Not sure if you heard it – it has been all over the news… The government has issued a 33 page document in an effort to tackle childhood obesity as it is one of the biggest problems that the UK and many developed countries are facing right now.
Nearly a quarter of children in England are obese or overweight by the time they start primary school aged five and this raises to one-third of children who are obese or overweight by the time they leave primary school at the age of 11.
Obese children usually turn out to be obese or overweight teenagers, which can lead them into adulthood also as obese or overweight. Not only that this puts a huge burden on the economy as, statistically, obese and overweight people need more health care (because of obesity related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, just to name major three), but also health of our children determines their opportunities in life, their level of confidence and generally quality of life.
Every child deserves the best opportunity in life, I am sure you will agree.
So, this must be a step in the great direction, although, in my opinion, what is being proposed should be seen as just that – one little step in the right direction. See it for yourself…
Focus on calories
As overweight or obese children are consuming over 500 extra calories a day, emphasis has been put to find ways to reduce calorie consumption, which is in a form of an initiative to list calories on menus in restaurants, cafe, take aways.
This sounds good, however, if a child wants a pizza and dessert and nothing else (which, by default, always has the highest calories) – what is the parent to do? These calorie listings are, of course, not for the children, but for the adults themselves, parents, to make an informed choice and whether it will actually help a child choose a lower calorie option – is another matter.
Reducing sugar, of course, should be at a very heart of any adult’s or child’s health efforts. Government has challenged food industry to reduce the sugar content in their foods and drinks by 20% by 2020, with a 5% target in the very first year.
If a 330ml bottle of a sugary drink has, on average, 40 grams of sugar, the plan is to reduce it to 32 grams. I am sorry, but whilst every little gram less helps – 32 grams is still way too high. The same goes for cereals and other foods and drinks frequently bought by children.
Advertising and Promotion
Of course, then we have to look at all the factors that influence our food choices. So, the proposal is to introduce 9PM watershed on TV for advertising junk food geared towards children. Problem again is – how many children do go to bed before 9PM? (Apparently over 1 million children are still watching TV after 9PM)
What is also proposed is that food companies and supermarkets will not be able to display tempting, sugary sweets at the checkout or advertise multi-buy offers. I think this is a great part of the plan as it will, at least, stop some impulse buys. Disappointing thing may be the lack of incentive to encourage deals on fresh produce as price matters to many, if not most.
Education is the Future
The above are major few take aways from the legislation that we need to know about.
But, how do we get children to naturally choose what is good for them? That, I believe, starts from home. It is parents that need an education and change in their own lifestyle before we can expect them to pass it on to their children. Obesity runs in the families only because of the same habits that members of one family adopt. And habits indeed can last a lifetime.
I remember when Jamie Oliver tried to make school dinners healthier and more balanced – how much resistance there was from the parents themselves. Because they did not know any better themselves. It shocked me every time I saw them angry whilst dropping a portion of “fish & chips” across the school fence to their child who refused to eat a healthy, balanced meal. But, I understood. They simply did not know any better. Period.
Most probably, their parents did not either. How can we expect a child to know any better then?
My children are a testament that it all starts from home. They are no strangers to a ocassional bag of crisps or a biscuit or even a fruit drink. But those are not found in our fridge or cupboard all the time. They are occasional.
Fruit is always available in the house and, being a health coach with an access to knowledge & information and nutritional solutions for a healthy, balanced breakfast and snacks – that is what they grew up with. There is no tooth decays, no sicknesses, no excess weight of anyone in our household. We speak to our boys of healthy choices. They question things themselves. “Mum, doesn’s that have sugar?”
I believe also that it will take many generations before both adults and children are conscious about their health. Perhaps, this government initiative is just a stepping stone in the right direction despite that fact that it is as flawed as it sounds. Perhaps this is the best they can do as food industry is a giant and they are not happy right now even with these minimal changes they have been asked to adhere to.
I hope it is not just to make us all quiet and content that at least something is done. I hope not. Afterall, the future of our economy depends on it as obesity has a potential to bankrupt it.
I am honoured to be in the health & nutrition industry and we need more health coaches to work in their communities making a difference.
I believe, while Government can continue with their legislations, it is our work on the ground that involves education and helping people with their health and nutrition and getting them more active that will have the most powerful ripple effect on how overall habits are changing and, with that, also our attitudes toward health and what is good for us and our children.
Until next time, wishing you a happy and healthy day!
Your partner in Health,