HEADLINES have been made all week by the fact Britain is at its fattest ever.
What’s newsworthy isn’t the statistics that seven in 10 people born between the early 1980s and mid 1990s are set to be overweight or obese when they reach the ages of 35 to 44 – they’re called Millennials – but the fact that anybody is remotely surprised about it.
Just sit in any cinema and you’ll see youngish people scoffing what seems like their own bodyweight in popcorn and slurping super-sized sugary drinks. Maybe even a hotdog and a bag of sweets as well.
As a nation, there is a fat ignorant majority that not only want to spoil other people’s enjoyment of a film by munching their way through it; but who think it’s completely acceptable behaviour.
We’ve become such a nanny state that there’s only eccentric redheads like me that dare to say “Excuse me, do you mind not chomping through the entire film like a broken-mouthed cart horse”. If I wasn’t dragged away by embarrassed children, such cinema-goers would also be told that they look like they could manage perfectly well without eating for a few days – never mind the duration of a film.
It’s the same in coffee shops. Nobody just has a coffee. They’ve all got double choc muffins on the side and shots of caramel in their drink.
Bring back intervals. The cinema tubs of ice-cream from my childhood – the early 70s, so a decade before the Millennials – would be laughed at now for being so small. As an added bonus, of course, everybody then was eating at the same time rather than causing disturbances throughout the whole film.
About once a year, after a birthday maybe, there would a post-cinema treat to the Kentucky Fried Chicken (no jokes about missing chickens please) that was opposite the Odeon. A take-away wasn’t a weekly ritual.
Talking of the 1970s, apart from our cinema and fast food eating habits, were we the last generation to properly play outside? Perhaps these so-called Millennials, highlighted in the research released this week by Cancer Research UK, grew up more mollycoddled and that’s why they have turned out fatter?
It’s easy to have rose-tinted glasses about childhood, but there’s no doubt that my brother and I were outside from breakfast – we never had Coco Pops – to teatime. Biking, rafting, go-karting. We found a photograph the other day of a boy from the village who came every day at weekends and holidays to help on the farm. Maybe now he’d be turned away for fear of litigation if he got injured?
We were lucky enough to have a pony. Nothing fancy – like the ones that cost several thousands these days and do nothing but ride around enclosed arenas – but useful sorts that we’d disappear on all day with a squashed cheese sandwich in our pockets.
Of course, it was more possible then. Roads were quieter. In summer we biked the four miles to school and we’d still be out playing at night after the four miles home.
It’s been hard to replicate the same for our children. For starters they have no friends in the village where we live.
Rural house prices mean a lot of local families have had to move out to the nearby towns to afford anywhere to live.
But 40 years ago there were always at least half a dozen kids riding around on bikes; knocking on the door to see if we’d be “playing out”. Nowadays, to meet up with mates, we have to ferry them backwards and forwards in the car.
We’re determined to keep riding our ponies down the road; but every time we do there is always some tale or other of delivery drivers using sat nav shortcuts nearly running into them. Then there are move-to-the-country-idiots with their dogs off the leads.
It’s truly shocking that only 15 per cent of people in the UK are aware of the link between being overweight or obese and 13 different types of cancer including breast, bowel and kidney.
Cancer Research UK is using these latest figures to call on the Government to ban junk food adverts before the 9pm watershed.
All well and good. But we must take responsibility for ourselves. Stop expecting our noses to be wiped by somebody else.
To finish on a personal aside. One of my grandmothers died last week aged 95. As a young girl she cycled from York to Scarborough to swim in the sea, stopping off at Kirkham Abbey to have a dip in the River Derwent en-route.
Her father was a butcher, so she ate plenty of red meat, and she married a farmer – so more of the same. Along with gallons of strong Ringtons tea (no fancy frothy calorie-laden coffee) and always a tin of home baking from the eggs her hens laid.
Life – and death – is often the luck of the draw. But there is doubtless a lot to learn from the robust, outdoorsy (non- bucket-sized popcorn-guzzling) generations that have gone before.
Sarah Todd is a former editor of Yorkshire Life magazine. She is a farmer’s daughter, mother and journalist specialising in country life.