/ Food & Drink, Health, Parenting

Isn’t it time we did something about childhood obesity?

It’s National Childhood Obesity Week and MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition… Do it!) is raising awareness of the dangers of being overweight in childhood. MEND’s Paul Sacher explores possible solutions.

One in three children are overweight or obese in the UK. Obesity in childhood itself is associated with many health and psychosocial issues and unless these children are supported to become healthier – between 40% and 70% of them will grow up to be obese adults.

So what can we do about the problem? Many parents need more support to recognise if their child is over a healthy weight – and if so, how they can broach the subject, which is the first step in dealing with this serious health issue.

We recently surveyed over 1,000 parents on Netmums and found that more than a third are concerned about bringing up the topic of weight with their child in case it leads to an eating disorder.

Environmental factors contributing to childhood obesity

Living healthily in today’s obesogenic environment isn’t easy. High fat, high sugar foods and drinks are cheap and readily available. The lack of government regulation on food labelling means there is no consistency across food manufacturers and supermarkets, which makes it almost impossible to figure out what is in the products that parents are feeding their children.

Many parents are doing their best to try and buy healthy products but unfortunately are being fooled by misleading advertising and marketing. An example of this is fruit juice which many parents think is a healthy drink for their children. But fruit juice contains as much, if not more, sugar than many soft drinks and only one cup (200ml) per day counts towards a child’s five-a-day, yet parents are generally not aware of this.

In our survey, 72% of parents with an overweight or obese child said they found it difficult to help their child to stay healthy. Most attributed this to their child’s preference for foods high in fat and sugar.

The solution isn’t as simple as banning fatty foods or sugary drinks – we think the change must be one of lifestyle for kids and parents alike.

It’s about families getting into healthy habits together, ensuring exercise is a normal part of their lives e.g. by regularly walking or cycling to school and by encouraging active play. It’s about cooking from fresh and helping children get into the habit of enjoying healthy food as a family.

The government must invest now to save money later on

It’s worrying that only a very small proportion of overweight and obese children are getting the practical support they urgently need to reach and maintain a healthier weight.

We calculate that less than 5% of them have access to a child weight management programme like MEND, which is recommended by NICE as first line treatment for child obesity, so the government really needs to act to provide effective programmes. Money invested now will save the NHS billions in the future. And if nothing is done, child obesity will cost the NHS £50bn a year by 2050.

How do you think we should tackle childhood obesity and who is responsible – parents, food manufacturers and supermarkets, or the government?

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Paul Sacher – co-founder of MEND and a paediatric dietitian – all opinions expressed here are their own, not necessarily those of Which?

Comments
Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Like it or not, most people shop in supermarkets and thanks to their thinly concealed effort at getting us to buy more than we want or need, it is hardly surprising that we get fat.

I am not in favour of more legislation than necessary but there could be a case for banning promotions such as ‘buy one, get one free’ on fresh food. Asda has done this voluntarily.

Parents can help a lot if they understand a little about nutrition, have sufficient commitment to buy sensible foods, and take the time to explain why obesity is an unpleasant and can have very serious consequences.

Member
Sophie Gilbert says:
4 July 2012

I think that we are all responsible, the government, parents, supermarkets and food manufacturers. There are many ways we can tackle childhood obesity, I’m sure, and I don’t think I have any ideas that nobody has thought about before.

One huge problem we have to solve, however, is the attitude that very many, too many, people have towards what they see as government intervention, as nannying as they call it. They will not see government advice for what it is, advice, and will therefore be very likely to disregard it on principle and keep on effectively making their children obese (and most probably themselves too). I would say tackle this first and the rest will be more likely to follow.

As far as supermarkets and food manufacturers are concerned, until such things become legally required as consistently “traffic lighting” all foods for sugar and fat content, they will carry on trying to make as much money out of us as they can by confusing us as much as they can. They will manage to make us buy products by fooling us into thinking that they are healthy, with claims such as “1 or your 5 a day” on the packet but goodness knows how much sugar in the product, “97% fat-free”, etc, and they will help us make ourselves fat (we are the ones ingurgitating the food or feeding it to our kids) because we crave sugary and fatty things because we’re human, and we will buy these products again.

Member
Argus says:
5 July 2012

“And if nothing is done, child obesity will cost the NHS £50bn a year by 2050.”

I am baffled as to how you can come up with that figure. I know you’re trying to shock people into action but that is just ridiculous.

My take is that parents are often too busy, or don’t care about what their kids are eating. Their lives are probably so full with trying to make ends meet that a treat to shut their child up is a quick and easy solution. So I don’t blame them, or even the government. It’s just a symptom of an over-indulgent culture in the land of plenty, no amount of campaigning or law making is going to change anything.

Profile photo of m.
Member

One of the issues we have is contained within the article itself:
‘Many parents need more support to recognise if their child is over a healthy weight – and if so, how they can broach the subject, which is the first step in dealing with this serious health issue.’
You cannot even write that parents need to be told, instead you couch it in newspeak that absolves anyone of blame.
All this does is allow the feckless parents who allow their children to balloon to blame everyone else instead of those at fault THE PARENTS themselves. Lazy idle parents who just cannot be bothered to regulate their child’s diet. Since when has a parent got to be told if their child is fat, a person that thick should be neutered.
This thinking emphasises the namby pambys we have become, it’s not your fault, we are all part of the problem, lets look for a joint solution,
Well no we are not all part of the problem, and it is your [parents] fault. Yes the supermarkets are full of fat boosting pap, but whose choice is it to feed it to your children?

You feed your children and you are responsible for exercising them, if you stuff your dog into obesity, the Vet will come down on you like a ton of bricks, if you stuff your child the same way, you should be charged with child abuse.

The only way we will get parents to accept responsibility for their childs diet is to kick their backsides

Profile photo of richard
Member

How about banning all computer games and reducing TV watching to just 1 hour a day for all the under 18s – so they have to exercise?

Member
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22 October 2012

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