The number of children under five who are obese or overweight has increased by 10 million since 1990 show statistics released by the World Health Organisation. The results released by the commission on Ending Childhood Obesity led Peter Gluckman, Paediatrician and co-chair of ECO, to refer to the issue as an 'exploding nightmare'.
But why are we in this situation, and how can we stop our children from falling into unhealthy eating patterns and leading inactive lives?
Follow The Leader
Before pointing the finger elsewhere, I would suggest that adult's take a look at themselves and the example they are setting.
The aforementioned study found that the root of this problem can be traced back long before a child is born. Starting with conception and pregnancy and then continuing on into infancy, childhood and adolescence. The data collected showed that in cases where a mother begins pregnancy obese or has diabetes, a child is predisposed to 'increased fat deposits associated with metabolic disease and obesity'. Meaning women of all ages should be investing in a healthy lifestyle long before trying to conceive.
However once a child is born the problem seems set to escalte, with the authors of the report observing that children today are growing up in environments encouraging weight gain and obesity. Glukman is also quoted as saying 'It's not the kids' fault. You can't blame a two-year-old child for being fat and lazy and eating too much'.
Harsh though these comments may sound, there seems to be an element of truth to this statement, with further research funded by the Government earlier this year confirming that lack of outdoor activity in children is directly linked to the adults they live with. These results showed that in households where adults frequently visited natural environments, the percentage of children doing so increased from 39% to an incredible 82%.
So, if parents can have such an impact on their child's well-being surely it's time more adults begin to take responsibility for their own health, thereby encouraging their children to follow suit?
Food For Thought?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting we put all the blame on parents. As a mother myself I understand only too well the desire to provide the best for your child. Unfortunately even with the best will in the world, there are some circumstance you can not control. For example the ever increasing cost of healthy foods. I cannot be the only person realising that the more organic, sugar free, minimally processed foods I seem to buy, the more expensive the shop becomes.
Thankfully the good guys at Harvard are backing me up, with a study released in 2013 showing that eating healthily costs approximately £1 extra a day and although that may seem like pocket change to some, when taken over the period of a year, this equals just under £1,500 per family of four. Add on top of this the fact that many people simply don't have the time to be cooking from scratch and it's not difficult to see where the challenge of eating healthy begins.
However, is it ludicrous to suggest that a child's health is solely the reflection of an adults lifestyle choice or diet habits. Personally, I believe we must also consider other contributing factors, such as the media and the current school curriculum?
Sports From an Earlier Age?
Despite the Government introducing The Primary PE and Sports Premium fund in 2013 (investing £150 million a year into Physical Education) recent statistic's by the Youth Sport Trust showed that on average pupils are being offered less then 2 hours of PE a week and that since 2010 the links between schools and local community sports clubs has seen a significant slump.
Perhaps this is why Chancellor George Osbourne recently announced the governments plans to double the amount of funding for Sports in Primary schools. Subsidised by the levy companies will pay on soft drinks and refreshments high in sugar, the hope is that this increase will see more schools focused on sports from a younger age.
I wish my nerves were soothed by this news however it would be naive to believe the issue stopped at the school gates. When considering the bigger picture of our children's heath ( or lack thereof ) we must also look to the media. Ofcom may have banned junk food advertising around children's television programming in 2006, however kids are being exposed to widespread marketing online, making this regulation virtually pointless.
The Media is a super power when it comes to promotion and it's no surprise that global events with a high level of coverage appeal most to marketing teams. As such I find it incredulous that top sporting events such as the World Cup and the Olympic Games, are sponsored by well known unhealthy diet brands Coca-Cola and McDonalds. Sara Deon, a campaign director at Corporate Accountability International said "These sponsorships are not only misleading but helping to drive an epidemic of diet-related disease."
Throughout the Games viewers are inundated with advertising, some even featuring current Olympic athletes. Is it ok that individuals, meant to inspire health, are associated with brands promoting unhealthy food that really undermines children's well-being? As role models to the younger generation surely seeming to validate these products amplifies the wrong message to our kids? Sadly, with this sponsorship still in place for Rio 2016, it seems the battle for corporate accountability is yet to be won.
From here on in...
Plainly the report from ECO is just the start. If childhood obesity is truly to be tackled we are looking at a much bigger issue spanning a truly complex scale. However, small act's can cause a ripple affect so perhaps starting with the individual is the answer.
This much is true. As a parent myself I certainly want to set a good example of health for my son. Children learn from what they see so lets set the right example by ditching the fad-diets, getting outdoors and start being more active and healthy ourselves.