National Childhood Obesity Awareness Week, 2-8 July 2012 #obesityweek

30 or 40 years ago, a week highlighting childhood obesity issues in the UK just would not have happened. Why? Because there simply wasn’t anything like the proportion of overweight or obese children that we have today. Sure there might have been one or two ‘big boned’ kids in a class of thirty: equally there were one or two very skinny kids, but they were the exception. Generally speaking the vast majority of kids of the 70s and 80s weren’t overweight or obese.

How times have changed! Nowadays, according to the MEND organisation (Mind, Exercise, Education….Do it!) one in three children in the UK are overweight or obese.  Even scarier is the fact that if trends continue as they are this figure will be closer to 60% by 2050.

The myth about puppy fat

According to MEND 60% of overweight 2-4 year-olds are still overweight at age 11. Moreover 70% of overweight 12 year-olds go on to be obese adults. These statistics dispel the myth about chubbier children carrying around ‘puppy fat’ which they will lose by adolescence. In fact 40% to 70% of those kids with ‘puppy fat’ will grow up to be obese adults.

Dangers of obesity in childhood

Fact: There are already more than 1 million morbidly obese people in Britain today. This means more than 1 million people who are 50% to 100% above their ideal

being overweight is linked to a number of health issues, but MEND argue that in children it is likely to give them a poor body image which could lead to eating disorders later in life.

What can be done to reverse the childhood obesity trend?

Putting kids on diets or suggesting they skip meals is not the answer. Children are still growing, so cutting out all carbohydrates, for example, can be harmful. Instead, they should be encouraged to choose healthier options, eat reasonable portion sizes and increase their physical activity. Healthy snacks should also be provided as research has shown that skipping meals or depriving kids of regular snacks can lead to overeating.

What else? Well, there is mounting pressure from a number of parties to impose some form of control/tax on fast food outlets and fizzy drinks manufacturers. However, this may never happen, so the best possible solution is through education.

Healthy eating in schools

Jamie Oliver et al have done a great job of bringing healthy eating in schools to the fore. In fact food served for school dinners is now regulated by national standards to ensure that appropriate levels of nutrients are served.  Schools can therefore control what is served in canteens, but cannot control what children bring as packed lunches, so parents require education too.

One of the best ways to ensure that a child receives the nutrition they need is to encourage them to stay for school lunch – which is much healthier nowadays , than you might remember from your own experiences, in many cases, as schools need to meet the Nutritional Standards.

VWA has published a book called ‘Healthy Eating in Schools’ which is a series of case studies demonstrating how schools, companies and suppliers had worked together to transform the way school meals were prepared and served. It makes for entertaining and inspirational reading and includes ideas for getting children interested and involved in healthy food such as providing salad bars, having tasting sessions and letting them run their own fruit and veg tuck shop.

Understanding nutrition

Providing healthy balanced meals for the family and understanding the nutritional requirements of children will go some way to stemming the tide of obesity which has been sweeping the country for several years. We offer nutrition courses at a variety of levels, including an online version which allows you to learn at your own pace.

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