| 17.9°C Dublin

Kevin Myers: The modern child has two chins, four buttocks, a fatty liver and two brains: one in its head, the other in its belly

THE modern child has two chins, four buttocks, some pert little breasts, a fat-covered liver and two brains: one in its head, and the other in its belly. The former was supplied by nature, the latter, usually, by the child's mother, with the generous assistance of the food industry. Both brains urge the child to eat, but it is the abdominal brain which runs the show. For unlike the head-brain, it knows no conscience, no reason, no restraint: all it does is crave. The belly-brain is the ultimate greed-organ, and is perhaps mankind's most extraordinary invention over the past 50 years. Facebook, Twitter, iPads, have little power compared to the tyranny of that insatiable kraken beneath the umbilicus.

Childhood obesity arrived with feminism. I'm not saying one directly caused the other, but the "liberation" of the woman from domestic duties certainly assisted the growth of the fast-food industry, with take-aways and ready-to-eat dishes. One prime villain is the pre-sweetened "cereal", a start-the-day horror that consists almost entirely of carbohydrate and sugars. A child's body turns the whole lot to blood-sugar, which the baffled liver -- inundated with complex molecules that evolution never prepared it for -- converts to fat, which it then hurriedly passes back to the blood, like an unexploded bomb. The blood then hastily dumps this evolutionarily-unwonted surge of fat-cells wherever it can. Thus the child with that most improbable of joints -- the obese, dimpled elbow, surely, the triumph of our times.

As youngsters grew overweight, hysteria ensued. "Fat causes fatness," was the cry. Utterly untrue: the greatest alimentary lie that has ever been told. Eating fat in meat does NOT make you fat. Your body usually knows how to cope with animal fats, thanks to a million years of evolution -- but that simple truth has been lost in all the fat-hysteria. And butchers have despaired, as customers increasingly demand fat-free meats. Delicious steak with fat-marbling that guarantees flavour lies unsold on the slab. Fat on lamb chops is seen as a sign as a health-threat, when it is a guarantee of taste, and happiness, and therefore long life. And then, having bought lean, flavour-free rashers, and fat-less, tasteless beef, the mother will go into the supermarket and buy cakes, biscuits, cereals, pizzas and other vehicles for depositing fat in remote body parts, which can never be removed by diet or exercise.

So butchers now have to sell meats that have been bathed in industrial marinade, because the fatless meat that the customer is demanding actually has no flavour. This is madness. For instead of eating and enjoying health-giving, nutritious, natural fat, we are steeping our meats in mysterious food-chemicals from industrial complexes run by Krupps and Bayer GmbH in Germany. Drop one of these "marinades" on the floor, and within a couple of days it will have busily dissolved its way to Papua-New Guinea. And for the Irish to be basting our wonderful beef, lamb and pork in day-glo luminescent chemicals the colour of life-jackets is as sinful and stupid as eating oysters soaked in industrial bleach.

Meanwhile, the real dietary villains, sugars and carbs, are freely available to children everywhere. We don't allow adults to even glimpse a cigarette packet in a shop, but we permit children open access to sweets in the same shop.

Apparently some mothers even import little hampers to Mass, to give their corpulent offspring snacks, lest they shrivel and die in that cruel perpetuity away from the pantry. And the belly-brain that is created by such ceaseless indulgence then establishes its complete mastery, by means of the "hunger-hormone". This creates food-cravings that are infinitely more insidious than sexual lust or alcoholism. For whereas one can abstain from sex or booze, one cannot abstain from food. And each mouthful then freshly energises the second brain, which promptly unleashes the addictive passions of the hunger-hormone.

Those poor obese teenage girls who can't even see their knees haven't chosen to be that way. They were simply raised within incontinent family cultures, where hunger was treated as urgently as an asthma attack. So they became trapped in their own fat-prison, where the jailer is the evil alien that is the second brain. A multinational food industry helped put them in that jail. But no industry of comparable power will help them escape.

THIS personal disaster is not uniquely Irish: and many factors -- the abandonment of home-cooking, the preference for ready-made foods or take-aways, the death of childhood outdoor activity, the absurd hysteria about paedophiles which prevents children walking to school, and the triumph of the play-station culture -- have produced comparable results in many advanced countries. Huge unhappy girls, and young adult males with breasts: manneries.

Why are the carbohydrate and sugar contents of manufactured-foods almost invisible on the wrapping, instead of being displayed as prominently as the brand-name? Why are fast-food restaurant-menus not obliged to reveal the carb content of their meals? Why are shops permitted to sell sweets from tiny, infant-height display cases, when adults are not even allowed to see a packet of cigarettes? And why, most of all, has all personal self-discipline been effectively abandoned as a mandatory home-taught, childhood virtue?

Irish Independent