The childhood obesity strategy may or may not be interesting to you, but if you have emotional eating patterns and or children you may want to read to the end…
I have spent quite a few hours this past week reading childhood obesity strategy papers, statistics and views from the World health organisation (WHO), Cancer research UK, James Cracknell OBE, Public health England and Health committee including watching parliamentary broadcasts – yawn I know (all links below).
It is phenomenal how many hours of research, writing and studying has been invested in all of these extremely articulate documents, in addition to the talent, knowledge and money poured into producing them all! This, along with the Jamie Oliver backed campaign for a sugar tax. There has been much media attention on the sugar tax, and though this has not been passed by the government as yet, the NHS have decided to add a levy to the sugary drinks and snacks sold within their hospitals which will be spent on NHS workers – in my opinion, this is a positive step. The critics of the tax, cite it as being unfair to low income earners, whilst making no difference to our obesity problem. However, in my opinion, this is a narrow and calculated view, encouraging a negative response from the public. Let us not fall into the trap of thinking this would be the only approach, it is well known that more than one bullet is required to slay a dragon (quite pleased with myself, just thought that one up – haha!). Anyway, as part of a whole population approach, with multiple other strategies, this could be an effective move. There is no evidence that it would reduce obesity statistics alone, however, we can suggest that adding a sugar tax does impact on people buying and consuming less sugary drinks (http://www.bmj.com/content/352/bmj.h6704).
Let me give the facts as they currently stand
- Most of the world’s population live in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight
- Globally 42 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2013
- In the UK 1 in 5 children in year 6 is obese
- Obesity is preventable
With all of this in mind, remember that we are more knowledgeable about healthy eating than ever before. Therefore, it is not knowledge we lack but maybe an understanding of how our preferences have developed, how to listen to our bodies or even how to wake up to our own needs…
Health committee and cancer UK childhood obesity strategy proposals:
- extending traffic light labelling,
- strong controls on price promotions of unhealthy food and drink
- a sugary drinks tax on full-sugar soft drinks, in order to help change behaviour, with all proceeds targeted to help those children at greatest risk of obesity
- labelling of single portions of products with added sugar to show sugar content in teaspoons
- improved education and information about diet
- universal school food standards
- greater powers for local authorities to tackle the environment leading to obesity
- early intervention to offer help to families of children affected by obesity and further research into the most effective interventions.
- increased funding for cycling and walking,
- a government framework for businesses to reduce fat, calorie and sugar content in foods,
marketing restrictions on unhealthy food along with a review of online marketing of unhealthy food and drinks to children,
Whilst I read all of these statistics, proposals and made notes for a presentation on childhood obesity, I could not help keep going back to a quote from one of the most beautiful books I have ever read (it is amazing in audio as the authors read it), “The Art of possibilities’ by R and B Zander:
“Shine attention on obstacles and problems and they multiply lavishly.”
Now please allow me to give my childhood obesity strategy views
Stop measuring our children
I know this is a controversial one and in our measurement-obsessed society a hard one to argue! However, the focus could change from the problem, and the huge costs involved in the National child measurement programme could be spent on free physical activities in all areas – supporting our children’s physical and mental health. The robust figures taken from these measurements inform us of the scale of the obesity problem and any fluctuations year on year. Also, the hope was that informing parents and providing some support (depending on the area you live) that their child was weighing too much according to the national average, would invoke change. This programme began in 2006 and at the risk of my opinion being wrong, I can not see that the latter aim has been realised.
Stop marketing to children
As in many European countries, let’s disallow junk food advertising until after 9 pm at night. Also, prohibiting junk food advertising within the vicinity of parks and schools. Our children are so vulnerable to sophisticated advertising methods. We can help this situation in the home too by reducing TV time.
Introduce food industry legislation on cheap special offers and super sizing!
“The junk food industry is not going to do this voluntarily because they worry about the other manufacturer down the road. The industry says it needs regulation.’’ Dr S Wollaston.
True, the food giants are asking for legislation. We can not expect them to voluntarily take action.
Invest in multiple interventions for pre/postnatal and early years nutrition
Children enter school with already established taste preferences, therefore, early years interventions are essential to ensure children are able to make a healthy start e.g. portion sizes, weaning practises, breastfeeding etc.
5 ways you can make healthy changes for life!
Using sweet foods as a reward results in children associating sweets with positive feelings, leading to a comfort food crutch for life. It is so ingrained in society that we even make the link to a loving name for someone e.g. sweetie, honey, muffin e.t.c.
After all, we were brought up associating cake with birthdays, Christmas with sweet treats, Easter with chocolate eggs, and now we have Halloween and valentines… Every celebration is connected strongly with these foods. Interestingly, though, when we fall in love in general, our appetite decreases. Imagine if we could find a way to be ‘in love with life’ all of the time and teach our children the same.
- Be active, get outside and enjoy life together
- Avoid using sweet/junk food as a reward, or use vegetables as a reward.
- Do not promise a dessert if you eat all of your dinner – this again promotes the value of the sugary treat – use the promise of a piece of fruit.
- Buy a small gift or do something special in place of buying an egg for Easter. In our family, we buy the children a book or a t- shirt.
- Experiment with healthy baking and if you are not sure where to start, just reduce the sugar in the recipe by half (you will be shocked by the lack of difference it makes).
As always, your feedback and questions are welcomed,
Lots of love and health,
Links and references
McKinsey Global Institute, November 2014 Overcoming obesity:An initial economic analysis
Britain Imbalanced Why now is the time to tackle obesity in Britain report by James Cracknell 2016
Tipping the scales: Why preventing obesity makes economic sense by cancer research UK
Public health England: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sugar-reduction-from-evidence-into-action
Health committee: Childhood obesity- Brave and Bold http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/8fc73b48-99c0-4ad0-90dc-fd67721aa8ba and http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmhealth/465/465.pdf
Public health England – sugar reduction https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sugar-reduction-from-evidence-into-actionPreventing Childhood obesity, June 2005, British Medical Assoic, Board of Science www. worldobesity.org/site_media/ uploads/Preventing_childhood_ obesity_2005.pdf
National Obesity Observatory, Obesity and Mental Health, March, Page 8 2011www.noo. org.uk/uploads/doc/vid_10266_ Obesity%20and%20mental%20 health_FINAL_070311_MG.pdf