This country, like many others in the world, is facing an obesity crisis. 60% of adults and over 30% of children are now overweight or obese. Despite these figures continuing to soar, in my professional opinion the UK government still hasn’t got it right when it comes to tackling obesity.
In the fight against this crisis, quite rightly there’s a focus on childhood obesity. We know that overweight and obese children have a much higher risk of being overweight and obese as adults, which then puts them at a greater risk of having serious and life threatening diseases later in life.
As a nation, we have a responsibility to protect the next generation, and alarmingly there is a risk that for the first time in human history, our children could have a shorter projected life span than their parents, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
What’s wrong with being overweight?
I want to just point out that I have nothing against people being different shapes and sizes, and I’m certainly not suggesting that we all need to be a size 10 when we grow up. However as a health professional I have to present the facts, and we cannot deny that being overweight puts as at a much greater risk of serious illness, including:
- type 2 diabetes and
- cardiovascular disease.
As a nutritional therapist who works with families, it is my professional view that the government just isn’t doing enough to curb childhood obesity.
Firstly, there’s a need to properly legislate food producers and manufacturers. We need a dramatic overhaul of how food is labelled, and what is allowed to be put into products marketed at children.
The hidden dangers in ‘healthy’ snacks
Just this week I was researching yoghurts, which we often tend to think of as a healthy food. I was shocked to find out that a small pot of children’s yoghurt from a leading brand, blazoned with popular cartoon characters, had 30% more sugar in it than a larger pot of the equivalent adult version of the brand.
How can this be allowed to happen? Another example is a well known brand of crackers with ham and cheese, designed for kids lunch boxes. The salt content is compared to an adult reference intake (6g), not a child’s, despite these products being marketed to pre-school and younger children.
I also can’t understand how a sticky cereal bar covered in marshmallow can be allowed to advertise that it is a great source of iron and B vitamins… shouldn’t it also have a warning, if it contains dangerous levels of sugar?
Another issue is that as a nation we simply do not properly understand what makes us put on weight. We’ve been lead to believe for so many years that fat is the culprit, when we actually know it’s sugar and white carbohydrates that cause the biggest problem.
I believe the right education needs to start at school, but how can children learn about healthy eating, when the school canteen is serving up junk food such as burgers, hot dogs and fish and chips several times per week, with a sticky sweet dessert every day?
I have seen this first hand at my own children’s school, where an outside caterer is promoting their school meals as nutritionally sound and healthy. Most people would know that white bread every day, sticky puddings and junk food several times per week simply do not constitute a healthy diet. I have tried to discuss this further with the catering company but to no avail.
I have since learnt this week from a Channel 4 Dispatches programme that Teresa May’s government has dramatically dumbed down Cameron’s Obesity Plan, which was due to be published this year… removing any legislation to curb junk food advertising during prime time shows and nothing to prevent supermarkets heavily promoting junk food.
The sugar tax on fizzy drink is of course a good start, but it’s not enough.
Food producers have to be brought to account, food labelling has to change and children and parents need the right education… only then can we start tackling this obesity crisis head on.