Monthly Archives: June 2014

Childhood Obesity – Who is to blame?

Obesity is a huge fat problem in Ireland today. With 40% of all adults overweight and 25% classified as obese. Using your maths skills you would have worked out that around 2 out of every 3 Irish adults are above their correct weight!
Alarm bells should be ringing in your head I hope!!…this is not good. This trend is getting worse and has increased considerably since the 1990s.
How are children fairing out? Well not so good. According to the ‘Growing up in Ireland study’ 20 per cent of 9 year olds were overweight in 2011 and a further 7 per cent are obese. Again we see that 1 in every 4 children have a weight issue.

This will obviously lead to a poorer quality of life and a higher likelihood of illness and sickness.

So who is to blame?

This is a hot topic in the media at the moment, people are looking for scapegoats to pin the responsibility on. Here we look at the possible candidates.
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1. Parents: the primary provider for the child. They are the ones feeding the child the food, surely it is their fault that the child is overweight? They create the environment around the child which determines how much exercise they do. Do parents do enough or take responsibility for this role? Are they limited by lack of education, certain financial strain or a particular environmental or social situation?
Could they possibly be the ones making their child obese? Can we fathom a situation where parents are knowingly poisoning their children with harmful foods by making them obese or do they just not know the difference between foods that nourish and foods that harm?
Maybe it is not just the parents fault, maybe they are just shaped by their environment and are just pawns in the bigger picture that they are struggling to control?

>cereal killers

2. Food Companies: Big Corporate food companies. McDonalds, Dominos, Coca Cola, Mars etc. etc.
Are the majority of us obese because of the big money making globo-conglomerate monsters that are everywhere in society today? The food they provide tastes good and sure if its a ‘treat’ then isn’t it fine once in a while!? Our shops and society are laden with these processed, sugar filled foods which are highly addictive. We are being constantly bombarded with flashy advertisements directed at our youth with happy people eating these shiny tasty food! Parents are told some of these foods are low in salt, low in fat, low in calories, are fortified with this that and the other and ‘should be eaten as part of a balanced diet’. Are we being brainwashed by the these companies into thinking that these foods are just part and parcel of modern life? Are we supposed to eat cereal for breakfast? Do we have to drink coke and eat popcorn at the cinema? Do we really need to drink sugar bomb sports drinks before/during/after exercise to fuel our bodies? This what the advertisements say, surely they can’t be wrong, can they?
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3. Government The Government of our country.
Could they possibly be responsible for the obesity epidemic which is taking place at this current time. Is it not in their interests to have a have a healthy strong workforce of people instead of a group that fat and sick? One would think so. Most governments in the world endorse the food pyramid. We all know what it looks like, it has been drilled into us for years. We see it in school books, we see it in medical documents and on government websites. It basically says eat loads of grains and don’t eat much fats. If we were to jump into a time machine and travel back 10,000 years ago (prior to the agricultural revolution, when we started cultivating grains) into human history, we would see that humans did not eat many grains. We obviously survived for millions of years and became the strongest race on the planet without eating them but now they are considered the ‘staple’ according to our government guidelines. Our DNA has not changed that much in the last 40,000 years. At that time we ate a diet full of protein, fats, nuts and vegetables whilst now we are being told by our government to eat a diet with a predominance of refined carbohydrates in the form of pasta, rice, potatoes and bread. Why are we being told to eat these grains? Who decided that they are good for us? How did people do before Government guidelines came in? Read my blog here on traditional diets

Broccoli child
4. The Child The child themselves.
The children of our country. Are they at fault? Are they responsible for their own declining health?
Those extra sweets and chocolates they ate at the party, surely they should have shown restraint? Did they not realise that they were very bad for them !
Why didn’t they ask for a bike for Christmas instead of a Playstation 4, did they not realise that the extra exercise they could have done would have been better for their health instead of sitting inside watching a screen!
Surely they should have kicked up a fuss looking for green vegetables as they wandered the stalls in the supermarket with their mother as she was doing the shopping. Then the child would have had something better to eat for dinner!
The children today are not to blame as you may have noted from the tone of my sarcasm above. They are products of their environment. Unfortunately the environment that many children grow up in is not very conducive to health or for alleviating obesity and they are suffering as a result.

Vending machine
5. Our Environment Is the environment to blame?
We live in a world where convenience and speed has become so important. We want everything now and get aggrieved if we have to spend time working for it. The same thinking has evolved with our relationship to food. With our hectic lifestyles and busy jobs, eating has become a secondary concept. We eat to alleviate the symptoms of hunger as opposed to eating to keep us healthy and nourished. Our world has sped up and the quality of food and attention to our food has declined as a result. Some people would rather sleep in an extra half hour rather than getting up to prepare a healthy breakfast. At lunch we grab a sandwich rather than preparing a healthier alternative in advance. For dinner we may eat whatever the local chipper has to offer or get a ready meal for the microwave to cook.
Also for children the options are pretty desperate if they were looking for something to eat. At schools there may be a vending machine full of sugary food or the local chipper. The shop may have some healthy food such as fruit but the child will be instantly drawn to the tasty treats that line the counter.
We live in a society where it is acceptable to be overweight. We are normalised by the customs and habits of the people that we typically spend our time with. If all your friends eat take away, smoke cigarettes, drink fizzy drinks etc. then you will be conditioned to think that everyone does it and that it is fine. Whereas if your friends eat well, exercise, then you will judge yourself based on them. The same applies with our weight and our children’s weight. If the majority of children in our society are overweight, we tend to look at a typical overweight child as the ‘norm’, just average and therefore consider it ok and pass no heed on it. Unfortunately the ‘norm’ weight has been increasing for many years.
Child computers

6. Sedentary Lifestyle– Is an inactive lifestyle to blame?
When I was a young lad growing up, I regularly built massive big tree houses with loads of rooms, played football for a minimum of eight hours every day during the summer, wore a groove 3 inches deep in the road with all the cycling and mowed so many lawns that the mound of grass was the size of a small house!
I think we all look back at our childhood with some degree of rose tinted glass syndrome regarding our own activity levels but I think it is quite clear that children today are not exposed to or engaged in the same levels of exercise and activity that children were years ago. As a primary school teacher I regularly see children who struggle to run for a short period of time or have difficulty walking up a few flights of stairs without bursting into a sweat. I am aware that many parents have concerns for safety in their neighbourhoods and children are not free to roam as they were years ago, but does that mean that they should just leave them inside watching the television?
Although many children regularly participate in sports clubs, the research suggests that only 3 in 10 children get the recommended 1 hour of physical activity per day. Televisions, phones, computers are becoming increasingly more integral part of children’s lives and parents are allowing this to happen. Schools also are restricted in the time they can give to exercise. The curriculum guidelines suggest 1 hour of exercise per week. This will not make much dent in the 7 hours recommended per week!
Where will our children get more exercise? Is it the parents fault? Is it our society and our schools that is to blame?

So who really is to blame???
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As you may have read, I think there are a combination of reasons why obesity is rising especially amongst children but realistically the parents must shoulder the responsibility. Parents have the power to change their children’s lives for the better. They are in charge of what the child eats, what the child does on a daily basis and must have the courage and conviction to make the correct decisions to enable their children lives their lives free from disease and obesity.
Unfortunately if 2/3 of adults are overweight themselves, can we realistically expect these people to be effective role models and instruct their children to make right decisions when they seem to be incapable of doing so themselves?
Lets hope so but it’s important that they know what they are doing.
Education is the key thing and although most parents want the best for their child, some are unwittingly doing damage without realising it. In part 2, I hope to present some simple steps parents can use in their lives which will help themselves and their children get back to full health and escape the dangers of obesity.

Note: I’m not a parent and I don’t pretend to suggest parenting is an easy job. This post is not intended to criticise parents but help them see how they can help their children!

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Filed under Disease prevention, Exercise, Health, Nutrition