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Professor: Cake in the office lounge is as bad as secondhand smoke

Folks cannot rely on the ‘extraordinary efforts’ of their ‘personal willpower’

A professor at UK’s University of Oxford says that bringing cake into the office to share with colleagues “should be seen as harmful […] in the same way as passive smoking.”

Susan Jebb (pictured), a professor of diet and population health and chairwoman of Britain’s Food Standards Agency, said people cannot rely on the “extraordinary efforts” of their “personal willpower” to forego eating cake should it be available, The Times reports.

“We all like to think we’re rational, intelligent, educated people who make informed choices the whole time and we undervalue the impact of the environment,” Jebb said. “If nobody brought in cakes into the office, I would not eat cakes in the day, but because people do bring cakes in, I eat them. Now, OK, I have made a choice, but people were making a choice to go into a smoky pub.”

Despite conceding the obvious differences (like smoke being able to waft across a room while food just sits on a table), Jebb insisted the harm of secondhand smoke is akin to that of junk foods — and said government should assist folks’ efforts in resisting such: “We can make their efforts more successful by having a supportive environment.”

MORE: Normalization of plus sizes feeding obesity epidemic, study shows

From the story:

Jebb told The Times that advertising of junk food was “undermining people’s free will” and insisted restrictions were “not about the nanny state”.

She said: “Advertising means that the businesses with the most money have the biggest influence on people’s behaviour. That’s not fair. At the moment we allow advertising for commercial gain with no health controls on it whatsoever and we’ve ended up with a complete market failure because what you get advertised is chocolate and not cauliflower.” …

Jebb urged the medical profession to warn patients when they needed to lose weight and offer them help in doing so.

“If a doctor comes across somebody with high blood pressure, they would feel, culturally, by training, by guidelines, by practice, that they must offer this patient treatment for their high blood pressure and explain to them why it was important,” she said. “At the moment, if a doctor comes across a patient who is overweight, they mostly ignore it …

Professor Jebb may not have considered the consequences of her advocacy. She might be accused of “fatphobia,” “fat shaming” and even racism. One “fat” professor, Laurie Cooper Stoll of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, even advocates “discovering doctors who have ‘weight-inclusive’ practices.”

According to her faculty page, Jebb’s research interests include “encourag[ing] healthier and more sustainable food purchasing” and developing/testing “interventions for the treatment of obesity.”

MORE: America’s celebration of obesity was born and bred on campus

IMAGE: University of Oxford screencap

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 20 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.