Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Censored snacks

'What's on your plate?' asks the British Heart Foundation (BHF) in a new campaign to encourage children to eat heathily. The campaign is accompanied by gruesome pictures, emblazoned with 'CENSORED', of what really goes into burgers, hot dogs and chicken nuggets. (Those children fascinated to know what got censored can easily view the pictures on the BHF website, clearly appealing to those kids who enjoy being grossed out.)

The BHF argues that obesity levels in children are rising, and it quotes figures suggesting that a further 440,000 children will be overweight or obese within two years. Children can't eat well, say the BHF, if they don't know what goes into their food, noting that a third of the children they asked didn't know what chips were made of.

While there is evidence that the very overweight have an increased relative risk of heart disease, the precise causes of both heart disease and obesity remain elusive. Simplistic campaigns like this one only increase anxiety while doing little to improve health outcomes.

While the BHF feverishly campaigns against 'junk' food, it is worth noting the BHF's own report on cardiovascular disease (CVD), which notes that 'Death rates from CVD have been falling in the UK since the early 1970's. For people under 75 years, they have fallen by 36 per cent in the last 10 years'. Heart disease is the main cause of death in the UK but it overwhelmingly kills in old age.

As for our diets, there is no such thing as 'junk' food. All the foods mentioned by the BHF are perfectly nutritious. It is not healthy to eat one kind of food to the exclusion of others, but as long as there is some variety in the diet, children will generally thrive perfectly well on what some might consider 'crap'.

While many of the ingredients in 'junk food' may not look particularly appetising in their unprocessed state, this does not mean that they aren't nutritious. In a country not blessed historically with a wide range of foodstuffs, the imaginative use of the 'unattractive bits' has been central to British cooking. Much of what the BHF turns its nose up at, is served as haute cuisine at restaurants like St John in London.

Anyone for chitterlings?

The BHF asks kids, What's on your plate?, British Heart Foundation

Coronary heart disease statistics 2004, British Heart Foundation statistics website