THE BLOG

Should Kellogg's Frosties Have Less Sugar?

25/02/2013 15:40 GMT | Updated 27/04/2013 10:12 BST

Over recent months a debate around government regulation of sugar has bubbled over with Kellogg's Frosties a convenient centre point . At this point the evidence that sugar is harmful and a huge factor in the obesity problem is so overwhelming that some have suggested perhaps lowering the sugar content of breakfast cereals.

For more reactionary commentators these headlines land at their feet like a large stick to beat the "nanny statists" with, distorting the argument with the suggestion that the government want to ban sugar.

I don't believe in prohibition, but prohibition was not actually suggested as a serious option. What is worth talking about is the degree of influence the government should have on what we eat.

Having never been forced to eat a donut at gunpoint I am aware of the personal responsibility argument. At some point we all make a choice about the foods we put in our mouths. Where I diverge from right wing rhetoric is in seeing this as the beginning of the conversation, not the end.

Simply saying "it's all down to personal responsibility" and leaving it there achieves nothing. Yes at some point people choose what to eat, but a complicated set of social forces have led up to the point that you or I or anyone else makes that decision.

The government already have an influence on what we eat and how fat we become, if we want to improve obesity levels in this country then we need discuss how to affect those forces without conflating it with balaclava'd government workers smashing through our kitchen window and snatching the bowl of Coco Pops from our hands.

The question is not should the government have an influence it's how can that influence be used in the most positive and productive way possible without infringing on our liberties.

We give companies the ability to advertise harmful foods to children in a misleading way. We make healthier food more expensive and harder to come by. We create living environments not conducive to active lives. We then chastise the obese for not exercising their personal choice as if they made that choice in a vacuum.

Again, this gets us nowhere. Every example of successful public health initiatives shows that for people to make healthy choices they must become easy choices and they must become fashionable choices. Say what you like about the "foodie" movement - it most certainly has it's cringeable aspects and is largely a wealthy/middle class phenomenon - but it's proof of concept that large sections of the population can be incentivised and mobilised to seek out healthier foods. This in turn generates the market forces necessary to make such foods more accessible across the board.

Personally I think Jamie Oliver's projects are on the right track precisely because he hasn't sat around and bitched about ideology. He's just got on with attacking the problem at both grass roots and political levels.

Education alone doesn't work any better than the passive and defeatist "personal responsibility and that's the end of it" approach. We either believe in intervention or we don't, so lets try and fix this or shut up and pick up the NHS bill in 20 years time when we really are screwed.

Why not discuss the idea of reducing the amount of a substance we know to be harmful in a food we feed to kids? If people want more sugar they can make the personal choice sprinkle it themselves.

But this is just tinkering around the edges, more needs to be done...

Why not look at how foods are marketed at children?

Why not explore how to make it cool to care about food quality, not just for the well-off but for everyone?

Why not look at ways to make our communities more conducive to leading active lives?

While none of this is solely the government's responsibility, like it or not the government does have an influence on our health. But we have a pretty powerful influence on them. The question - is do we want it to be a positive one?