Blog: Dean BestIt's too easy to blame "lazy and ignorant" poor for bad diets

Dean Best | 19 November 2012

Consumption of fat and sugar has "soared" in the UK since 2010, particularly among those on low incomes, The Guardian has reported, prompting a debate into how to improve the diets of the less well off. Some believe the poor are "lazy and ignorant" but that really is just a facile argument.

The Guardian's piece went live on its website yesterday afternoon (18 November) and the general consensus among those who first posted comments were that it was easy to live healthily and that the poor either did not know how or, worse, could not be bothered.

"I manage all of my nutritional needs on around two pounds a day. This is because I prepare all of my food and avoid high fat junk like the plague. If I can do it then so can everyone else," read one response.

Another listed how to make a cheap stew and added: "Bad diet is caused by ignorance and laziness, not poverty."

Now, those of us in the UK remember how, in response to Jamie Oliver's attempt to make school meals healthier, visited one of the schools the chef was working on and simply fed their kids and other pupils junk food through the gates.

One cannot argue that that is an enlightened way to feed children.

However, it is enough to say that diet is simply the responsibility of the individual. On this incredibly complex issue, government and industry need to do more.

There are signs both politicians and big business are trying to do something about obesity and improving diets in the UK.

The UK government last month recommended the use of traffic-light nutrition labels on food, something campaigners had long argued for but the industry had, for the most part, resisted.

Now all major retailers are supporting the recommendation, although it must be said, we wait to hear what The Food and Drink Federation, the industry association that has long supported the use of labels indicating the daily amounts of nutrients we should consume, thinks about the Government's new policy.

Last week, the Government and industry announced a new "pledge" by suppliers to include more fruit and veg in ready meals and by retailers to expand their produce lines.

 

The moves come as part of the industry's so-called "public health responsibility deal" with the Government to tackle obesity in the UK.

UK retailer The Co-operative Group, one of 16 companies to have signed up to the pledge, said it will use promotions to encourage consumers to eat more fruit and veg.

And therein lies a key part of getting anywhere near improving diets in the UK. The supermarkets need to do more. Near the entrance of my local Tesco superstore recently has been stacks upon stacks of tins of Roses or Quality Street chocolate on promotion in the run-up to Christmas. My local Morrisons always has displays of baked goods near its entrance, with goods often on offer. Only the most disingenuous of retailer could argue they are doing everything they can to promote healthy food and discourage junk.

As Conservative MP Laura Sandys told Sky News this afternoon, the Government should be doing more to educate consumers. Home economics lessons should be extended throughout the school system to teach people how to cook and how use leftovers, she said.

Sure, the individual has to take some responsibility in improving their diets and that of their family. But it is a lazy argument to simply blame the consumer, particularly those least well off, who are often ill-informed and find it tough to navigate their way around stores set out (not all the time and not in all stores) to promote food that is less than good for you.

 


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