The adage about our children being our future remains true today. So that being the case what are we doing about the health of our children? Statistics suggest that 25% of Australian children are overweight or obese. Figures from the USA are comparable and many European countries like Greece, Portugal and Spain are in the same boat.
The figures from Greece are the most interesting as they reveal one of the key reasons we have this problem. Between 1982 and 2002 there had been a trebling in the number of overweight Greek 12 year olds. During this time there had been a move away from the “traditional” Mediterranean diet and an embracing of processed high sugar foods. The traditional diet was based on vegetables, fruit, unrefined grains, olive oil for cooking with a bit of fish, nuts, poultry and eggs thrown in. There was not a lot of red meat consumed and virtually no refined sugars. This diet provides lots of nutrition and is not calorie dense.
Contrast this with a diet of hamburgers, soft drinks, biscuits and other processed foods, which make up, a “typical” western diet. This is the exact opposite – calorie dense with not much nutrition. If you then add into the mix that many children are not physically active, spending hours in front of screens, we can see why children like adults are getting heavier.
There is much hand wringing going on about childhood obesity. There is no shortage of opinions on how to “manage the crisis”. As is usually the case, calls are made to ban advertising of “junk foods” and for government to provide “funding” for various programs. Of course this funding goes mainly to program providers, often the same people who are arguing for funding for such programs.
Then there are the ridiculous suggestions like banning children under two from watching TV. Not only is this pointless but how on earth would it be implemented? The most bizarre one recently was for lap banding surgery for children. Not only is this completely the wrong approach to take with children but also no one has considered the long-term effects on their growth if one interferes with food absorption. (It is emerging that long-term issues with bones and kidneys may follow lap band surgery but this takes years to appear).
In amongst the nonsense, there is a shining light. A school in Queensland (Australia) won an award for teaching children how to grow and cook fresh food. Angela Skerman, the teacher in charge of this was quoted as saying “There’s a lot of benefit of getting children to go back to the basics and being able to grow their own food and see the relevance and importance of eating seasonal produce rather than things that have been held in a fridge for eight months. “
In my view this sums it up. Rather than treat children and parents like imbeciles who will do anything just because it was on an ad, teach useful skills and provide useful information. This is best done at a grass roots level in local schools and communities.
However the media can help in a big way. Programs like Master chef and its spin off for children, Junior Master chef are also inspiring children to cook and to have an interest in food and the preparation of food. This leads to hope that the next generation may be less reliant on packaged foods than the current one.
The two key ways to help our children with their eating is to teach them the basics and the connections between nature, what we eat and our health. The other key is to lead by and set a good example.