As a fat kid at school in the 50's and 60's I remember my loathing of the disgusting, milky, sweet puddings that ended nearly every school dinner. There was tapioca, semolina or rice topped with a revolting looking and tasting dark red jam, manufactured from some unidentifiable fruit, which leached into the white goo and made the dish look like a nastily infected wound.
Though nauseous at the sight and smell, I can recall the teachers standing over me, forcing me to eat this high starch, high fat dessert that was laden with unrefined sugars. It was only when all of this calorie fest was consumed that I was allowed to get down from the table. My reluctance to eat it was such that I invariably missed my play time, the main exercise for the day. I longed for the days when we had spotted dick or jam roly poly, because I liked those and could run out to play with the others, despite my stomach groaning with leaden suet.
It is a good thing that the approach to obesity in schools has changed and we should certainly not romanticise the 1950's as some lost golden age. It is far better that teachers persuade kids to eat salad, presumably without the obligatory slug of my childhood. However, the latest obesity obsession is as unsettling in its own way. From today's Times:
Parents of 5-year-olds are to be sent official warning letters if their child is found to be obese, as part of a national programme to weigh children in schools.
"Warning letters"? Is obesity now to be a crime against parenting? How are they to define obesity? What are the penalties to be? Looking back, despite this diet, I was the only really fat kid in the school, though there were a couple of tubbies as well. Most were thin and thoroughly mobile, despite packing it away. More and more studies seem to be coming to the obvious conclusion, that though sedentary lifestyles and poor diet contribute to obesity, there is a strong genetic factor in determining whether you put on weight or not.
So it will be the parents of the same kids that will be continually getting the shaming letters and the pressure will go on, making their children more and more miserable about themselves. It is as if anorexia and bulimia did not exist.
It took me a long time to be comfortable with my weight. I lost loads in my twenties, through probably unhealthy dieting, and gained a new self image. The pounds went back on again but the self-image remained. I still think I am gorgeous and now I can even use my weight as a jokey title for this blog. Of course dangerous morbid obesity needs medical intervention, but it is rare. Wouldn't it be better if we just let kids be happy?
The irony of the situation is that both my teachers in the 50's and the government today share a conviction that they are doing the best for children, which gave me an odd thought. We wouldn't expect policies on ethnicity to be exclusively formed by the opinions of white people, nor would we expect the politics of gender to be the sole preserve of men. So why is the policy on obesity being made by the thin?