Obesity or inequalities: eating on buses

BAN eating on public transport, says nanny-in-chief Dame Sally Davies in radical plan to fight obesity’

As she steps down as CMO Dame Sally Davies has given further example of the disconnect between policy and social reality of inequalities. Her call for a banning of eating on buses can be critiqued in many ways. In this quote from my doctoral research, a policy implementer describes the oppression of working-class mothers forced to feed their children on buses.

Bev, policy implementer, said:

 I’ve seen … a lot of people who have to work really long hours, and women who have to feed their children on the bus, on the   way home [from work], to get them to bed.  How much money you earn, and long hours you work, and where you live, your personal situation can really, really, impact on how … you can look after and feed your children.  That’s why I’m looking at dining clubs after school.  I’m seeing parents who haven’t got time to get children fed at a reasonable time.  They’re doing long days because they’re on low hourly wages.  I’ve seen people who definitely have the knowledge [to cook] but they … don’t have the facilities at home and they don’t have the time.

This quote illustrates that working-class mothers need their social rights rather than be further stigmatised.  Their children’s rights to health can only be secured through giving caregivers the resources – the time, money and health promoting community food environments – to provide care. Further, government policy should include a political ethic of care and enable our social rights to care. For the caregivers, with higher weight children, that I interviewed this included local shopping parades with less fast food outlets and more culturally diverse food outlets and family clubs that sold foods not harmful to children’s health. As it stands, the high streets blighted with unhealthy food options are perceived as class discrimination.

The MailOnline provides further extracts from Dame Sally Davies’ report with quotes: ” We know that snacking is a cause of excess calories in children and adults”,  and calling for more government action on regulation, taxation and product reformulation.  Some of these demands are echoed by the parents I interviewed. However, food taxation is regressive and increases the economic burden of people living in poverty whether in-or out- of work.  Parents describe a tax on the poor and with a lack of trust in how government uses taxes.

Lena, a mother on zero hour contract working in adult social care, said:

They’re putting taxes on food already … putting it higher … wouldn’t stop it … buy a telly, pay light bills and gas and              then keep paying for the telly, like you’re paying permanently. That’s wickedness.


 TV license should be cut out.  The council saying people should be paying bedroom tax. That’s wickedness – sending bills  …        stressing out your life.  A lot of taxes is wrong.

Felecia, a mother working 16 hours and receiving welfare, said:

 I don’t think tax would work.  What do taxes pay for?  Police, road works. Just taking money from the people to line their         own pockets. 

In my opinion, policy needs to shift its focus from ‘obesity’ to ‘inequalities’. In the fifth most richest country in the world there is plenty of room to redistribute wealth so that all caregivers can provide the care they wish, and spend time with their children rather than a constant juggling in caring activities due to their constrained resources.  Increasing wages, reducing working hours and redesigning the high streets were key demands of the parents in my research. They thought parents should be involved in food policymaking. However, material constraints and democracy deficits deny their involvement. So the rights of children to food and health are tied to democratic rights.  Policies should consider methods such as participatory health equity assessments in the meaningful involvement of parents in policy.




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