These days a lot of emphasis is being placed by the government on the importance of healthy eating and sport in schools. We are told there is an epidemic of juvenile obesity which must be checked now before our health service collapses under the burden of dealing with these youngsters. I wouldn’t argue that obesity is a problem, and that it’s a good idea to prevent children and adults from doing themselves harm by overeating. But is it really such a problem? I can’t honestly say that I have seen any greater numbers of fat children in my home city than I ever have in the past. When I pass any local school, I see a few fat kids in the playground, but from the official hysteria I would expect at least two out of five to be dangerously overweight. Not at most one in twenty. So from the start I have concerns about the necessity for these endless initiatives to defeat the menace of fat. Perhaps there is a higher proportion of obese children in those areas where Mr Blair and his government circulate, but on the sink estate where I live, I see far more painfully thin, semi-anorexic girls teetering to school than I see obese kids of either sex. I have serious doubts about the sense of putting such stress on weight when there is already an increasing problem with eating disorders among the young. And overweight children are targeted enough by bullies without the authorities appearing to join in and put a seal of approval on the abuse they receive over their size. I have issues over the mental wellbeing of our children when subjected to dietary fads disguised as salvation.
I also have a serious problem over the food police; by which I mean the way that the government is insisting that schools go through lunchboxes to weed out unsuitable’ foods like crisps and chocolate bars. Isn’t that an invasion of privacy? Doesn’t it seriously affect our civil liberties? Would it be tolerated in any other environment? I can’t imagine any working person allowing their employer to inspect the contents of their sandwich box and confiscate any unhealthy’ foods. And is that what we pay teachers for – to root through our children’s bags? They don’t make routine searches for knives, drugs or other dangerous items at any school in this neighbourhood, though children have been stabbed, hospitalised from drug abuse, and burned with lighters. But heaven forbid a child should import a chocolate snack bar.
Then there is the increasing emphasis on sport. More and more of the school day is being taken up with physical exercise. It might be acceptable to increase the amount of time spent on sport to over four hours a week, as it is soon to be in our LEA, if the kids were coming out with an acceptably high standard of academic success. But we see increasing numbers of kids who have a string of GCSEs and who are functionally illiterate and innumerate. They are taught to pass tests and no more. Now they will have even less time for academic subjects because Mr Blair believes they need to spend more time doing athletics. I’m sorry, but my kids get ample exercise out of school. I’d rather they learn IT, maths, English, science, history, and all those unimportant academic subjects in school, and do their running around in their spare time. And there is also the fact that increasing the amount of time spent on sport completely undermines the principle of inclusion of disabled children into mainstream education. Children with physical disabilities are supposed to be being brought into the normal school environment. How can they be included’ if they spend more and more time sitting on the touchline watching their physically able-bodied peers engaged in sport? They are bound to be more isolated, less involved with their schoolmates, and more targeted for bullying.
For me, the question really revolves around what we want from our children’s education. Do we want neurotic, stressed out, weight obsessed athletes (or if they are not up to the challenge, losers’) – or do we want well rounded happy children who are ready for any type of employment, not just those fields requiring physical fitness without academic ability? I’d rather see a priority put on academic and social skills, not on sports and diet. And to cap it all, the people imposing this obsessive regime of health’ on our children, are most of them overweight if not clinically obese. Perhaps they should close the bars in Parliament and get Jamie Oliver in to police their restaurants, before they start telling everyone else how to be fit, not fat