption.’

The UK has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the developed world, while one in eight new cases of type 2 diabetes is now someone aged 18 to 40.

For years, the debate about how to tackle this growing crisis focused on the perceived failings of parents who don’t serve decent, nutritious meals at home.

This report changes all that. It confirms what many of us have said for a long time: we also need to tackle the targeting of children by junk-food shops, and do it fast.

When, aged 16, I returned to the UK in the Eighties, I put on more than a stone in a few months.

The UK has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the developed world, while one in eight new cases of type 2 diabetes is now someone aged 18 to 40 (stock photo)

The UK has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the developed world, while one in eight new cases of type 2 diabetes is now someone aged 18 to 40 (stock photo)

The UK has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the developed world, while one in eight new cases of type 2 diabetes is now someone aged 18 to 40 (stock photo)

Having grown up in Italy, where fruit and vegetables were cheap, with Mars bars and fizzy drinks available only in specialist outlets, I was literally a kid in a candy shop. I marvelled at the sweets on display, and couldn’t control myself.

And the problem has got worse. Pop into WHSmith to buy a pen and it will try to sell you a gigantic chocolate bar for £1, while, at the cinema, a mega-bucket of popcorn costs just a few pence more than a single portion.

We don’t allow drug-pushers to operate openly at the school gates. So why are Greggs (which does an after-school deal of a pizza slice and a fizzy drink for £2), KFC and the many copycats allowed to flog belly-busting fare with impunity?

The answer is simple: our entire food culture is topsy-turvy.

Healthy, nutritious food is disproportionately expensive, while highly addictive stuff drowning in salt and sugar is cheap, plentiful and horribly convenient.

Until that reality is overturned, we will never put an end to the obesity epidemic that threatens the younger generation and is costing the NHS billions.

Sadly, these companies know their target markets. ‘Poorer areas also have more visible advertising for unhealthy foods than wealthier areas,’ says the Unicef report.

That’s why the Government — and, in particular, local authorities which control food licences — must do more.

The soft drinks sugar tax is a start, but it’s not enough. We must make it commercially unviable for certain types of food to be sold close to schools and offer incentives for healthier alternatives.

Only then might we have a hope of returning to a situation where a bag of chips and a chicken wing is a weekly treat — not a daily, and potentially deadly, indulgence down in the local food swamp.

Kylie’s toxic pout 

We hear endless chatter about the ills of toxic masculinity — but what about the toxic femininity that’s warping the lives of young girls?

The news this week that ever-younger women — some even under 16 — are turning to Botox and fillers in pursuit of the Instagram-perfect ‘rich girl’ face is a case in point.

Jenner, a member of the Kardashian franchise, made her immense fortune selling lipgloss to impressionable teenagers seeking a pout like hers

Jenner, a member of the Kardashian franchise, made her immense fortune selling lipgloss to impressionable teenagers seeking a pout like hers

Jenner, a member of the Kardashian franchise, made her immense fortune selling lipgloss to impressionable teenagers seeking a pout like hers

Since when did having a face like a sex doll become the pinnacle of female ambition? Since the success of ‘influencers’ such as the egregious Kylie Jenner, 22.

Jenner, a member of the Kardashian franchise, made her immense fortune (she is America’s youngest self-made billionaire) selling lipgloss to impressionable teenagers seeking a pout like hers.

Only, of course, that pout wasn’t hers at all, but the result of fillers, as before and after pictures of her clearly show.

The fact that her entire brand is built on such fundamental dishonesty tells you all you need to know about Jenner — and about the shallow world in which our girls are now forced to survive.

Betrayal of a brave nurse

Every woman dreads having a smear test — and many will seek any excuse to avoid it. That’s why the story of NHS nurse Julie O’Connor, who died of cervical cancer after it was repeatedly missed at Southmead Hospital in Bristol, is so worrying.

Her illness was spotted only when she eventually paid for a private test — by which time it was too late. She died earlier this year, aged just 49.

The long-overdue report into Mrs O’Connor’s case has now been published (seven months late) — but it covers only the period after March 2017, when the catalogue of mistakes was first identified, and not her initial misread smear test back in 2014, nor subsequent missed chances.

It is vitally important that North Bristol NHS Trust gets to the bottom of this. Not just for the sake of Mrs O’Connor and her family, but for the sake of all women who will look at what happened to her and think: ‘If a nurse can be so poorly treated by the health service, why bother at all?’

Nice that a section 14 order has finally cleared Trafalgar Square of Extinction Rebellion protesters.

I trust they will take with them all their plastic tents, single-use plastic water bottles, plastic bags and McDonald’s wrappers.

When, pray, did a simple statement of fact become ‘hate speech’?

Oxford police have been treating the appearance of stickers saying such things as ‘Woman: noun. Adult human female’ and ‘Women don’t have penises’ as ‘transphobic hate crimes’.

I’m willing to admit, given the debate around gender identity, such signs could be interpreted as provocative.

But they are only words, not deeds. When my kids were small, I always took the view that if there was no blood and nothing was broken, it was probably fine.

Maybe the police should do the same. They might even find they have the time to solve some proper crimes instead.

Glad you’re grey, Cliff!

Be still, my beating pacemaker — Sir Cliff Richard is back on tour and looks sprightlier than ever.

This is thanks, in no small part, to his decision to stop dyeing his hair.

There does come a point when crowning a well- worn face with a full head of balayage serves only to make the subject look even more ancient. Mick Jagger, take note.

Sir Cliff Richard has announced he will tour the UK in 2020 to celebrate his 80th birthday

Sir Cliff Richard has announced he will tour the UK in 2020 to celebrate his 80th birthday

Sir Cliff Richard has announced he will tour the UK in 2020 to celebrate his 80th birthday

The Coleen Rooney/Rebekah Vardy debacle continues to grip the nation.

It’s not just the endless parade of surgically enhanced WAGs lining up to take sides — it’s also the fact that not since Alexis Carrington clashed with Krystle on Dynasty have we seen such a high-octane catfight.

What puzzles me, though, is this: how on earth did Mrs Rooney find the time to mount such a forensic investigation into leaks from her Instagram feed while juggling all those exhausting foreign holidays? Truly, the woman is an example to us all.

Surely John Sergeant lecturing BBC presenters (in the context of the Naga Munchetty Trump racism row) not to become ‘personalities’ cannot be the same John Sergeant who was once a contestant on TV’s Strictly Come Dancing. Because that might open him up to all sorts of accusations of hypocrisy . . .

Part of the reason why some parents are reluctant to vaccinate children is because so few can remember how awful diseases such as mumps and measles are.

I had mumps as a young child — not only that, I gave it to my mum, who was pregnant with my brother at the time.

I can still remember how thoroughly miserable we both were, her in particular.

Measles is far nastier and can cause blindness, while rubella can lead to devastating problems in unborn children. Vaccinations are like antibiotics — we take them for granted, but the world would be a much harsher place without them.

Not enough fuss has been made about Eliud Kipchoge, who ran a marathon in under two hours for the first time. It’s an extraordinary achievement, one that most of us could only dream of — though I can eat a Marathon in under two minutes, if that counts.    

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