Here we go again - another bout of hysteria sweeps the media. First it was fat, then saturated fat, then salt and now sugar. As before, the usual crowd of ‘tsars’, medico-politicians and diet-peddlers play to an eager audience of scribblers with doom-laden predictions, some of which are evidently based on little more than anecdotes ‘from the coalface’ and have no statistical validity. So what? Bad news sells.

“First it was fat, then saturated fat, then salt and now sugar”

Despite their success with a gullible media, however, these dietary messiahs have made little progress with the present government, prompting calls for an unspecified limit to the number of meetings the food industry should be allowed with ministers. As the political philosopher Edmund Burke observed: “Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink… pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field.” It never seems to occur to true believers that ministers may not find their arguments especially convincing, so the malignant influence of Big Food must be to blame.

The dieting season is once again in full swing, yet it seems sales of pizzas, Indian meals, sugar-laden desserts and other no-no foods are booming. This apparent contradiction is attributed to the renewed popularity of the ‘5:2’ diet (starving yourself for two days and binging for the other five). Yet this diet, like so many others, may well fail to deliver any lasting change in the habits of those who most need to lose weight.

Anyone who wants to lose weight can now choose from a battalion of diets - so as one disappoints, another smiles beguilingly at the buyer. The average duration of any diet is said to be a mere 19 days, leaving the customer with what usually proves to be a temporary reduction in their waistline achieved at disproportionate cost.

The only effective way of losing weight, however, is to train your system to expect less food, eat a balanced diet and take regular exercise. It’s low-key and gradual but it works. Anything that relies on drastic, disruptive intervention is unlikely to succeed. The analogy with the politics of food is clear.

Kevin Hawkins is an independent retail consultant