So what does it take for the British to learn that poor eating habits learnt in childhood lead to a lifetime of dieting, binging in-between, and numerous conditions which stem from obesity? I’m no longer sure that we can teach what to some is incredibly obvious. For as long as I can remember we have been having almost Groundhog Day like statements about teaching our nation. And for our American readers I know this is a very familiar topic.
In a recent UK study, 1 million children were weighed and measured from their entry into reception class (youngest in primary school) to their departure year before high-school – year 6.
Almost a quarter of the younger children entering the school were found to be overweight and despite many government led campaigns, the number had grown to one third by the time they left primary school, and whats worse is that the new crop of overweight children are coming through right now, with the new reception class children also overweight.
Without painting the story with too broad a brush, it seems that boys are more obese than girls and that the social and economic inequalities also play a part, with poorer children more prone to being overweight. However economically challenged chinese children were not overweight.
Of course the Government has come out with robust statements about introducing programmes but judging by it’s most recent efforts and cuddling up even more to Supermarkets I won’t hold my breathe.
So what do we do? I mean really what do we do? Campaigners are suggesting that creating a watershed for adverts for unhealthy foods may help.
We advocate a combination of really clear packaging regarding calorie counts but maybe with a new twist that explains those figures in an explicit way that cannot be ignore (think cigarette campaigns). Parenting classes IN THE SCHOOL with compulsory attendance if a child is technically obese. I’d rather get it in the neck for this idea rather than stand by and watch a child sleep walk into bad health as an adult. Let’s face it, up until a certain stage where they connect their eating habits with their weight the power for change lies entirely with the parent. Follow New York’s example and CUT OUT large cup sized fizzy drinks. Go ask anyone with diabetes whether they should be having 32 oz cups of fix.
And our most controversial – heavily tax fast food chains -lets not shy away from the fact that successive governments love to cosy up to big business, and chains are ‘big business’ and employ large numbers of people. Steep taxing leads to steep price hikes, leads to pricing these foods out of the grasp of some of the more economically challenged folk, and if the findings are to be believed it is this group whose children are overweight. This would need to be combined with a free voucher system for the purchase of food from the school tuck shop, which we advocate should sell fruit, yoghurts and healthy snacks. But is this reasonable. Is it appropriate for the state to demand that a parent takes action – is it an infringement of civil liberties? Or is it acting responsibly and in the child’s best interest? Could a child who is not being properly cared for in respect of how it is fed be seen in some form as an act of cruelty. Studies have shown that overweight children are more likely to be alientated by their peers and more prone to bullying.
Shall we time scale change as a result of these interventions? Change is like a slow turning oil tanker – it does change course but ever so slowly.
We wish we had the answers – we don’t but clearly the government doesnt either and what has been suggested to date clearly hasn’t worked. So maybe it is time for a ‘new’ approach.
Riverside Training Company is, in addition to it’s regular programme, creating a series of Lunch and Learn, weekday bite sized (no pun intended) sessions in the City, Islington and Canary Whalf and will include ‘Tackling Lunchbox Challenges’.