The media is always awash with diet and fitness stories come boxing day (I know tragic right – you’ve spent one day enjoying yourself and then *bam* they hit full throttle) I always know that Christmas is over when the new Weight Watchers advert drops!
But this year the UK government also took the new year as an ‘opportunity’ to launch what was undoubtably a very expensive app that ‘helps’ parents check the product they’re buying for their kids and how much sugar (in cubes – because that is definitely a far easier way to visualise than the usual gram nonsense that no one gets) is in there.
Now many people are applauding the app because it is technically giving greater access and knowledge to parents about what’s in manufactured foods and to an extent I’m inclined to agree. Over the years we have got so attached and used to the taste of sweetness that sugar is used in everything – from the chocolate you expect to find it in, to jar pasta sauces that you really feel shouldn’t have it.
So yes on the one hand knowledge is power but the thing that has struck me most about seeing the app in action is just how much sugar is in an item and how little we are actually ‘supposed’ to be eating actually means that there are some products (like a can a coke) that you should literally never ever give a child. Which given the fact that it is there and ingrained into society in a big way seems both unlikely and impossible to achieve.
Here to a certain extent, knowledge stops being powerful and starts to be defeating and oppressing. If we know that we shouldn’t have 9 cubes of sugar in a can of fizzy pop and if sugar is that harmful, then why on earth are we allowing food manufacturers to get away with it and pushing all the responsibility back onto the consumer. We managed to reduce salt in many foods, if sugar is as bad, if not worse, then surely the government should be taking action against food brands not wasting millions on apps (which lets face it will be forgotten by February).
And here lies the problem with the governments war on sugar. The battle is misguided, the war is being waged against the wrong people and the bullets fired in the incorrect direction.
Of course we have a right to eat what we want and a responsibility to look after our own lives and some may argue that the app is a tool to do just that, own the responsibility. But in reality it is also another way for the government to be ‘seen’ to be doing something without asking any awkward questions or really taking the food industry in hand.
While the app may give parents a little bit more knowledge and undoubtably shock a few yummy mummy’s the reality is that no parent wants to harm their child’s health, they don’t want to rot their teeth or set them up to fail but the current state of the food industry makes it nearly impossible for them to ever make the ‘right’ decision. We are time and cash poor, the better the food the greater the cost and the more time consuming it is to make and the majority of working parents simply aren’t able to do it all.
Surely it would be better to ‘sugar tax’ the offending manufacturers rather than the consumers? And then pump that money back into making healthier food more available and cost effective? What about legislating the industry and forcing manufacturers to lower sugar content – simply removing some sugar from the equation already starts to solve the problem. Because to be honest the only app that is still getting action after February first will clearly be Candy Crush.