LAST week I had the chance to take part in the pilot of Scotland’s Debate Night. Like Question Time, we fielded questions from the audience. One of the subjects raised was childhood obesity. According to a 2016 Scottish health survey, around 29% of children are at risk of being overweight, with 14% of them becoming obese.

The man asked the MPs present if the Scottish Government was willing to take action to curb the availability of fast-food delivery services as a means of addressing the problem. The panel responded in turn, citing health strategies, interventions and emphasising a shared need to respond to the public health crisis. There was much talk of the need to empower people to make healthier choices.

I listened to all of the answers. Considerable time was given over to the discussion of pizza vans, fast-food shops, and the need for better “education”. But there was a flagrant omission. Nobody mentioned poverty. How can we have a discussion about obesity and health in Scotland, without considering the economic hypothesis? The whole thing felt surreal.

There is a lot of talk of individual choice, lifestyle and responsibility when we talk about food, health and weight. In discussions around these issues, the blame is usually placed on the individual or the food environment. Rarely do I hear journalists, politicians or health officials talking about the structural causes of obesity and ill-health.

There’s a lot of chatter about sugar tax, or about parents slipping their darlings a Big Mac through the school fences. Different foods are blamed depending on which way the wind is blowing.

People seem desperate to single out a specific cause. They want to point the finger at a type of food or, more often, to single out a particular kind of person responsible.

This imaginary culpable person is overweight (read: burdening society) entirely through their own fecklessness. To the observers, it is the result of a lifetime of poor choices.

Conversations about the “obesity epidemic” often take on hectoring, finger waggling tenor. These conversations are inherently classist because they so often neglect to mention the structural causes of poor health outcomes. Permeating all of our public discourse around food and health is one pernicious middle-class assumption: that if we could only educate and raise awareness of the health consequences then people would make better decisions about what to eat and everything would be rosy.

As a child of a working-class, single-parent family who has also been a poor adult, it boils my blood to see the issue so crudely reduced. It’s difficult to watch those who’ve never had to deal with food insecurity simplify this hugely complex issue, reframing it as a lack of education or understanding about health. Do they think people don’t want to live long, healthy lives? Do they presume working class people are so stupid that the health cost of eating low-quality food is lost on them?

Such opinions are completely decoupled from reality. They ignore the myriad influences that dictate a person’s food choices. What we see here is the willful misattribution of obesity and poor health to bad parenting and bad choices. It is easier to blame what you can see than to critique the myriad forces that give rise to the problem.

Let’s game it out: take, for instance, a family where both parents work. They earn a decent living and stay in a well-connected suburb of a large city. They don’t have to budget every item, they can visit their choice of large supermarkets or independent grocers. They can walk, cycle, drive or even get a taxi there and back.

They have no problem meeting the minimum spend of £40 for food delivery. The family can afford the fresh, seasonal fruit and veg. They have all the pots, pans and utensils they need. They can afford the healthy oils, seasoning and condiments that make their healthy food taste good. They can choose takeout food if they have had a busy day and don’t feel like cooking.

Now, come sit at this dinner table: a grandmother is in a flat in the east end of Glasgow. She looks after her three grandchildren after school each day so her daughter can go to work. She doesn’t have a car, her knees are bad, the nearest supermarket is a bus ride away.

There’s a corner shop nearby, but what little fruit and veg it has is expensive and spoils quickly. Grandma knows how to cook – but the only thing she can pick up easily and affordably that the kids will eat is calorie-dense convenience food. She doesn’t have a lot of money, she doesn’t have a lot of time. She’s doing her best to help out with what she has.

I’ve been there myself. When money is tight it’s an enormous effort just to get food on the table. Getting something – anything – at all amounts to triumph under those circumstances.

The truth of it for many is that there is no time, no energy left to worry about whether the wee ones have had the right balance of macronutrients today. It is manifestly obvious how many different factors can impact what ends up on our plates. Choice is a privilege. Stating that everyone has the same freedom to choose is an illusion.

I am sick to death of watching MPs ignore the obvious: that healthy diets cost more and are not easily accessible to everyone. I am tired of seeing news stories about banning Tony the Tiger and the Milky Bar Kid instead of discussions about how obesity is a marker of deprivation. I have zero time for Jamie Oliver blaming food companies for “peddling rubbish” when his net worth is £240 million and he’ll never have to worry about where the next meal comes from.

In discussions about weight and health, it’s time we all got real. This is not about bad people making bad choices, it is about money. Tackle poverty, end food security and health will improve.