Arguing the toss, spiked style

This week: is it time to restrict takeaways and fast-food joints?

People who live in areas with lots of fast-food joints are generally fatter than people who don’t. Like, duh!

Is that right?

Yes, it’s in the British Medical Journal.

So, no chance that this is a case of correlation not causation? You know, that people who live in areas with lots of takeaways are different to people in areas without takeaways in lots of different ways. They’re often poorer, probably less well-educated, smoke and drink more on average, less likely to fret about going to the gym, and so on. I know the researchers probably tried to control for some of those factors, but it would be impossible to identify every difference. It also assumes that if the takeaways weren’t there that people nearby would automatically be eating truckloads of salad. I doubt that’s true.

If you eat junk, you get fat and then you get ill. Fast food is killing us – or at least, those stupid enough to eat it.

Well, I don’t think anybody ever suggested takeaway food was particularly healthy. As it happens, I don’t think there’s much wrong with most takeaway meals. There is plenty of nutrition in them.

They contain too much fat, salt and sugar, and not enough fruit and veg.

Ah yes, the cult of ‘five a day’. Did you know that the studies that have looked into that properly have found little or no evidence that eating loads of fruit and veg has any impact on your health?

That must be nonsense.

No, it’s true. The researchers, clearly expecting to find the opposite, have been downright apologetic about their findings.

As for fat, salt and sugar, it’s amazing how often scare stories about those things crumble in the face of proper research. For example, claims that fat causes heart disease have been taking a battering for years now. A few people might become salt sensitive, but the vast majority of us could cut our salt intake down and find our blood pressure is barely affected. I think the jury is still out on whether sugar is particularly bad for you or not.

Hmmm… I find it hard to believe they would make such a fuss about those things without there being some truth in it. Anyway, takeaway food is stuffed full of calories. It makes people fat, full stop.

Well, yes, some takeaway meals are pretty hefty. But most people recognise that a big meal is a big meal, whether it is from the fried-chicken shop or a Michelin-starred restaurant. If you find that you eat so much that you feel stuffed all the time, it might be time to cut down a bit, wherever you eat!

But takeaway food is so cheap, you can get mounds of it and end up eating too much.

There’s nothing wrong with food being cheap. I think we can leave it to people to decide if they’ve eaten too much.

I’m not sure that we can leave it to people to decide. Have you seen how many fat people there are? And even if adults should be allowed to have a choice, at least think of the children.

Think of the children? *rolls eyes*

Yes, think of the children. And that’s why I think that fast-food outlets should be restricted, especially near schools.

There are a lot of schools. So you’re basically saying that fast-food outlets should be restricted, full stop.

It would be no bad thing if they were. People should be cooking at home.

Unless of course you’re rich enough to enjoy fine dining every night, presumably? I think takeaways and fast-food restaurants provide nutritious food at comparatively low prices. That’s a good thing. I don’t see why normal, legal businesses should be told where they can or cannot set up, especially on such stupid grounds as the wild claims made about obesity. It’s far from obvious that fast food does cause obesity. American research found no link between obesity and fast-food joints, for example.

What really drives the attacks on takeaways is a patronising and downright snobbish assumption that we need moral guardians to protect us from ourselves. We are more than capable of figuring out what to eat or not to eat, or of making the decision to enjoy something tasty even if it’s a bit naughty. But politicians and health obsessives think that health should take priority over everything else – pleasure, convenience, the right to trade where you choose, and so on. So the solutions to health problems that they come up with always seem to be illiberal, even authoritarian.

Takeaways are popular for a reason: they produce hassle-free, enjoyable, nutritious food cheaply. What’s wrong with that?

Rob Lyons is associate editor at spiked.

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