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Professor Jason Halford is a reader in appetite and obesity in the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society
“Inactivity and poor diet are indeed key drivers of obesity but the portrait painted here does not represent all poor people, working or otherwise.
“Foods high in fat, salt and sugar are actually quite cheap and readily available in these areas. Fresh fruit and vegetable options are more limited, in far fewer local retail outlets, and are comparatively pricey. Admittedly they also lack the convenience value, are not necessarily as pleasing, and readily go off. But critically foods high in fat, salt and sugar are also very heavily promoted.
Geographical and economic reasons
“In comparison healthy, satisfying and affordable options are less available to the families for geographical reasons as well as economic means and certainly don’t have the power of the food and advertising industry behind them. These foods and drinks (like the TV) are often the only simple pleasures available.
“It should also be noted that in poor ethnic communities across Britain, where people traditionally tend to cook from fresh ingredients, levels of both adult and childhood obesity are also working high.
“How you cook things is also very much a key factor and as recent data shows many celebrity chef meals are often quite high in fat, salt and sugar.
“Of course diet is a matter of personal choice and parents do need to share the responsibility. But from looking at national data and the important public health work going on in Liverpool and the North west, I am not convinced the picture Jamie Oliver paints is truly representative of poor people.
“Parents generally understand the healthy eating messages and are concerned about their children’s health but generally face more immediate day to day pressures.
“However choices are formed by lifelong learning and the environment it takes place in. It is a tall order to change behaviour and for behaviour change to last, the environment that it shapes will have to.
“By aligning himself with those keen to demonise the ‘undeserving poor’ as Jeremy Kyle style ‘chavs’, Jamie Oliver joins the ranks of the food and advertising industry keen to blame parents for obesity
‘Blame the victim’
“However, the food and drink industries take every opportunity to bathe children in messages promoting health threatening levels of fat, sugar and salt while persuing this `blame the victim’ line.
“We know victimisation does not work in changing people’s behaviour (indeed the consequences are often counter productive – making obese people more isolated and less likely to seek help) but it does grab headlines and ensures advertising sales.
“A recent analysis from the University of Liverpool demonstrated that premature mortality is greatest in the poorest areas of England, precisely the areas were the largest local authority spending cuts are occurring. As public health now falls on local authorities due to Government shake up of the NHS, it suggests poorer families will get even less help making the changes in lifestyle they need.”
I think people and especially parents should take responsibility for eating healthily (responsibility can’t lie with the authorities). It is a hard work to procure and cook healthy meals, especially in deprived areas. But isn’t most good things in life?
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