“Britain is in the grip of a child obesity epidemic. A third of UK children are now overweight or obese, making us one of the fattest nations in Europe. Last year, 26,000 kids were forced to have rotten teeth removed under general anaesthetic in hospital, due to poor diet and lack of brushing. In extreme cases they’re even facing controversial and risky stomach reduction surgery. We’re raising a generation of snackers and junk-scoffers, suffering from preventable illnesses. So whose fault is it and what can be done to fix it?”
So starts the Telegraph’s review of a new two-parter starting on Channel 4 this week, no doubt to the usual living-room refrain of “blame the <parents/schools/doctors/shops/food industry>” (delete as appropriate).
It’s so easy to focus on the question of ‘who’s to blame’ (we all are: for decades of wanting food faster, cheaper and to feed our cravings for sugar and salt), but it’s the second question that’s much more difficult…and much more important.
For children suffering the consequences of poor diet – whether that’s eating too much of the wrong things, not enough of the right things, not enough at all, or all of the above, the answers are far from simple. We live a world in which children are constantly bombarded by messages about food and food experiences from their earliest years – some subtle, some not-so-subtle and many which are conflicting. Lots of us weren’t given the legacy of cooking skills learned at school or at home to pass on to our kids. Not having the skills or confidence to cook from scratch makes life even more complicated when you’re trying to feed your children well on a shoestring. Places where children eat and buy food often don’t help them learn about making good decisions: becoming a savvy consumer takes time and experience, which children haven’t yet had.
Helping children to navigate this strange food world of ours is one of the most important and complex tasks parents face – with no expert training for the job. We all have to help out, if we’re going to be a healthier Britain. That’s why getting food right in childcare and school is so vital: making sure children get the energy and nutrients they need while at the same time, giving them experiences of lots of different foods and cooking styles. That’s why giving kids and families the skills they need to cook from scratch themselves and get smart with a food budget is one of the most important things we can do. It’s why fuelling real demand for healthier options for children when they eat out and buy food is a way to drive change.
We’re way past the time for pointing the finger of blame. It’s time we all got on the same team and helped children skill up for a healthier food future.
- Read more about our national programme to get children and families cooking
- Read more about how we’re part of the School Food Plan, to help get more children eating well during the school day
- Read more about how we help nurseries and other childcare providers create healthier menus and get little ones cooking
Claire’s our senior nutritionist. Email Claire.