Mark Dolan: It's time to put children first

They have come last throughout this pandemic

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A statistic that may have escaped your attention is one of the worst I've seen in the last 18 months and it's got some competition hasn’t it? The statistic isn't about Covid cases, it's not about inflation, unemployments or even the shocking rise in the cost of living, which I’m going to be making a big focus of this show going forward. It's a statistic about our kids.

A quarter of 11 year old children are now obese, with one in seven 4 and 5 year olds starting school. Another lockdown legacy, well done everyone. Not overweight, not puppy fat, not “he’s a bit of a chubster, he'll grow out of it”. Obese. Our expanding national waistline is the real pandemic.

There have been no vaccines developed for it, no lockdowns to control it. In large part we’ve been exposed to the worst of Covid because of this ignored the problem.

Imagine if we borrowed half a trillion quid to get everyone back in shape, to get that pesky body mass index down and to get us all fighting fit. It would've been money well spent. Notwithstanding old age, Covid is largely a lifestyle related disease. Is no one overweight, no pandemic. But I'm a liberal. I believe in freedom. You're entitled to eat what you want, drink what you want, ride a motorbike, go skiing – do anything that may not be great for you. Watch Newsnight if you have to.

My world is a free world. We can't have more state measures to control obesity. We've had more than a lifetime’s worth of state intervention over the last two years. It's quite enough. Lockdowns for the biggest waistline, passports that stops you going into nightclubs, a mask mandate to cover your face, so you don't demolish a KFC. This would've sounded far-fetched couple of years ago. Now it’s a distinct possibility.

We all know we need to eat more healthily, and what the public would appreciate - I would suggest - is some support if they want to be healthier and some information. But crucially information, and not instruction. I repeat information, not instruction. And let me tell you that I was rocking the dadbod. I lost three stone in 2018 by cutting carbohydrates – things like bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, sugar and beer. I know, all the delicious stuff. It’s a method extolled by the likes of TV doctor and bestselling health author Dr Michael Mosley, NHS Cardiologist Asseem Malhotra and Dr David Unwin, the Mail On Sunday GP, another low-carb doctor, who is turning his patients skinny and reversing their type 2 diabetes.

Information not instruction.

What is not acceptable, and something about which I am the opposite of liberal, is to allow children to become obese. With this shocking statistics about their health, because that’s what this is about, we are letting them down. Children's weight has exploded during lockdown, because they were prevented from going to playgrounds, banned from having a kickabout on a football pitch and unable to meet their friends for a game of “it”. And of course with schools closed for months on end, it's been bad for their mental health, and perhaps understandably they've turned to the cookies. The children are our responsibility. They are our most precious resource, they are our future. Right now it's a quarter of kids, eventually it will be half of them, then three quarters and beyond. We owe it to them, and it's in our interests, to get great food into our little people.

At home at school and out and about. It is of course the processed food industry who are responsible for this. Huge multi billion dollar food companies are filling our children with crap, and they are paying the price. But we can protect them.

The buck stops with us, because we don't have to spend our bucks on that rubbish. Endless takeaways, ice creams, sweets, biscuits, crisps. An occasional treat, like you has when you were little, no problem. But eating badly has become the norm. And our kids deserve better. Given that children face such a low risk from the virus, it's a cruel irony that they have paid the highest price in this pandemic. Mental health, physical health, social isolation, a damaged education and when they're older, they'll be ones the picking up the half a trillion quid national debt bill for this lockdown experiment.

We love our kids, I know we do. But so many of the policies we seen over the last two years, like needlessly masking children as young as 12 in the classroom all day long, separating them from their friends and stopping them doing sports and even vaccinating them against the advice of the vaccines body the JCVI, it feels like we hate kids. We have to show the opposite is the case.

This is about priorities. Especially as we emerge from the pandemic. Children are not collateral damage, they are not vectors of disease, they are not human shields, they are children and they are there to be protected, not there to protect us.

I can't put it any more bluntly than this: children are more important than adults. By some distance. And yet they have come last, throughout this pandemic, so it's time now to reverse that, and put them first.