Fizz Free February

Just when you thought it was safe to eat normally again

If you went Sober for October, grew some face fuzz for Movember, barrelled into Veganuary and Dry January and, now approaching the month’s halfway point, are in search of a short-lived lifestyle change to adopt, evangelise about and then promptly abandon at the earliest possible opportunity, fear not, for Fizz Free February – that’s ditching sweetened drinks for 28 days – is at hand to solve your calendar-based gimmickry needs.

There is a grain of purpose at the core of these clunkily renamed months, of course.

But what happens when the branding falls away, the momentum grinds to a halt and your diary has moved onto a different wackily named craze?

If in February, we swap our Diet Cokes for the steak and spirits we did away with the month prior, are we still playing by the fad food rules?

If Veganuary et al engender good, long-term choices among adherents, then they are entirely worthwhile. But I struggle to see them producing much in the way of sustainable change: the idea being that there is a finite time in which to regulate diet or behaviour, and that just as each month gives way to another, so too do the things we should give up.

Tom Watson, the deputy Labour leader, has spoken at length about the benefits of low-carbohydrate, high-fat keto eating, through which he dropped seven stone in around a year; I imagine he will find the real challenge, as is the case with most dieters, is keeping the weight off – something that only really ever comes about with small, manageable changes that we can incorporate so seamlessly into our everyday lives that we barely notice them.

Which is why I have found his praise for Fizz Free February – about which he tweeted excitedly this week, listing Robert Peston, Matt Hancock MP and Jon Ashworth MP as fellow followers – a little strange.

Yes, encouraging people to reduce their sugar intake is a good thing, but shouldn’t we be telling them the truth: that being healthier in the long run is highly unlikely to come about through fanfare and whizz bang and balloons, but rather minor, humdrum tweaks?

I don’t know that anyone currently on the NHS waiting list for obesity-induced knee replacements, which come at a cost of £200m (R3.5bn) per year, is going to see any meaningful change if they avoid Fanta for a few weeks.

This week, I met the television medic Dr Michael Mosley, who has spent four decades charting what we put into our bodies.

The two of us – people naturally inclined to bin a well-intentioned workout in favour of polishing off a packet of biscuits – agreed that the only things that stop us from retreating to our bad old ways are utterly dull in nature: walking up escalators instead of standing still; clearing cupboards of delicious, sugary temptation; putting trainers on when you otherwise wouldn’t to encourage a brisk walk here and there.

It is these little changes that really make the difference, rather than nattily named, faddy overhauls that promise the earth if you can just excise whatever food group has been declared the devil that month.

All of which is very boring, of course, and unlikely to inspire social media hashtags and petitions. But perhaps readers might join me in Mundane March – where the challenge will be making lifestyle changes capable of going beyond a 31-day window. - Charlotte Lytton

What is Fizz Free February? And, could you and your family give up fizzy drinks for an entire month, even if it is the shortest month in the year?

UK Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson is one of many politicians who support the campaign, established by Southwark Council in 2018. He urges families, and especially children and young people, to give up fizzy drinks for the month of February.

“I’m supporting Fizz Free February. It’s a simple, relatively low-cost way of raising awareness of sugar related obesity,” Watson said.

“Taking part in Fizz Free February is a great way to reduce your sugar intake by cutting out fizzy drinks. It can also help you on your way to drinking less sugary drinks for the rest of the year.

You could save £438 (R7,818) a year if you stopped drinking one bottle of soft drink, per day, for a year.Drinking just one 330ml can of fizzy drink a day could add up to over a stone (6.3kg) in weight gain per year.Tooth decay is the leading cause for hospitalisation among five- to nine-year-olds in the UK.

Watson said fizzy drinks were also the largest single source of sugar for children aged 11 to 18 in the UK, so if that country was going to get serious about childhood obesity, it started with fizzy cool drinks.

Fizzy drinks, he says, make up an average of 29% of daily sugar intake.

“If you drink a can of Coke every day for a month, you’ll eat the equivalent of a bag of sugar,” Watson explains.

Southwark council has produced a Fizz Free February campaign pack.

“The materials can be used by councils, businesses and other local organisations, particularly schools.

“This year, for example, schools asked pupils who brought fizzy drinks into school to hand them over and collect them at the end of the day; the benefits of drinking water were promoted, with pupils able to earn points for bringing re-usable water bottles to school.”