As the country seems to be moving on from the day to day minutiae of Coronavirus, thoughts inevitably turn to the legacy of the last few months and why – at least for now – the UK has one of the worst death rates in the world.
A clear area for attention will be national levels of obesity, but this is a trickier issue to tackle head on than it seems. It’s not a new problem either, the amount of people being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes was a sign that pre-Corona Britain wasn’t independently taking the salad option at Pizza Hut. Obesity should’ve already had priority given the burden it was placing on the NHS, which people apparently wish to protect ‘at all costs’.
If we can bang pots and pans for our National Health Service, surely we can evaluate what goes into those pots and pans.
Once upon a time government would affect radical changes in public behaviour by bashing out a scary public health campaign to get us thinking. Remember the advert for AIDS? Well it wasn’t an advert for AIDS as such, more a dystopian nightmare challenging complacent homophobia around who could catch it. It worked. I immediately wanted to get tested. My mum reminded me I was ten.
The problem in 2020 is governments are as prey to liberal sensitivities as those virtue-signalling celebrities and corporations. The desire to not seem mean is compelling. And who can blame them, when the more rabid voices on the Left seem to be able to distil most arguments into a belief that the Conservatives actively wish to kill their own citizens.
Pussy-footing around the issue of weight has already caused large amounts of resources to be wasted on tepid and forgettable adverts. There was a recent campaign involving a plasticine family where the narrator politely asked them if they planned on cutting down their calorie intake. Don’t remember it? Exactly. It looked like a failed reboot of Morph.
The body positive movement does little to help matters. It wasn’t so long ago that Cancer Research faced a backlash for daring to suggest that obesity could increase your likelihood of getting cancer. How will they react now a high BMI also seems likely to increase susceptibility to a new respiratory virus? There aren’t many levels of peril above that, unless we can make some sort of link with localised asteroid impact.
The Conservatives will find themselves in a unique pincer between liberal sensitivities and Tory libertarians. Should the government really be telling their citizens what to eat? I find myself caught. On the one hand I quite like the state staying out of my business. On the other, if they are going to meddle, then for god’s sake don’t mess about. Produce a campaign that will actually get people talking, even outraged.
How about this for an idea? We see a man, we zoom in on him. We can see he is crying, but we don’t know why. We pull back and see it’s a fat bloke stuck at the top of a water-slide, being pelted with cereal bars by evil children. You can image what the body positive brigade would have to say about that.
Too harsh? Then what is the answer? Obesity has sky-rocketed in the absence of a strong public message. The government should do what Tory governments used to do: take a pragmatic decision which might see them slip temporarily in the polls. If they’re willing to protect a special advisor at the cost of huge goodwill, they can be the honest friend who points out the nation is spilling out over the top of its jeans.
The alternative is an ugly one. We just accept that these levels of obesity are our ‘new normal’ and work around them. Personally, I can live with that approach, but only if we fully commit to the apathy. Pretence is worse than inaction. There can be something liberating about finally admitting you’re not going to do anything about the thing you claimed was a priority.
It’s like me starting lockdown eating lots of fresh fish, but ending it in a ninety minute traffic jam at a Mcdonald’s Drive-Thru. Did I mention I’ve put on weight?