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Eating humble pie?

Tim Levell | 10:31 UK time, Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Childhood obesity is one of the great issues of our time, and certainly a subject on which Newsround frequently reports.

Newsround logoWe even (let me get my defences in early) have an online special section, packed full of advice and inspiration to help children stay healthy.

So a recent mince pie competition got me thinking about what our policy should be on such eating (or over-eating) competitions.

I'm torn.

On the one hand, children can clearly see that it's a piece of fun. In our TV piece, we dwelt on the disgusting shots of people pushing food in their face, to exaggerate its unhealthiness. We scripted and edited it to make it as ridiculous as possible. And our presenter stressed in the intro that it was definitely a "less healthy pursuit".

An image from a mince pie-eating competitionSo I am convinced most children would have laughed along and poked fun at the competitors, rather than reaching for the nearest Mr Kipling six-pack.

On the other hand, simply by covering the event, we are arguably endorsing it. And with such a sensitive subject, we shouldn't be reporting anything which might encourage children to take up unhealthy behaviour.

But that makes children seem very literal and unsubtle; and everything we know about children's media habits says that they are astute enough to understand the subtext behind what they're watching. And what's the point of children's TV if you can't have any fun?

And yet, and yet. Every time I write a letter defending our policy, something in me worries that we are being irresponsible.



  • 1.
  • At 12:15 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Stephen Turner wrote:

How about using it as an opportunity by running it alongside another story describing how much sugar and fat is in mince pies and promoting healthy eating?

  • 2.
  • At 12:26 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Ruth wrote:

You state that "simply by covering the event, we are arguably endorsing it."

Does this mean that by reporting crimes you are endorsing these too?

  • 3.
  • At 01:00 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • tim wrote:

What about the policy that says childhood is meant to be fun? A pie eating contest must fall under that policy.

  • 4.
  • At 01:42 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

This is good news for us in the US. Back in the 1950s shortly after the war, here in America, many parents told their children at dinnertime to get them to eat their dinner; "clean your plate, children are starving in Europe." Well, fifty years later, it appears European children aren't starving anymore so we can finally stop eating so much.

  • 5.
  • At 02:48 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Mohammed wrote:

My son was watching it, and he started laughing and making fun of the winner. My daughter said "That's so gross, daddy".

Both perfectly normal reactions to a perfectly normal report.

No child is going to feel hungry after watching that. In fact, I'd be more afraid of one puking up!

Keep up the good work with the program.

  • 6.
  • At 03:16 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Lucy Jones wrote:

I agree that children are cleverer than you think. Reporting an eating competition as you did is correct for the target audience (which I believe is junior school, age 7-11). I think very young children wouldn't understand in the same way (so presumably the report wasn't repeated on CBeebies!), and also it is important for children to see that adults can be silly too.

  • 7.
  • At 03:50 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • PeeVeeAh wrote:

Oh Tim!

You're well* in the middle of the 'PC puddle', OM!

(* no shallow puns intended!)

It's a dietary 'no-brainer', surely? Anyone who sees this as the 'green light' to juvenile obesity is just seeing the tabloid's 'smaller picture'. At least there are probably some decent starchy carbohydrates and a few grams of fruit sugars in traditional mince pies - in with the horrible percentage of 'refined' sugar junk, of course.

Contests are about pushing the boundaries. Any maximum ingestion of foodstuffs is silly - and messy! - and my only concern is that it makes a pretty poor spectacle of minors, encouraged to do this by (adult?) programme makers?

No issues with the phonetic linkage to the very serious, unrelated, epidemic that is childhood obesity.

  • 8.
  • At 04:22 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Alex wrote:

I think the report (as you describe it) was framed appropriately both in tone and content. If it provokes a bit of thought over good and bad habits in the child's mind, this can be a great thing! We want our children thinking and asking questions, not simply being given the "responsible" conclusion before they've had a chance to digest the report for themselves (pun intended!).

This of course assumes the presence of an attentive parent who will dispel any misinferred Newsround endorsement the next time the child asks for a dozen mince pies. We all need to take responsibility, not just Newsround.

  • 9.
  • At 04:27 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Keith wrote:

Give kids some credit - they're much sharper than you think, especially when it comes to TV.

I don't think you've just created a nation of fat kids - it's poor parents that did that.

  • 10.
  • At 04:29 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Rikki wrote:

Healthy eating is important, but so is showing light-hearted fun.

Is eating a mince pie bad for you? No, of course not. Are you promoting a bad diet by showing people eating mince pies? No, of course not.

More than anything, you should be promoting a balanced diet, not a healthy diet. Mince pies can feature in that diet.

It's disappointing that these questions even need to be brought up. We're going to raise a nation of children who simply don't know how to be children anymore.

  • 11.
  • At 04:35 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Jill wrote:

Living in the United States I see array of obese children. But these contests have nothing to do with it. We rely on too much fast food, however its cheap and easy to come by. I say cheap because we have a lot of poor people here in the states that rely on fast food as there only means of a meal. So what happens is the rich get richer and poor people get fatter. Its a real shame how the rich still prey on the poor people then condemn them for being fat.

  • 12.
  • At 05:58 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • eric pisch wrote:

How about you and the BBC stop living the sanctimonious PC bullpat life and let people live there lives how they want.

God knows its bad enough living in Blairs Britian with out the BBC constantly telling people how they should live or over hyping stories of how the worlds doomed in 6 months from global warming. Im still not dead from mad cow dieses, bird flue etc etc.

Its a fun competition that people have the right to enter if they wish and not told there going to burn in hell for all eternity by the BBC because there not living the "BBC PC" lifestyle.

I agree; children are smart enough to understand the subtext behind such a news item, especially if you subtly slanted it in a way that pointed to the possible dangers of unhealthy eating habits. It's important to maintain those subtle slants, I feel.

Please don't feel guilty for airing a fun report!

  • 14.
  • At 07:12 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Mary H. wrote:

Here in America, folks stuff themselves full of hot dogs, pizza, ice cream etc.
Achieving self esteem from stuffing oneself full of food when there are so many hungry people in the world is, IMHO, disgusting.
I was brought up to clean my plate because children in China were starving. 60 years later, I am still unable to pile a plate high enough that some will be left over. I especially appreciated the sentiment because I was one of the hungry British kids during WWII.
Yes, I think you are irresponsible for publicizing such behaviour.

  • 15.
  • At 07:13 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Standard Mum wrote:

Stop the knicker-twisting anguish: the contest is childish fun. We all need childhood fun. Moralistic drivel needs to be confined to more boring adult arenas.

  • 16.
  • At 10:18 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Michael Kelley wrote:

Nor sure I would be worried about children running out and over eating after watching this sort of thing. Slightly more concerned that the programmers can´t find anything more interesting to broadcast to our youth!

  • 17.
  • At 10:44 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Jehan wrote:

I think a humorous/ridiculous approach at these sorts of events is the best way to go. At the heart of it, healthy eating habits and the end of obesity must start in the home. Parents can easily use these sorts of events to show the gross factor of overeating, as shown in one or two of the other comments on this. It all works out, I think.

  • 18.
  • At 02:32 AM on 13 Dec 2006,
  • Rob Stone wrote:

By covering it, you endorse it? Rubbish. All this worrying and fussing is silly. I have a very hard time indeed believing that, after seeing the piece, any child would think "I know! I'll try shoving several packs of mince pies in my mouth, too!" Kids aren't going to get fat because of coverage of mince pie eating competitions. It's the equivalent of suggesting that, after watching a football match, a fat child will suddenly be inspired to lose all their excess weight and go and play football. If that was the case, all we'd have to do is shove fat children in front of "Sky Sports" and the problem would be solved.

  • 19.
  • At 10:50 AM on 13 Dec 2006,
  • Charlene Vickers wrote:

I'd rather my kids saw a pie-eating competition than yet another thoughtless glorification of stick-thin actresses and models. The former is just fun. The latter tells kids that only women who are naturally fine-boned, starve themselves, and take drugs instead of eating are "acceptable" in this world, and that all other women are scum. With this attitude is it surprising that girls especially are obese? If you're too fat at 9 or 10 stone, why not enjoy yourself with food and be 20 stone?

  • 20.
  • At 11:59 AM on 13 Dec 2006,
  • GUY FOX wrote:

Monkey see; monkey do and doodoo.

  • 21.
  • At 12:10 PM on 13 Dec 2006,
  • Diane wrote:

Well you wouldn't cover a drinking competition, would you? So who's to say that kids make the distinction? My mum, sisters and I used to have 'calorie parties' (a box of chocolates between us, maybe once a week) - ok so we don't have major hangups about our size, but we do have a size struggle and we'd rather we didn't. Only now that there's a choice of diets available do we realise - carbohydrate is addictive.

  • 22.
  • At 02:11 PM on 13 Dec 2006,
  • Jess Long wrote:

I don't understand what all the fuss is about. Children, yes, can be influenced easily but give them some credit! Just because they see something on the television, like a mince pie eating contest, doesn't necessarily mean they are going to go out and try and scoff as many mince pies as they can!!

And even if they did begin doing it, mince pies stop going on sale after christmas and also wouldn't you rahter they be eating pies rather than, for example, who can snort the most cocaine in the shortest amount of time, or who can finish a whole spliff in the shortest amount of time??

I am aware that child obesity is a problem and there should be more being done to tackle that, however I could probably get drugs just as easily as buying mince pies if i truely wanted to, imagine how easily the children could get hold of it.

Its scary but its true, let the children have their pies and eating competitions and they will not go in search of other things.

  • 23.
  • At 02:56 PM on 13 Dec 2006,
  • marlinj wrote:

I'm sure, if you extend the logic, you'll soon be selling blanks sheets of newsprint, as there are probably numerous people who can and do object to each and every article in every edition.

  • 24.
  • At 05:06 PM on 13 Dec 2006,
  • Rich wrote:

Oh for goodness sake! I know that the BBC have firmly established themselves as the self-styled first, last and only-line of defence in Blair's war on fat people (at least, I suspect so judging by the Corporation's current preoccupation with the topic) but this is too much! What next; no mention of Chrismas dinner or pudding this year because such things according to some expert can make you fat?

Have the BBC (in common with other media outlets) ever paused to consider that by perpetating this moral panic and ensuring that everyone remains suitably neurotic about food and weight issues, you're probably doing untold damage to the nation's collective mental health and no doubt contributing to the massive rise in both eating disorders amongst teen girls and victimisation of bigger people of all ages because of their weight?

It's interesting to see how the main news broadcasts largely set the agenda on this issue. Why didn't the recent story about a study which showed that increased exercise could greatly improve overall health (IRRESPECTIVE of whether any weight was lost) even register as a blip on said broadcasts? Why wasn't "F*** Off I'm Fat" (a very good, positive show with a couple of articulate, sassy 'fat' teen girls, and recently shown on a BBC3 graveyard slot) made available to a wider audience? Could it be because the message of both was at odds with the corporate position on 'obesity' (itself an emotive word now frequently used out of its very specific medical context)?

As Chris Clarke (teachers' leader) recently stated, the simplistic approach taken to the complex issue of weight is perpetuating an increasingly unpleasant climate of demonisation, scapegoating and knee-jerk reactions. Of course, her comments were also completely ignored by the BBC, who prefer instead to heighten the impression of impending fat-fuelled doom with hyperbolic terms such as 'epidemic' and 'timebomb'.

May I suggest that anyone interested in gaining an understanding of the full range of issues involved in this debate - ie the other side of the story which the BBC vehmently don't want to give you - take a look at a very intelligently written weblog which can be found at ?

  • 25.
  • At 08:36 PM on 13 Dec 2006,
  • Ken wrote:

This is shameful. “In our TV piece, we dwelt on the disgusting shots of people pushing food in their face, to exaggerate its unhealthiness. We scripted and edited it to make it as ridiculous as possible.”

So, you make a tv news programme for children and manipulate and skew the story. Is this sort of thing going on in the “adult” news?

I think the label “news” used in any programme should not be used unless it is not only factual, but is as unbiased and un-meddled as possible. What right have you to broadcast your views and your propaganda to my child? If you have a story tell under the banner of news then just tell the truth and reflect what actually happened. You have been trusted to do this and have broken that trust.

At least I am forewarned – my children will never watch this programme and I have serious doubts about the rest of the news output of the BBC after hearing this.

Not reporting on a pie-eating contest because it might get kids to eat pies? Well I never, the BBC has sunk to a new low.

You're putting it as if you can't even mention food with a trace of sugar/salt/fat in it without half the UK's population of kids becoming obese. How about you give the general population some credibility, eh?

Stop taking the blame away from bad parenting. I was fed fatty foods when I was younger, I also ate a lot of healthy foods. It's called a balanced diet... Kids need to go outside and have a kick about with their friends, instead of doing so on the comfort of their sofa.

How about we get back to reality instead of the Political Correct, lets not "offend" anyone, nor shall we even speak of fatty foods era - it's becoming a joke.

  • 27.
  • At 12:42 PM on 14 Dec 2006,
  • PeeVeeAh wrote:

Well, Auntie'!

You've certainly managed to draw ire from some cranky bloggers!

Add me to that throng, too!

Something that did click here: we're talking about Excess (..with a capital 'E'). Other respondents have refered to the relative demerits of bingeing on other recreational matter, but the whole issue is of non-regulation - and in particular the lack of will of people to self-regulate their intake... of foods, of booze (and other drug types) and of media! It's the First World bane! The term 'Nanny State' evokes scorn, but isn't this the virtual 'institution' that people fall back on when they belatedly winge, 'I didn't know it was bad for me!' Some folk need saving from themselves...?

The 'epidemic' that is childhood obesity is but a symptom of Conspicuous Consumption aka Got To Have It (All!)Now!

Sorry if this seems to have drawn a rather bigger Circle around reporting on pigging-out, but that's Life's 'bigger picture'?

Is there NO fun anymore in the UK without endless, soul-searching guilt?
Does our whole life have to mirror the Political Carrectness of the moment?
Are we not to laugh anymore, because all humour pokes fun at someone or something?
I know! Let's just ban EVERYTHING!

A bit belatedly, I just thought I'd pick up a couple of these points.

To all those who accuse me or Newsround of living in a "PC puddle" (PeeVeeAh), I should of course say that we did run this story, and indeed have run another speed-eating story today. So we do recognise that most children will understand that this is just a piece of fun.

Exploring uncertainties is different from backtracking, and thanks to all those people (including Mohammed and his son, Standard Mum, Rob Stone and Bhaswati) who felt we made the right decision.

In fact, I would say to Rich that this more relaxed approach to food is exactly what he seems to be arguing for in his comment (number 24). I thought the piece displayed a lack of neurosis about over- or under-eating.

Finally, to Ken, we do absolutely prize impartiality and fairness on all stories, especially political ones. That's not what we're talking about here really.

The question facing us was whether we should use tired and jaded warnings along the lines of "Don't copy at this at home", which is an accepted part of responsible children's broadcasting. But we can also get this message across in a more subtle and fun way, which is why we used production techniques instead to distance ourselves. I don't think this means you or children can't trust us. I wouldn't be wanting to do this job if that was what ended up happening.

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