Finding our feelgoods

Last updated 05:00 06/03/2014

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OPINION: Replacing confection with affection when we find ourselves wanting to reward our overweight children is a stimulating Well Child Week suggestion.

It will certainly stimulate derision if we restrict our focus to the image of a beefy kid being offered a great big grin and thumbs-up as an alternative to a pizza voucher.

But that's a rather narrow perspective on an ever-widening problem.

We might have a semantic quibble with the encouragement from Public Health South medical officer of health Marion Poore to ask ourselves if a food treat is a necessity. Not being a necessity is surely a defining characteristic of a treat.

But the thrust of her message isn't the soft-centred PC tosh it may appear. A junkfood treat should be, as they used to monkishly intone, a sometimes food - not the sickening staple that fatty and sugary offerings have become for so many of us.

Dr Poore depicts an environment where children are often bombarded with treaty foods. Honestly, is anybody prepared to say she's wrong?

She doesn't go so far as to say that this is oftentimes because grab-a-treat junk is a hastily accessible and happily received replacement for a couple of things that are harder to rustle up and so much more nourishing - our time and attention.

But if that implication isn't already inherent, the rest of us should at least ask ourselves whether it applies to us.

Carrot sticks all round, then? Not at all. The universally acknowledged need for balance won't be satisfied by extremist corrective lurches any more than by impotent tokenism.

The quest for healthier nutritional habits sometimes lapses into zealotry. Public health physician Simon Thornley goes too far when he advocates treating sugar drinks like tobacco. The tobacco industry's product does great damage when it's used as intended. Its toxicity has been tragically proven. The problem with sugary drinks is that we've been sorely underestimating how readily taken to harmful excess they are. But that's a different thing.

Wellington health specialist Gabrielle Jenkin says Big Food is more powerful, and shaping up to be more aggressive, than Big Tobacco.

Maybe. But the raft of measures she proposes includes banning the advertising and marketing of unhealthy food and changing planning policy to keep unhealthy food outlets from setting up near schools. Again, "unhealthy" in this context has a lot to do with the frequency and quantity of the intake.

Jenkins proposes restricting outlet numbers by population size. This amounts to restraining the providers of the food, having failed to restrain ourselves as consumers of it.

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Rather than focusing too closely on removing the temptation, we must increase our resistance to it. Our government and educators have a role to play in that, but chiefly it involves helping parents and kids develop, and satisfy, an appetite for what's truly the good stuff.

And, come to think of it, let's not default to assuming that hugs and smiles are inferior to fat and sugar when it comes to a case of the feelgoods.

- The Southland Times

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