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Put that snack away: childhood obesity and the case for banning food on public transport

The idea of outlawing train picnics sounds extreme, but there’s wisdom in it

The idea of outlawing train picnics sounds extreme, but there’s wisdom in it


Picture: Alamy

‘Put the Kit Kat on the ground! Step away with your hands up!’

You gaze down the barrel of a banana, and you know it’s a fair cop. You’ve been caught snacking on the bus and you are guilty as charged.  

Having something to nibble is culturally ingrained

When I first heard the suggestion of retiring chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies, that we should ban eating and drinking on public transport, I confess I laughed – I wasn’t sure if she was making an extreme statement just to make a point.

Not taking a drink and something to nibble on a bus or train is so counter to our culture, changing it would be like trying to stop a behemoth with a bacon butty. This was not the only recommendation made by professor Davies, but it is the one we all remember because it seems slightly outrageous.

Any attempt to address the childhood obesity crisis – professor Davies’ aim – needs to be enforceable. This though, seems impossible; while the transport detectives are ripping chai lattes from our sticky hands and searching for evidence of Cornish pasties, someone will have vandalised the train.

It’s up to adults to make some sacrifices 

We do however, need to do something. Big problems necessitate big solutions, and we can’t fudge the child obesity issue. We adults must be prepared to make sacrifices.

As I've been writing, I have eaten a chunk of cheese, two chocolate truffles and some grapes. I’m just nibbling because I can. Professor Davies is right; we have become a nation of ruminants.

Buses, trains and streets are littered with evidence of the way we eat now – often and unhealthily. When I was a child in the 1950s and 60s, it was a breach of etiquette to eat in public. Food was for mealtimes and consumed at the table. It still is in many other European countries.

That is not to say we didn’t have our vices. You may not have seen anyone holding a sausage sandwich but plenty were puffing cigarettes in enclosed spaces. It was the norm then, but look how social attitudes have changed.

Think how attitudes have changed to smoking in public

I use public transport regularly and will be seriously hacked off if I can’t take a picnic on a long journey. But that’s tough – it’s a small price to pay. If adults can set an example to younger generations about leading healthier lives, and it means sucking up some minor inconvenience, so be it. It won’t kill me to delay my lunch, but childhood obesity leads to misery, morbidity and more.

When it was suggested that smoking should be banned in public places, there was uproar, but the tide turned. We need a similar rethink on junk food. Soon.


Jane Bates is a retired nurse

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