Tackling childhood obesity

The UK’s alarmingly high levels of childhood obesity are once again in the news in what seems to be a shame for our country that just won’t go away. If you have been following the news over the past couple of days you will know about these reports I am talking about that now says the NHS is spending £5.1 billion every year on treating obesity and that a third of all 10/11 year olds who are leaving primary school are overweight or obese. And every time one of these stories hits the headlines a whole new set of recommendations appears and the debate begins.

The first port of call is almost always health education. If children are educated from a young age about the possible complications that they might experience in later life, then the theory is that they should be more conscious of what they are putting into their body and how much exercise they choose to do. But this has been around for years now and still we hear about rising figures each and every year. So that means more must be done.

The thing that is being spoken a lot about right now is the banning of adverts for junk food before the 9pm watershed in this country. This would mean that all foods that are high in either salt, sugar or fat would have their advertising restricted. And I imagine you are wondering the same as me – what do they mean by restricted? Not to mention the fact that advertising is present in far many forms than just television commercials. There are billboards, cinema adverts and, more increasingly, social media advertising. Can junk food adverts really be taken off all these different forms of media? Well they did it with cigarettes. We are also hearing loud calls for a tax on foods that contain high levels of sugar again, something that I have spoken about before on this blog (click here to see that post).

A lot of this criticism stems from the problems that people have with self-regulation on junk food advertisers. If they are primarily concerned with making profits, then they can’t prioritise the well-being of the general public, and specifically children. And if self-regulation really is the problem then this is all just going to get worse before it gets better. That seems as compelling as you are going to find in terms of evidence for Government intervention.

But should the Government need to act? A lot of people believe that responsibility should lie solely with the parents and that childhood obesity is a direct result of poor parenting. Certainly in younger life, you eat what your parents give you to eat, that much is obvious. And becoming overweight is almost always caused by consuming too many calories and not doing enough exercise. This is the real world though , so we know that people of all sorts of ages can get their hands on things if they really want them. And I don’t think anyone is saying that children shouldn’t be allowed to eat chocolate at least some of the time.

This is something that is going to be sorted overnight, that’s one thing that we can be certain of. And it all does start with proper education by parents, schools and society as a whole. As these problems get worse and worse and alarming figures continue to rise, the argument supporting greater Government intervention will gather more and more followers!

Ollie Lawrence
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