No one is talking about the real reason for child obesity - lack of money.

CHILD OBESITY IS ONE OF those issues that the media likes to toy with every so often and the Government's announcement of new measures to fight child obesity has generated the inevitable wave of comment, newspaper articles, interviews and talkback calls.

Unfortunately there's been zero criticism of the political assumptions that lie behind the Government's new plan. The critics are not so not so much critical of the plan but merely that it doesn't go far enough.

The Government's Orwellian-sounding 'Childhood Obesity Plan' - 'COP' - will apparently be able to 'identify' obese children before they start school - how exactly? - and 'offer' diet and exercise advice to them and their families.

You might of thought that the political right would be up in arms about all this. After all, here is 'Nanny State' yet again crashing - uninvited - into the lives of ordinary families as it seeks out the fat kids. Why isn't the right condemning COP as an attack on individual rights?

The answer is obvious. It's because COP targets the working class. If you are a right wing nut then you are going to support this every time.

The social liberals among us have been, as usual, next to useless in their response to COP. The reaction of the Green's Kevin Hague has been typical. All his criticism has basically amounted to is that the Government hasn't introduced a sugar tax on soft drinks.

Similarly Labour leader Andrew Little has criticised the government for not introducing new regulations on the producers of junk food.

But how can New Zealand have an child obesity problem when, at the same time, schools are having to provide breakfasts for hundreds of children who don't get anything to eat at home? Similarly why are many children not provided with any lunch by their parents? So some kids are eating too much while other kids are eating too little? How does that work exactly?

The answer, in both cases, is economic. Many families don't have enough money to buy sufficient food and what food they can buy has, by necessity, got to be cheap. It might not be nutritious but its affordable. Instant noodles, everyone?

While the financially well off among us - politicians, health professionals and media commentators included- might be able to buy all the good fruit, vegetables, grains, etc that they need that's not the case for many working class families struggling to get by.

What is stopping them properly feeding their children is, in most cases, a lack of income - you can stretch a low wage or a pitiful welfare benefit only so far. It's ironic that this government has declared war against child obesity when it has done much to raise the level of child obesity by its increasingly punitive welfare measures.

In many cases constrained economic circumstances will lead to high-calorie, high-fat fast food that has little nutritional content. Of course those who like to beat the working class and the poor with a big stick will declare this is simply irresponsible behaviour by the parents. They will deride the 'poor food choices' of the parents but the reality is that most parents are simply faced with restricted food choices.

That's something the financially well off will never have to face. Its all very well to suggest that parents - and mothers in particular - need to be 'educated' about better food choices but what's not answered is where the extra money is coming from so that these better food choices are possible.

The "choice" of what food to buy is about as meaningful as the right to quit your job if you don't like your boss. In other words, not a choice at all.

The fight should not be against obesity but for access to healthy food for all. Healthy food is a basic human necessity but it is one denied to more and more people by a profit-driven economic system that has failed us.


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