Santa May Show Up; Coke May Not

People in the United Kingdom are very conscious of the childhood obesity epidemic, and have been so for a long time. Yet it seems like no amount of discussion or even of new legal measures can make a dent in the problem.

Journalist Shappi Khorsandi set out to enumerate the factors that contribute, and quickly identified economic inequity as one of them, a reality that is apparent in her own everyday life. She writes,

My neighboring London borough of Brent has […] the highest number of severely obese children — 7.8 per cent — while over the bridge in fancy-pants Richmond, they have the lowest percentage of too-chubby cheeks at just 1.5 per cent.

But how does financial security promote healthy weight? Front yards where the family’s bikes can be safely left and not stolen; the ability to pay for sports equipment and uniforms; neighborhood parks to play in — these may seem like small things. But only a month after Khorsandi’s piece was published, another British newspaper came out with an article that took a deep dive into that issue.

Nationwide, since 2014, an average of seven playgrounds close every week, for a total over that time period of 347 defunct playgrounds. In the last year alone, 70 have been removed from public use. They are run by the councils, or local authorities, and it has already been decided that funding for facilities of this type will be almost cut in half over the next two years.

The main reasons for the death of playgrounds are neglect, vandalism and property developers. Sometimes, all three destructive forces work together, as in:

One designed for disabled children was vandalized and is now due to be replaced with housing. A £350,000 park is set to be demolished by a council that failed to maintain it and which officials now deem the playground too dangerous for use…

An official named Mark Hardy is quoted:

In many cases, once a playground is closed, it is lost forever. In the battle against childhood obesity and high rates of poor mental health, local play provision can improve a child’s activity level and help tackle these and other issues.

Khorsandi is realistic, stating point-blank that sugar is addictive, and so is comfort eating. She notes that people do not by nature have the ability to extricate themselves from the sludge of high-fat, high-calorie food. A person needs the organizational skills to do research and make lists; the time for conscientious shopping, and most of all, enough of a positive attitude to believe that tomorrow can be better than today.

The big red truck

It has been half a year since the Coca Cola Company announced its plans for this year’s Christmas truck tour, which will be severely curtailed, in comparison with its past travels. Liverpool, home of the legendary Beatles, has been in a bit of an uproar over the issue, so this year the truck will give it a miss. The city of Carlisle also opted out, along with others.

More than 80 British organizations signed a letter asking Coke to stop giving away sugary beverages via the truck. Vera Zakharov of Sugar Smart U.K. gave the press a stirring quotation:

Bizarrely, Coca-Cola equates handing out their sugary products with the start of the cherished holiday season, which has nothing to do with fizzy drinks. But this strategy takes on a sinister tone when you consider that the Coke Truck visits areas with some of the worst health problems in the country.

Citizen activism has impacted the program heavily. In 2017 the truck visited 42 locations, but this year, only 24 stops are planned.

The fact that the truck is perfectly willing to give away sugar-free beverages matters not. People don’t want the gaudy beast coming to town, period. Many have called for the truck to be retired altogether, but while the people have the freedom to protest, the manufacturer has the freedom to keep on doing what it does.

The company’s spokespersons, of course, spin the reduction in places visited as an altruistic gesture. According to the party line, they are cutting down the number of spots in order to spend more quality time in some areas, and give inhabitants of the nearby countryside time to travel for the spectacle.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “If you’re going to complain about kids being obese, you may as well be honest about the reasons why,”, 10/12/18
Source: “Revealed: More than one public play park is closed every WEEK as green spaces are ‘left to rot, be overrun by thugs or turned into properties’,”, 11/10/18
Source: “This is why the Coca Cola truck isn’t coming to Liverpool during its 2018 tour,”, 07/11/18
Source: “Coca Cola truck Christmas 2018 tour dates are out — and it’s coming to Greater Manchester,”, 11/06/18
Source: “Coca-Cola Christmas truck tour scaled back in the UK after backlash from campaigners,”, 11/14/18
Photo credit: Lets Go Out Bournemouth and Poole on Visualhunt/CC BY

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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