Corporate Culprits in Obesity Epidemic


By Robert Brennan


Ever wondered why it is always the cheap confectionary on offer in Supermarkets and petrol stations and rarely the healthier options? Ever wondered why there are not carrots, celery and apples laid out beside you as you queue up to pay? Well so have I and it is certainly not to benefit the customers.

We live in a world where we are responsible for our own decisions and actions, and as adults, we must understand that the consequences of decisions we make can affect both us and people around us.

This said, we are all susceptible to advertising and temptation, no matter how strong our willpower, and we can all be broken down in the end. With this in mind, there are many large corporations literally making a killing out of the exploitation of these facts...

Of course we can all say no, but when the aisles of every small supermarket and petrol station are lined with sweets and chocolate, to the point that we sometimes need to meander down a theme-park like queue to maximise our exposure to the confectionary, who can be blamed for the occasional nonchalant toss of a chocolate bar into the basket, or perhaps a bag of sweets? No one is the answer, it wears you down! And the occasional treat is fine as part of a healthy balanced diet, but not every day and only in moderation. The problem deepens when we realise that no one actually eats half of a new ‘duo’ packaged bar and saves the other segment for tomorrow as the manufacturer claims is the intention! It all goes down in one, a larger than is acceptable serving of totally empty calories, preying on people feeling hungry after a long day and who merely popped in to buy the groceries to make dinner...

In Britain we consume over 4 X the amount of confectionary as Italy, which holds the lowest level in Europe for confectionary consumption. A significant part of this problem is rooted in the attitude of large commercial businesses owning a huge proportion of local convenience stores which appears to state that profits must be maximised, even at the expense of consumer health.

It is one thing to considering the effect this has on the increasingly overweight adult population of the UK, but it is another to consider children, who are far more impressionable and susceptible to advertising and marketing. The shocking fact is that much of the confectionary is marketed directly to them! How many times have we a seen a weary parent give in to the demands of an energetic child clutching a bag of novelty sweets or a chocolate bar which has caught their eye due to the cute carton design on the wrapper? Too many, and I don’t always blame the parents, it’s hard to say no 10 or 20 times in a shopping trip, although it is necessary, I can see how people give in just once, but it really is once too many. Once children get into the habit of regular chocolate or sugary treats it is a habit for life. I am sure we all know several adults who still eat chocolate and sweets regularly because it is a habit they have had since childhood and therefore consider it to be normal. It is for them, I suppose, but that does not mean it doesn’t wreak havoc in their body with surging insulin levels and storage of un needed energy as fat, not to mention peaks and troughs in vitality throughout the day leading to the perception that further sugary treats are needed...

Unfortunately, it gets worse. I was particularly shocked recently when I walked into a national news agent and book chain during the ‘back to school’ sales time to buy some stationary. I was offered at the counter a bucket of cheap cookies for 75pence, a half price packet of wine gums or a huge slab of chocolate for a mere additional £1! The staff member even persisted when I refused! A sorry state of affairs because it is far more likely that a child would go into such establishments who would of course be far less likely to say no, especially when it is so cheap! The sweets or chocolate could be finished before they made it home leaving the parents none the wiser. There is no other reason for a book and stationary store to plug the sales of cheap confectionary other than to boost profits, of course we are in a recession and these companies are driven by the bottom line, but surely this is exploitation of an easy target and should not be tolerated.

I plan to send this article to all of the entities who I deem to be the principle offenders and will post details of their responses for all to see. But I can imagine what the responses will be.... chocolate and sweets should be enjoyed responsibly, part of a balanced diet, customers have the right to choose....... etc etc, heard it all before, and it really is not enough.

If just one store or even chain of stores reduces the availability of such confectionary to customers, especially children, even moves it slightly away from the checkout desk, then it will be a success. I do not think they will be able to justify the strategy on anything other than profit making grounds because it is highly peculiar as part of a balanced offering, that there are no oranges or apples for sale at the checkout, or that you don’t get offered a half price bunch of bananas when you buy a ring binder, but we shall have to wait and see what the responses are.

In the mean time I hope that this has stirred some emotion inside of you and that if you, like me are alarmed by the ever increasing levels of obesity in this country, particularly in children, then you will try, wherever possible not to be the one who slides the chocolate into the basket, or leaves the news agents with a pad of paper and a bucket of cookies. In fact maybe even politely question why the staff member is plugging the chocolate sales when if you wanted it you would have asked for it yourself. It is a shame because it is not all their fault, but if enough staff members get hassled perhaps they will take matters into their own hands and move the junk from the counter, we can only hope...