Finnish way will not do for bolshie Brits

26th March 2004 at 00:00
Finland is the country most famed for fighting fatness. Reports have reached me about village contests to cut cholesterol and schools apparently weighing children and reporting them to their parents if they over-tip the scales.

However, the Finns are a biddable people who welcome the advice of experts and enthusiastically support government measures put in place for their own good. We British are a bolshier bunch, and I would not want to be the teacher informing parents that their child was overweight. On the whole, British people ignore expert advice and resent being told how to behave, so expecting us or our children to choose healthy options is a tricky operation.

The Government is running 20 initiatives encouraging children to eat more healthily. This costs about pound;173 million a year plus the money paid to schemes run by health action zones, Sure Start, Healthy Living Centres or health authorities and primary care trusts.

The New Opportunities Fund is spending pound;42m over two years providing one million children (we have four million primary school children) with a piece of fresh fruit every day. It's a good, successful project - but it would pay for more than 26 million free school meals.

I applaud the Government's commitment to healthy eating in schools. Yet we seem to be dismissing small, simple changes in favour of dramatic initiatives and reorganisations.

We don't need blue-skies thinking and radicalism here. What we need is a simple method of overcoming child obesity and disruptive behaviour. That's why I'm asking the Government to stop tinkering at the edges of the problem and put its money where children's mouths are - by providing free, healthy meals for all primary pupils.

The author is MP for Birmingham Hall Green

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