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Fat chance! Nannying BoJo’s plans to get Britain eating healthily and exercising are doomed to failure

Guy Birchall
Guy Birchall

Guy Birchall, British journalist covering current affairs, politics and free speech issues. Recently published in The Sun and Spiked Online. Follow him on Twitter @guybirchall

Guy Birchall, British journalist covering current affairs, politics and free speech issues. Recently published in The Sun and Spiked Online. Follow him on Twitter @guybirchall

Fat chance! Nannying BoJo’s plans to get Britain eating healthily and exercising are doomed to failure
Newly slimline Boris Johnson wants Brits to lose weight and has revealed plans to crack down on the sale of sweets and junk food TV ads. But he’s fighting a losing battle and should concentrate on more pressing priorities.

If you have ever had the misfortune to be stuck near someone at a party who has recently embarked on a health kick, you know how Britain currently feels. 

We’ve all experienced it; someone we haven’t seen in a while has slimmed down a bit, you compliment them, and then the next 45 minutes consist of you being told how you “must try going keto” or how “HIIT has changed my life”. The newly slender are as evangelical as the Mormons in spreading the word of how they’ve dropped a couple of trouser sizes, but frequently much less polite or interesting. 

Unfortunately for the UK, our Prime Minister has recently shifted a few pounds. Boris Johnson is apparently down a little more than a stone (14lbs), since he was hospitalised with Covid-19.

Like many men in middle-age who have a close call medically, he’s now ditched the big dinners and started walking his dog every morning. This is all great for the PM; good on you Boris, bravo, well done etc. Unfortunately for the rest of Britain, he is now in the evangelising stage of his weight loss journey and, unlike CrossFit-obsessed Dave from marketing, he has the government to back him up. 

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Putting aside the amount of brass neck it takes for the man who literally shut all the gyms for four months to turn around and call us all lard-arses, his plans are authoritarian, nannying and will also be ineffective. Some might say they’re also curiously timed, with his Chancellor Rishi Sunak currently subsidising meals at the likes of KFC, Pizza Express and McDonald’s in an attempt to get people eating out again.

Among the bright ideas put forward in BoJo’s foray into flab-fighting are banning sweets and chocolates being sold at checkouts, banning TV advertising for “junk food” before 9pm, prescription bicycles and publishing calories on alcohol containers and restaurants’ and takeaways’ menus. 

It is hard to believe this is the same man who once voted against the smoking ban in the name of personal freedom. Though, thankfully, the PM survived his brush with coronavirus, his libertarianism was left in the ICU. After reluctantly putting the nation into lockdown before he contracted the disease, his experience appears to have imbued him with a zeal to improve the health of the nation, and he doesn’t mind using the law to do it.

Britain does have a weight problem. Around-two thirds of the adult population are overweight, with 28 percent falling into the obese category. The statistics for children aren’t much better, and obesity has proven to be one of the biggest comorbidities in people who die from Covid-19.

But none of that gives the government the right to tell shops what prices they can charge for chocolates, or indeed where in the shop they can sell them. Similarly, banning pre-watershed advertising for “unhealthy” foods is ridiculous. The 9pm broadcast watershed is supposed to indicate when more violent scenes, sex scenes and bad language can be aired. Is the government seriously arguing that a Big Mac advert is in the same category as Pulp Fiction and Last Tango in Paris?

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As for emblazoning menus with the number of calories various dishes contain? This isn’t bad in itself, but studies show that it doesn’t make any difference to people’s choices. Diners absorb the information, but they also absorb the calories. They don’t care, which is hardly surprising as if someone has decided they are going to have a chocolate fudge cake, then they have already thrown caution to the wind where calories are concerned. 

However, the most irritating thing about BoJo’s new attempt to slim the nation’s waistline is that we are being urged to do it to “help the NHS.” There was a time, not so long ago, when most people believed that the NHS was there to help them, that the health service existed for their benefit rather than the other way around. Plainly, since coronavirus came on the scene this is no longer the case, and Britain and her people exist mainly to keep the saintly and perpetually-in-crisis health system alive. 

This is what prompted Matt Hancock to pipe up with the ridiculous headline that Brits could “lose five pounds to save the NHS money”. How much money? Well, apparently if everyone considered overweight (two-thirds of adults) lost five pounds, we could save the NHS £100 million over five years. 

That works out to a saving of just over 0.01 percent of its budget over half a decade, which in NHS terms is nothing. How often are we going to be asked to do things in the name of saving the NHS? Already this year we’ve been confined to our homes, furloughed, forced to social distance and been compelled to wear masks to catch a train or buy some milk.

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How much more is the British public going to be asked to do in the name of protecting this Stalinist relic, which is itself just as bloated as its average patient?

It appears the lockdown and furlough scheme have whetted Johnson’s appetite for intervention of the most invasive kind. Why would a man who put the country under house arrest have any compunction in ordering shopkeepers to keep Snickers bars further away from the cash register?

This is yet more government overreach; it may well be done with the noblest of aims, but this patrician attempt to control people’s health is the last thing a supposedly conservative government should be doing. The thing is, everybody knows what foods are good for them and which are bad, perhaps even better than the government does judging by the list of foods classed as “junk.” 

Boris Johnson has very real issues that need to be dealt with at this time. Britain is in the grip of a pandemic, there is an economic disaster on the way and free-trade agreements to be agreed to make the dream of a global post-Brexit Britain a reality.

He should not be debating whether or not we should be handing out free bicycles to chubsters. Talk about fiddling while Rome fries...

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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