It's only fair to share…

On my regular radio spot with Paul Murray this week we spoke about childhood obesity. A gaggle of health agencies are calling (again) for a ban on junk food advertising. This is popular with public health people because it is seen to be doing something and is able to create an “enemy” which can be brought down.

The fact that it has been shown that there is no correlation between childhood obesity and this form of advertising does not bother them. They generally are even less interested in identifying the real problem or promoting measures, which have been shown to make a difference. The reasons why this is the case escapes me.

Firstly here are a few facts. Childhood obesity is a problem in western counties. In Australia around 25% of children are estimated to be overweight. This is based on body mass index (BMI) figures, which are helpful but overstate the problem. Despite constant calls of “crisis” the rate has been steady for a decade. Things may not be improving but they are not getting worse either.

The central fact that is ignored is that, what children eat is a function of what they are fed by adults. For the vast majority of children this is their parents. Sure others are involved at times but most meals for children are prepared by their parents. Furthermore most meals are consumed in the home. Take away or fast food will be a minority of meals in virtually any household.

It is what children eat everyday that matters. This starts at a young age, well before they even understand advertising. And yes, older children may well ask a parent can they have the meal with the toy. This leaves a parent with two choices-to say yes or no. It is as simple as that.

Apparently it is thought that parents are incapable of saying no to their children as advertising makes parenting “hard”. There is another issue here, which is the amount of television children are allowed to watch.

Rates of obesity in preschool children are 40% lower in families where

1)   The family eats together at least five times a week

2)   The child sleeps 10.5 hours per night

3)   Television is restricted to two hours per day

None of these are expensive or require a university qualification. None require government funding. None are beyond the capacity of any parent who is prepared to make a little effort.

The notion that someone else is to blame for our decisions is causing major problems in society. Parents are encouraged to blame advertisements for what their children eat. People who drink too much are encouraged to blame alcohol manufacturers.

On the same morning as my spot there was considerable discussion about violence in Perth. Alcohol is seen as a culprit here and no less than 63 agencies are banding together to lobby the government “to do something”. The one group which could actually be part of the solution-The Hotels Association, was denied membership of the “action group”. I suspect because it is easier for the 63 (largely government funded) agencies to demonize the hotels group and alcohol manufacturers rather than confront the fact that it is the behavior of individuals that is the problem.

A knife can be used to cut food or stab a person. The knife is inert. The difference is how it is used. The same applies to alcohol. It is not of itself a problem. How some people use it is a problem not the substance itself.

The same mentality that says children and parents can shirk responsibility for what they eat is found in the mentality that says people are not responsible for the alcohol (or other substances) they consume and the actions that follow.

If we encourage people to blame something external for their behavior it should not come as a surprise that their behavior would worsen as they have been conditioned to believe that whatever they do it is not their fault.

We have allowed a mentality to permeate society, which says people are not responsible for their actions.  The fact is that only the individual is responsible for their actions. The sooner we stop making excuses for people the sooner we will actually make progress in solving these problems.

It is only when we deal with the true cause of a problem that we solve it.