Fear, worry, self-loathing: these are the ways we like to ring in the new year. After spending a month eating and drinking merrily, it is generally understood that the fun must stop come January. The papers whip out their top tips for diets and exercise, and glassy-eyed news presenters try to imbue the words ‘Dry January’ with enthusiasm. But while the press is doing its best to remind us that we’re fat and lazy, this year the prize for deflating the holiday high goes to the public-health officials.
Tuesday, the first working day of the new year for many, came with a double-whammy of health warnings. Office workers, already struggling through their first day back on the job, were urged to join a war on cake. According to the Faculty of Dental Surgery, office ‘cake culture’ is making adults obese and rotting their teeth. The faculty dean, Professor Nigel Hunt, urged office workers to make a 2017 resolution to ‘combat cake culture’. Meanwhile, Public Health England (PHE) announced that children are eating half of their daily allowance of sugar at breakfast. So not only are we killing ourselves, by gorging uncontrollably on cake, we are killing our children, too. Happy New Year, indeed.
PHE is encouraging parents to use its new app, ‘Be Food Smart’, with which you can scan a supermarket product and find out its sugar content. Dr Alison Tedstone, PHE’s chief nutritionist, said: ‘Children have far too much sugar, and a lot of it is before their first lesson of the day.’ ‘Far too much’ is apparently the equivalent of three sugar cubes, or 11 grams of sugar. As Christopher Snowdon of the Institute of Economic Affairs points out, this amounts to a mere 44 calories, which is nothing. Bafflingly, two of PHE’s proposed healthy breakfast alternatives – a smoothie or porridge – contain more than 11 grams of sugar. A BBC report warns that the National Diet and Nutrition Survey shows children between the ages of four and 10 consume twice as much sugar as is recommended. However, it neglects to mention that according to the latest Health Survey for England, child obesity has dropped from 17 per cent to 14 per cent since the last survey.
But the facts have never been of huge concern to public-health officials, so obsessed are they with inducing guilt for perfectly normal lifestyle habits and instructing the hapless public on how to conduct themselves. True to form, both of Tuesday’s health announcements came with their own lists of patronising and glaringly obvious advice on how to cut down on the calories. The Faculty of Dental Surgery suggested we ‘reduce portion sizes’, and hide snacks from ourselves and others. PHE’s online lunchbox guide includes large, labelled photos of fruit and vegetables, to ensure parents can correctly identify a banana.
Speaking on the Today programme, Tedstone described last year’s government measures as a ‘good start’. Considering 2016 saw the approval of a sugar tax on fizzy drinks, a crackdown on online junk-food advertising, and frequent health warnings, one wonders what else Tedstone would suggest. Perhaps each household should have a public-health official stationed in their kitchen, charged with sounding a klaxon every time it looks like someone might eat something that tastes nice.