Anna Soubry has made some shocking comments to the Telegraph over the past couple of days. On Wednesday, she targeted poor families “It is easy to identify the poorest people in society because many of them are overweight or obese”, she said. She claimed she could tell which of her constituents were poor because the poor ones were often obese, saying poverty is where the “propensity” to obesity lies. Contributing factors, she claims, include the low cost of junk food and parents’ failure to sit their kids down at the dinner table and teach them proper table manners.
Alex Andreou responded to the initial article in the in the New Statesman , strongly questioning both the evidence and her motives. His article included obesity statistics which showed the difference between numbers of obese people in different socio-economic groups is fairly minimal. But then, that’s what I’ve come to expect from the Government. It also failed to cite any evidence supporting her solutions. Soubry’s approach is what I’ve come to expect from her party. Anecdotal evidence to make a case which is ideologically slanted.
It’s undeniable that there is a problem with obesity in the UK. Of all of the ways the next generation will be worse off, life expectancy is the most shocking. It’s true that there’s apparently been a shift over the past 25 years. Prior to 1990 obesity tended to occur more often in wealthier people. That’s not the same thing as saying it’s now a mark of poverty or “ill breeding”. Obesity, diet and exercise are a problem across our society but I don’t think rhetoric sounding like it came from another age helps. At best, Ms Soubry’s comments over the past couple of days are reminiscent of a 1950s womens magazine. At worst, they remind me of 19th Century ideas of the undesirable poor lolling in gin houses. I’d rather have a less judgemental, broader discussion about obesity which doesn’t thrust blame on a section of society that has every right to feel fed up with this government’s rhetoric about them.
Alex is right. The natural image, reading the Telegraph piece is of the Royale Family. The sense is that the days of “decency”, “manners” and “family values” is over. Soubry seems to want us to see poor people in Britain as savages, unable to make the “right” choices unless they are foisted on them by a benevolent Lady Muck and by cutting fat and sugar in goods that still won’t be healthy or tasty (in my opinion) once that’s done. If casting stones was the order of the day though, I’d look at Ms Soubry’s comments and at Alex’s figures and ask which socioeconomic groups have the greatest measure of control over this aspect of their lives. I’d look at Anna Soubry’s comments and ask:
Who can afford a broad, healthy diet?
Who has enough space in their home for a dining table?
Who has a garden and/or lives in a safe neighbourhood with minimal traffic where their children can play?
Who can afford leisure activities like swimming or buy their children bikes? Who lives near the countryside and can afford to run a car to get there?
Who has a garden in which at least some basics like apples, pears & blackberries can be grown without needing the skills of Tom & Barbara from the Good Life?
Who can afford a range of mod cons such as food processors to make cooking easier?
Who has access to recipes and information on healthy eating on the internet?
Of course, criticising the affluent isn’t politically expedient.
Personally, I’d like everyone to love REAL food. No. We don’t all have the time & energy to cook (I’m in the same boat on that) but my God our taste buds & bodies should crave genuine ingredients, cooked well. I’m not sure how you achieve that but I’m absolutely certain you don’t do it by attacking any of the people you want to convince. That’s only one step though and it can’t be achieved without access to better food. People need enough money coming in to be able to afford to eat well, either by cutting prices or increasing income. Neither of those things is likely any time soon and that is categorically not the fault of people scraping by or relying on food banks. Ultimately, that is probably the real root of Anna Soubry’s comments. Just another diversion.