How We Can Help Our Children Exercise Self-Control When It Comes To Sweets

06/04/2017 11:14 BST | Updated 06/04/2017 11:14 BST

Instilling a sense of personal responsibility in our children is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. It's one of the building blocks that helps them prepare for adult life, teaching them to take control of their own actions.

Unfortunately, all too often the message is being lost, and none more so than when it comes to diet and exercise.

Last week, public health officials challenged the food industry to lower sugar levels by reducing product sizes or pushing healthier products. Sugar limits for everyday foods such as biscuits, chocolate bars and cereals have also been published by Public Health England in the latest bid to make UK children more healthy and curb childhood obesity.

Tackling the amount of sugar we eat is certainly the healthy thing to do. Although the harmful health effects of sugar are now indisputable, we are still consuming an incredible amount of it. Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges we face today. Children are consuming three times more sugar every day than they should, leading to obesity and severe health problems.

However, demonising sugar and imposing regulations on retailers and manufacturers will only be a sticking plaster on the obesity problem unless we can convince parents - and children - that they must also take responsibility for gaining weight.

For several years, many were quick to attribute rising fast-food consumption as the major factor causing rapid increases in childhood obesity. It's another example of our culture of blame, where it's become all too common for society to point a finger at the 'system' or the context for what's wrong in their life. In the case of childhood obesity, targets have included school canteens for serving unhealthy meals, doctors for failing to cure 'emotional eating' and the environment in which we live.

The strict UK guidelines that prevent drinks with added sugar, crisps, chocolate or sweets in school meals and vending machines is a good step but it is not enough. Studies examining fast-food consumption found it is a by-product of a much bigger problem - poor dietary habits that originate in children's homes.

No-one forces parents to buy that bar of chocolate, and the government and fast food companies don't stock our fridges. Sadly, by not taking responsibility for what their children eat, parents not just contributing to the increase in obesity amongst children, but teaching them that they don't need to exercise self-control or take ownership of their problems.

Children will often follow the lead of their parents. Unfortunately we are not the positive role models we would like to be. Britain has the second highest rate of obesity in Europe. A new report by the British Heart Foundation identified more than 20 million people in the UK are physically inactive. A quarter of adults are doing less than 30 minutes of exercise a week, never mind achieving the government guidelines for 150 minutes.

Cutting out refined sugar alone is not enough. It is about maintaining a balanced diet and also incorporating physical activity into our lifestyle.

Hand in hand with the government's sugar and exercise guidelines should be renewed focus on breaking habits that are being passed down the generations. That also means helping children and teenagers understand their own responsibilities.

As parents, we have a responsibility to not to allow our children to guzzle sugary drinks or sweets every day and get away without exercising. At least until the child goes to school, parents are responsible for making all food and lifestyle choices on their behalf.

Currently, one in five children are overweight or obese by the time they start primary school. By the time they start secondary school that rises to one in three.

Parents can help by walking their children to school and by encouraging them to play outside - rather than watch TV or sit in front of a computer. They can set up positive habits by serving them balanced meals. And we must not assume that all sugar is bad. Fruits rich in natural sugar are abundant in vitamins and dietary fibre that our body needs.

Recent studies have shown that aggressive marketing and the wide availability of cheap, calorie-rich, nutrient-poor foods routinely affect the food choices of older children. However, early education around exercise and diet would set them on the best course to make healthier choices as they grow up.

Imposing regulations on the food company that piles sugar into their child's breakfast cereal is certainly a step forward. But it will only be a quick fix if it allows parents feel they've been absolved from any responsibility.