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Sunday Soapbox: Just because it might make kids thin doesn’t make Doublethink right

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Our editor-in-chief queries the London mayor’s call to ban fast food ads, and asks why songs about vaginas make us happy

Sunday Soapbox doublethink fast foodThe mayor has battered a good idea in Doublethink

New achievement for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan this week, who has made me feel sympathy for global super-litterers McDonald’s by proposing a ban on junk food advertising on the city’s Tube and bus networks.

This, goes the thinking, is a necessary measure to combat the rise of the fat kid, who is now heading towards numerical supremacy in the capital – almost 40 per cent of 10 and 11-year-olds in London today are overweight or obese.

Ok, shocking stat, and heaven knows we need to do something to break the cycle. The NHS is at breaking point (although somehow never breaks), and we haven’t got space to house all the thin people, let alone the fatties (am I right?). But Khan’s edict hasn’t half brought out the equivocalist in me.

The principle’s honest. Sure, banning triggers that make kids – and adults – who think self-control is what you use to change the channel on the telly makes some sense. We don’t need telling advertising works. Nor do we need telling that fast-food advertising works particularly well.

In the late 19th century, Thomas Smith wrote a guide called Successful Advertising positing we need to see an ad 20 times before we dip into our wallets, and apparently his thesis is still at the heart of what today’s marketing execs call ‘effective frequency’. As an average, that might be true. In my lifetime I’ve seen a gazillion BMW ads without ever buying one. The balance comes because I only need to see a picture of a McFlurry once before the need to fill my face with one overwhelms me. By that measure, leading the good people of this city not into temptation is a good call by a man lording it over London.

But it’s easy to sneer and lump all fat kids into one stupid, wilful cohort and tell them what they can and can’t think. Not that there’s any point in that. Banning a few ads won’t stop kids craving junk food – or finding it. It just won’t. What’s most depressing though, is that telling KFC (which my eight-year-old son and his friends call the ‘Kids Fattening Centre’ – really) it can’t excite me about its Boneless Banquet is pure Doublethink. There’s no difference between banning Burger King ads and a student union no-platforming a speaker who thinks transgender women aren’t women.

And anyway, in this case, big fast food chains are the wrong target. Many of those obese kids are from the poorest backgrounds, kids whose parents need, yes, better jobs, but also better education about how to use money wisely and steer clear of debt. If you’re going to ban something, ban the stuff that fuels the debt that fuels crappy diets – readily available but punitive loans, fixed-odds betting terminals, and anything that encourages spending on expensive but unnecessary toys made by Apple, Samsung, LG et al.

Wealthier parents, and I think we can talk in relative terms here, have healthier, happier and more successful kids. The link the other way around, between childhood obesity and poverty, is real, too. According to Public Health England, Brent, one of the country’s poorest councils, has the nation’s least healthy kids, with 44 per cent of Year Six school kids obese or overweight. By contrast, Richmond, London’s richest borough, has the healthiest kids. This isn’t a diet problem, it’s an education problem, an opportunities problem and a wealth distribution problem.

The mayor has a good point. But he’s battered it in wrongthink. Which is enough to drive a man to the drive-thru.

Eurovision Song ContentAdmit it. Eurovision makes you happy

So we didn’t win. Big deal. Who gives. I heard the song once, and it was just fine. Better than Moldova’s, just not as popular with the Albanians. Am I bothered? Am I? Sure. A bit. I’m going to find it hard to forgive the Australians for not awarding us a doozie, or whatever it is they call a 12-pointer in that far-flung European outpost. And what happened to our friends in Malta?

As a bellwether of what esteem we’re held in by our European neighbours, Eurovision is neither definitive nor irrelevant. If you plot our track record on a graph (not something I’d recommend doing), you’ll see we won the thing five times last century, but then since giving the euro the finger, invading Iraq and that little thing called Brexit, we’ve finished last three times. Unlike say Ireland or Sweden, we score low on harmlessness. We’re now the kind of country that gets invaded – on stage.

But Eurovision isn’t about politics, wishy-washy moralising or even singing. We watch it because it makes us happy. I’m not suggesting this. Apparently, it’s fact. Research published a couple of days ago, no doubt compiled by boffins of the highest intellect (who funds this stuff?), claims a couple of dozen fame-hungry shrillsters in non-fire-retardant costumes burbling out rallying cries for love, unity and respect for vaginas make us feel better about life.

And do you know what, after some profound soul-searching, I’ve discovered I agree. In a world without Toys R Us, Our Price and Blockbuster, it’s nice to know that one almighty anachronism can still put a smile on our faces.

Regenerate Charity, Jackal magazineCharitable thoughts

I have to admit I didn’t watch Eurovision last night. I was compèring a charity dinner locally, held in aid of half a dozen charities, all of whom are doing things I might have said were impossible but for their example to make life better for people on our London doorstep and far further afield. So a moment to highlight the good work of Wandsworth Foodbank, Hope for Justice, RedTribe, Medair, iThemba, and Regenerate‘What excites me is giving young people opportunities,’ said Regenerate’s Andy Smith. You are all amazing:

wandsworth.foodbank.org.uk

hopeforjustice.org

redtribe.org

relief.medair.org/en

ithembaprojects.org.za

regenerateuk.co.uk