Last night, Channel 4 gave us a patronising run down of what lots of us have been saying for a while: Sugar is evil. Sugar, not fat, is to blame for the obesity problem our society is plagued by. But no documentary would be worth it’s salt without some suggestion about what ought to be done. And predictably, the suggestion that sugar should be taxed was trolled out. I left the sofa at that point to go make steak. It was too depressing.
Since when did taxing products that carry health risks work? Tax on tobacco didn’t cut smoking. Taxation just essentially creates a giant hamster wheel, where tax is intended to cover the increasing cost of treating obesity, rather than stopping it. Besides big business and politics always gang up to screw everyday people. Taxing sugar just means that food costs more, the government makes money and the big food manufacturers make money from everyday people ignorant of the sugar in their food. Now with obesity overtaking smoking as the biggest health risk and leading cause of death in our society, we need a radical re-think.
Unfortunately, the sugar message probably doesn’t reach those that need it the most. For every documentary like channel 4’s there’s a million other adverts and shows sending messages that sugar is ok, cola is normal and body fat is not a health risk. Also, no amount of tax or public service campaigns will shift this issue from political debate into the individual realm – where the change really happens. Sadly, I believe people change when they have to question why their health is failing. Being unhappy with being fat is discouraged in our self-esteem focused generation where we are told that we should love whatever we are. Ironically, this ideal of self esteem has been twisted into a kind of deluded narcissism. Set against the context of social media and reality TV, we obsess about ourselves in a way that is neither authentic or helpful, trying to convince ourselves and the world that we are attractive, clever and awesome. But our socially-sanctioned narcissism doesn’t allow for honest analysis of ourselves. And without both an honesty and a dislike for the fat, it cannot change.
What can be done starts with you and me. Most massive social shifts start at the bottom, not at the top. We can’t make people change, even if it’s for their own good. But we can lead by example, be kind and inclusive to people who are struggling. Like the butterfly who flaps it’s wings and creates a tidal wave across the globe, our healthy attitude can be infectious. To all my anti-sugar comrades, keep living it!