Andrew Lansley and Jamie Oliver

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and media personality Jamie Oliver are on a collision course, if you read the headlines. But they’re both right.

Jamie Oliver headed a campaign a couple of years ago, the thrust of which was that we shouldn’t be feeding children junk, and school dinners were a prime example of junk. Andrew Lansley said it wasn’t the business of the establishment to go lecturing people, and to do so was counterproductive. This isn’t the same as saying Oliver’s point was wrong.

Statistics are now being bandied about, the latest being that the uptake of school dinners has risen slightly. Very slightly. Yesterday’s statistics were used to suggest that less children were eating school dinners than before the campaign.

This is missing the point – it’d still have been a success if the numbers had halved. Apparently about 40% of pupils have school dinners. This means that over the last couple of years, 40% of pupils have stopped eating junk and are now eating something decent. Result!

Lansley is also right – there’s no point in lecturing idiots. Intelligent people can, and will, review the evidence and make a good choice. You don’t need to lecture them. We will always have idiots, too, and they’ll always fly in the face of the facts – more so if you keep mentioning them. Whatever the solution to the junk food problem is, lecturing idiots is not the answer.

Speaking of statistics, I’ve recently heard the one about life expectancy being much reduced for lower social classes being trotted out, especially by New Labour types. It’s true. Someone living in an inner-city dump in Scotland lives on average 10 years less (in rough terms) than someone classed as “affluent” and living in London. However, if you look at these figures alongside the smoking and alcohol consumption rates in the same areas you’ll see it has nothing to do with disposable income or educational level. More people die young in Glasgow because more of them smoke. This is nothing new, but it’s not mentioned by “social” politicians trying to get a bigger handout for their part of the country. Attenuate these statistics with diet too, and I suspect the death rate disparity will disappear altogether.

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