THE news may have escaped you amid the noise of England’s latest World Cup humiliation, but the Government has decided to ban school tuck shops.
It’s the latest idea for reducing obesity among children, along with capping the amount of fatty food served in school dinners.
Now you might think this is a good idea and, generally, it probably is, but to me it’s a bit like England’s defence: full of holes.
It’s all eminently sensible on the face of it, but it obviously won’t be easy to police what children bring to school in their packed lunches, let alone what they are given at home, or how often they are taken to McDonald’s as part of their regular diet.
So closing tuck shops is a bit like banning tall buildings to keep the suicide rate down.
If kids can’t get hold of sugary and chocolatey treats in the tuck shop, they can easily pop into the supermarket or newsagents on the way to school instead, where they’ll find a huge array of sweets that is almost impossible to resist, whatever your age.
But the availability of sweets is not the problem. It’s how many of them you eat, and surely the tuck shop could help to monitor and ration how much each pupil buys, rather than putting them completely at the mercy of out-of-school temptation.
As with everything, moderation is the key here, because sweets and chocolate are, in themselves, perfectly acceptable in small doses, and perhaps even advisable – because the former gives you energy and the latter makes you happy.
But even if you go along with the increasingly preposterous idea that politicians have the answers, there is one obvious point that all the self-appointed experts seem to be overlooking, and it’s this: I ate my share of sweets when I was young, but I wasn’t fat. In fact, the vast majority of the kids at our school weren’t fat, even though we had a tuck shop at school.
Sweets haven’t become more fattening since we were in short trousers, so what’s changed?
Speaking as somebody who has spent the past three months trying to get fit and lose weight, I may be better placed than most to suggest an answer.
I do, after all, spend most of my waking hours thinking about what I would love to eat if I wasn’t on this damned diet, and whereas my dreams used to be about being stranded on a desert island with Felicity Kendal, just lately they are much more likely to involve chips.
So I have recently come to the conclusion that the type of food we eat isn’t the problem. In fact, more awareness, affordability and wider choice mean we often choose the healthy option these days. But where we’ve really lost the plot is on portions.
I can tell you from recent experience that, even when combined with a significant increase in exercise, the amount of food you need to eat to survive is surprisingly tiny, and is a fraction of the size of portions we now instinctively have.
The older I get, the more I am coming to the conclusion that we now eat not because we need to or even want to, but because we can.
Over-eating is just one of many problems caused by the more-more-more and often me-me-me culture we’ve been sold, and they will be solved not with quick fixes, but by taking a long, honest look at ourselves. And the same has been true of English football since I last bought sweets from a tuck shop.