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Health chiefs use kids as sticks to beat us

spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London), on the UK government's war on fatty food and fags.

Mick Hume

Mick Hume
Columnist

Topics Politics

This is a bit of random text from Kyle to test the new global option to add a message at the top of every article. This bit is linked somewhere.

The Government has given warning that irresponsible parents are putting children at risk through our family lifestyles. We are exposing them to potentially harmful fumes and chemicals. We are allowing them to develop potentially hazardous habits.

And we are bringing them into contact with potentially dangerous strangers. The Government has therefore decided to act against these menaces – by banning parents from taking children swimming or cycling in public places.

All right, so I am exaggerating. But not wildly so, to judge by the message of the government Chief Medical Officer’s annual report on the nation’s health. Sir Liam Donaldson’s warning to parents was summed up by The Sun’s headline ‘We’re killing our kids’.

Sir Liam says that we are endangering children by exposing them to the twin evils of passive smoking and fatty foods, and prescribes strong medicine. His proposals include a ban on smoking in public places (bars, offices, behind school bike sheds); reducing sugar and fat in food (tofu for tea again, kids); fewer adverts for processed foods and more for fruit and veg (‘carrots are cool!’); and fat-content warnings on restaurant menus (‘This food may include flavour’).

Why are we being told that we are killing our kids, at a time when they can look forward to living longer, healthier lives than any of their ancestors? Standards of food, housing and healthcare are incomparably better than just a few generations ago.

The Chief Medical Officer might try to shock us with hysterical warnings that our unhealthy children could die before their parents. Yet a century or so ago that would have been considered pretty normal. The smog-free air that children breathe today is the cleanest in memory.

And anybody who wants to see dangerous food additives might like to take a look at the strychnine and lead that was used to adulterate bread in Victorian times. Even in their own terms, the health threats highlighted today are far less alarming than the killer diseases that once cut swaths through generations of children. The connections between passive smoking or fatty foods and long-term health are not nearly so clear, direct or uncontested as the official reports would have us believe.

Yet instead of celebrating the historically healthy state of childhood, we are warned that things are getting worse and worse. Yesterday it was cigarette smoke threatening our kids, today it is doughnuts, and tomorrow it could well be the smokepolluted hole in the middle of the doughnut. It is becoming clear that those who are predisposed to do so can cook up a public panic out of just about any dodgy dossier of health statistics.

There is now an entire industry of health experts and authorities preying on public fears. For these people, nothing can ever get better. To admit that things are improving, or that they are even OK, would undermine the panic traders’ market position, and risk putting them out of business. So everything that parents do has to be interpreted a problem. And the solution always has to be more regulations, bans and third-party interference, even if there is no evidence that such measures will benefit children.

But then, these campaigns are not really about children. Adults are the secret targets. The authorities want to use our kids to help them to influence the way that we live now. Despite all the health campaigns and dire warnings, you might insist on your freedom to risk your own health by smoking cigarettes or eating cheeseburgers. But it is far harder to stand your ground when the health moralists point the finger at you for endangering children.

Whether they are demanding smoking bans or taxes on fatty food, today’s health crusaders are effectively wielding our children as sticks with which to beat us into behaving in ways that they deem acceptable. In the same vein, campaigners call for more family-friendly pubs, because they think that turning the bar into a playroom will keep adults on the straight and sober. Apparently kids are now supposed to teach grown-ups about sensible drinking.

It used to be argued that family life could provide some protection against an overbearing state. Today the family is widely perceived as the problem. The state is exploiting concerns over parents damaging their kids’ health in order to intrude into domestic life, delivering ‘not-in-front-of-the-children’ lectures about how we should behave in the living room or kitchen, or even down the pub.

With his doom-laden warnings about what we eat, drink and breathe, the Chief Medical Officer sounds increasingly like the miserabilist-in-chief of a miserable administration. Such scaremongering is likely to do the nation’s health a fat lot of good.

This article is republished from The Times (London)

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics

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