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Shrinking pizzas and pies isn’t the way to tackle obesity

12 October 2018

3:52 PM

12 October 2018

3:52 PM

From 30 March next year, of course, we will no longer be subject to all those silly EU laws on bent bananas (which was genuine, not a myth), toasters, balloons and all the rest. Instead we will be able to concentrate on passing our own good old British silly laws.

Even the European Commission never came up with the idea of limiting pies to 695 calories. So bravo, then, to Public Health England for having the imagination to out-Brussels Brussels. Today, the quango unveils its latest strategy in fighting obesity: regulating portion sizes. As well as regulating pies, the proposed rules include a maximum calorie count for pizzas of 928 calories.

I struggle often to figure out what goes on inside a regulator’s head. How do you come up with such a precise figure. Why not 927 calories? There will presumably be a few extra fatties waddling round the country in a few years’ time thanks to that extra fragment of mozzarella. And why do pie-eaters have to put up with smaller dinners than pizza-eaters? Is there some study from the University of Nuneaton ring road revealing that pie-eaters are more prone to obesity?

Leave aside the nanny state argument for a moment, how can you possibly regulate meal sizes for an entire population? What will fill up a four foot nine old lady who has spent the day playing whist and having an afternoon nap will leave a six foot two, 17 year old who has been playing rugby wilting with hunger. And of course, the chronically greedy will just buy two pies instead of one – or maybe three instead of two.

On second thoughts, however, it is not so very difficult to work out how Public Health England has arrived at such a daft proposal. It is little surprise to learn that the idea of regulating portion sizes has been arrived at via a consultation with the food industry. For food producers there are twin benefits from the scheme. Firstly, they get to benefit from the warm glow of publicity from having co-operated in the fight against obesity. But more to the point, they get the chance to gain credit for doing what previously has been attacked as an underhand trick: giving us less food for our money. They have been at it for years – the mysteriously shrinking packets, the Toblerone with more widely-spaced triangles. From now on, that sort of thing will no longer be about corporate greed, you’ll understand – it is all for our benefit, helping us to tackle our waistlines.

It isn’t just food rules. The May government is beginning to look the most nannying ever, with rules forcing companies to collect data on gender pay gaps, ethnic pay gaps and all the rest. What is the point in extricating ourselves from the European Commission, with its fondness for lumbering us with laws dreamed to please commercial lobbies – and then to dream up even bossier rules in Whitehall? If I were advising the Remain lobby I think there may be some good mileage here.

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