There was not much concern with the idea of a healthy diet; there was not much concern with diet at all. There were people who would have simply been described as “fat”, but they were a small minority. There were slimming products Slimcea bread and Ski yogurts, but it would not have occurred to most people to buy them. The advertising jingles linger in the memory, “Show them you’re a Slimcea girl, show them the slim life you’re living,” and one with a hot air balloon and a song asking, “Would you like to fly in my beautiful balloon?” For most people, though, food was for eating and hardly anyone would have known the calorie count of anything.
Breakfast was Corn Flakes with gold top full cream milk and generous amounts of sugar. Mugs of tea were drunk with so much sugar that often it did not all dissolve; tea that the school science teacher might have described as a “saturated solution.” If it was a school day, there would have been silver top milk in one-third of a pint bottles. School dinners came in a quantity that compensated for any lack in quality. Meat, potatoes, vegetables, thick gravy; the first course was always followed by a heavy pudding, apple pie and custard, or sponge in Golden Syrup, or similar. Tea was eaten around six o’clock, bread cut thickly from unsliced loaves spread with butter deep enough to show the print of teeth biting through it, hunks of cheddar cheese, home made jam, or Sun Pat peanut butter and a strange Heinz concoction called Sandwich Spread. There were snacks, additional bowls of Corn Flakes eaten after school or before bed.
The calorie intake of a primary school boy must have been substantial – the sugar consumption even more so, with the numerous teaspoons added to mugs of tea and dishes of cereal. It did not cause obesity, though, because the calories were burned in a life lived outside whenever possible.
The media reports today of the latest attempt by the government to address childhood obesity suggest that the health promotion campaigners are still coy about the other side of the equation.
The Irish comedian Dara O Brian once declared his intention to publish a diet book; it would have two pages. The first page would say, “eat less,” the second would say, “exercise more.” Children will not feel it natural to be out and about if their parents spend all their time sitting around watching television (and eating junk).
There is a political incorrectness in saying so, but a tendency to be inactive and to overeat seem learned behaviours. Rather than yet another campaign to add to the succession of unsuccessful campaigns, perhaps the government should follow the O Briain Plan and tell people to set their children a good example, switch off the television, get up off of the settee, and take them all for a walk.