Message to public health: getting kids to front your campaigns won’t help

In a list of freedoms I would go to the wall for, the freedom of children to order takeaway food to the school gates is pretty low down. When I was a lad, I don’t remember anybody ordering takeaways from school, but then I was lucky enough to do my A-levels before the government forced dinner ladies to serve Jamie Oliver’s horrible food.

According to the attention-seeking campaign group the Royal Society for Public Health, school takeaways are now an issue and should be banned. ‘Public health group wants to ban something’ is a dog-bites-man story and so the RSPH have spiced things up by publishing a survey of teenagers which shows partial support for their cause, hence the Guardian headline ‘Ban takeaway deliveries to schools to stem obesity, children urge’.

Most of the teenagers in the RSPH’s online poll said they had used their mobile phone to order a takeaway, 25 per cent said they had done so at school and 50 per cent of them said that takeaway shops should not be allowed to deliver to schools. You don’t need to be a statistician to see that 50 per cent support in a yes/no question is not the strongest mandate, but the RSPH presumably thinks that the opinions of a few 13- to 18-year-olds make their case inarguable. ‘We might be nannying fuss-buckets who want to ban everything,’ they seem to be saying, ‘but it’s not just us! The kids are on our side. Like Jason, they want to be tied to the mast to save them from temptation.’

Let me get this straight. Children have enough wisdom to make public policy but not enough wisdom to choose what to have for lunch? I don’t really care whether sixth-formers are allowed to order takeaway food on their mobile phones, but I care even less about how they answer a few leading questions from a special interest group. Teenagers use emoticons and watch the Twilight saga. I don’t care what they think about politics. We, as a society, don’t care what they think about politics, which is why they won’t be voting in the referendum today. Most of them will have disowned the flat-pack left-authoritarian views that have been hammered into them at school by the time they start their second job. Stop exploiting them when they’re too young to have formed a considered opinion.

There’s a lot of this exploitation about in the world of ‘public health’. Once a year, the ghastly charity-quango Action on Smoking and Health buses a group of children down to British American Tobacco’s headquarters to protest against the use of child labour. As if that were not ironic enough, the neo-temperance group Alcohol Concern run a ‘youth advertising council’ made up of teenagers who are shown endless alcohol advertisements and told to make idiotic complaints like this to the Advertising Standards Authority. Given that Alcohol Concern claim that kids who are ‘exposed’ to alcohol advertising are more likely to drink heavily, it is difficult to see how they can think this ethical. Perhaps they don’t believe their own hype.

Underlying it all is the assumption that a message is more powerful if it comes from the mouth of babes. It is not. If you ask a stupid question to someone who doesn’t pay taxes and has limited life experience, you’ll get a stupid answer. The RSPH’s focus group said there should be free Wi-Fi in parks. I don’t know if that is even possible, but aren’t parks supposed to be places to exercise? Maybe the kids want to go there to order a takeaway?

Instead of making it a crime to deliver takeaway food to schools, I’ve got a better alternative. Let’s ban children from using mobile phones at school. How about that for an idea, kids?