Saturday, 19 January 2013

Take-aways, obesity and Medway's Kebabgate

Sturdee's take-aways; a thing of the past?
The debate over take-aways and schools within the Medway towns has reignited after a years silence.

The first whispers began in November with a report by the BBC stating the Council will be taking over from the NHS with responsibility over public health.

Cllr David Brake (con) is quoted in Dan Bloom's article Kebab-loving Tory: Let fast food firms sell near schools as saying;
I'm in favour (banning take-aways from opening near schools) it's taking away the temptation away for youngsters to nip out of school and up at the local chippy

However new zoning laws will not effect current take-aways.

Though this seems a bit like shutting the gate well after the horse has bolted as the BBC reveals "nearly all" of Medway's take-aways are within a 15 minute walk of a school.

My God! That means kids have to walk up to a mile to a chip shop! How many newsagents that sell coke and sweets or bakeries that sell cakes and pasties are also in this net?

If we start putting out restrictions where will it end? As Cllr Irvine said on his blog recently;

From my point of view it's a slippery slope, who decides what counts as healthy and what doesn't?

Then of course there is the School itself.

In December 2011 I was proud to announce that the then Children's minister Sarah Teather had brought in steps to capitalise on Labour's attempts to make School meals more healthy which had been sparked by Jamie Oliver's frightening expose!  She stated:

School meals beat takeaways hands down on the quality of food they serve but until now they have struggled to compete on price. Getting Children into the school canteen is vital - the benefits of healthy school meals are clear

The idea that Schools would now be able to compete with take-aways and offer meal deals to kids who would find it cheaper to eat in rather than wander out and get a Sausage and chips or cod and chips (paying £2.50 ish for a foot long sausage and a huge feast of chips from a local kebabbie).

This move was slightly undone when Michael Gove took away the obligation to meet the basic nutritional standard in academies and free schools which are unfortunately becoming the norm!

On top of that there is what the schools offer at dinner time. Chips, burgers, sausages, cake, chocolate are all freely available at school dining halls. When given a choice between Veg and chips I would put a fiver on nine kids out of ten saying chips! The Take-away isn't to blame and neither are the parents. After all when you send your child into school with money for school dinners you trust them to buy responsibly.

In response to Cllr Irvine's blog, Labours PPC and blogger Tristan Osborne is quoted (in the same Medway Messenger article) as saying the state should intervene: In the same way the council has the ability to change licences for alcohol sales in our pubs for the social good.
Erm... what?

I understand this is with a motivation to do good BUT it is ultimately striking a lot of innocents too. Firstly the take-away businesses themselves who are struggling to survive in this fragile economic climate as it is, secondly adults who, may want to get Fish'n'chips at lunchtime, the kids themselves....

The basis of British law is that you are free to do whatever you want as long as your actions or speech does not encroach on the sensibilities or freedoms of others.

How is nipping out for Sausage and chips encroaching on anyone's freedoms? The state cannot dictate be it pacifily or aggressively on what you eat. It's my body and if I want to eat Bigmacs until my heart explodes so be it. Any intervention by the state on freedom like this makes the German word Verbotten spring to mind.

I grant fact that obesity is on the rise, I also admit that my body is hardly a temple but I think going after hard working caterers directly is the wrong way to go about it, as is going after the schools - after all they can only effect kids during school hours and term time.

What needs to be done is advice and education for parents who are the ones who decide what their kids eat in packed lunches and also feed them for the other 2 meals a day. This is happening with new adverts on the television encouraging better nutrition.

This is also only part of the battle. Time constraints on busy families and the need to feed kids quickly means eating whatever can be made quickly or cheaply and super market chains do sell "Bad" food cheaply and veg for a lot more. Although, this again is changing as Sainsbury's are bringing in their "Eat healthier for cheaper" with almost War time frugality to stretch a joint of beef out over 3 dinners - something I can get behind!

If Medway Council want to discourage obesity and encourage a healthier lifestyle there are COUNTLESS options available to them. I've been working on one for the Medway Libdems and although I'm not allowed to talk about it yet it will encourage a healthier regime but more to follow soon!

They need to improve outside facilities, encourage places like the Blacklion swimming pool (I know it has had a name change but it will always be the Black lion to me), Splashes and other sporting venues to be cheaper for families and kids to go to, more green spaces for children to play in and better cycle routes.

Although the youth of today is now uploading itself to the internet or sat on their Xboxes during their free time rather than being out and running free, partially because society has waged war on "lay about teenagers on the streets" and partially because computer games offer more scope than wandering the streets of Gillingham in the cold and wet or sitting down at the Strand wasting time.

There are a lot of avenues open to the council to improve health in Medway and tackle obesity (if they can get over Society's sedatary past times) and scope to further educate and advise parents and children about nutrition, avenues that do not dictate what you can and can't do and curb freedom of action, a basic human right, because it's for the social good as they see it.

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