Socialist Worker

Big Macs, little Macs, same old...

by Helen Shooter
Issue No. 1892

LOSE WEIGHT. Eat a McDonald's. That was the amazing sales pitch the junk food giant tried to pull off last week. Even it has noticed that there is widespread concern about people's health as obesity becomes an increasing problem. So McDonald's announced they would cut back on their 'supersize' products to appear as promoters of healthy eating. Call me cynical, but I have little trust in a company that puts tap water, available for free, in a bottle and sells it for 95p. Obesity is a serious issue, and can lead to damaging health problems.

One is type two diabetes. This is a painful and debilitating disease almost exclusively associated with adults which is now appearing in children. Many press commentators on obesity blame 'feckless' parents for their children's poor diet. They finger wag at 'idle fatties', as the Sun sneeringly puts it. They are not so keen to blame the food corporations which spend millions on adverts to entice young people into buying their products.

In an hour's worth of TV children will see at least nine junk food ads. Many are very subtle. Take Coca-Cola, which pictures a young black woman handing out Cokes while singing a version of Nina Simone's 'I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free'.

KFC has grabbed many classic songs for its 'soul food' ads, to sell the image of the fun times you could be having if you eat its food. It doesn't put the song titles on the adverts. No wonder. The latest from KFC features the Flirtations' 'Nothing but a Heartache', which may be a comment on what its chicken dinner does to you.

It's no surprise New Labour sides with the multinationals. Culture minister Tessa Jowell said again last week that she doesn't support the banning of junk food ads during children's programming. You cannot separate the rise in obesity from the issue of class and the growing pressure on working people in society.

It's not true that the poorer you are, the heavier you are. But working class people are more likely to suffer the effects of an unhealthy diet, stress and lack of exercise. Young people's opportunity to get exercise has been drastically reduced. Schools have continued to sell off playing fields to raise funds. Many are far more concerned about driving young people to pass SATs tests than encouraging them to get exercise of some sort.

The option can be competitive sport or nothing. That simply doesn't meet the needs of many young people. Outside school, how many children have the chance of playing in a field, safe open spaces or even a garden? Any worker also knows how much effort it takes to eat healthily.

Britain's long hours culture means missing breakfast to grab every last minute of sleep in the morning, a hurried lunch break that is rarely an hour long, and in the evening crashing out on the sofa, feeling too exhausted to rustle up a Jamie Oliver.

It's no wonder stores like Tesco have shelves filled with ready meals. Our health and diet is a measure of the rotten society we live in. Some are starving while there are mountains of food. Many women agonise over their weight as the media tells us we are too fat or too thin.

And sometimes life is so stressful the only thing that will get you through the next bit is a bar of Dairy Milk. What more evidence do we need that capitalism is bad for you?


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Sat 13 Mar 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1892
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