By Frank Caruso
Obesity in children is a major health concern for many health professionals and parents. The number of overweight children in Australia has increased dramatically in recent years. From 1985 to 1995, the number of overweight 7-15 year olds almost doubled. At the current rate, it is predicted that 65% of young Australians will be overweight or obese by 2020.*
The increase in the number of overweight children is disturbing, not only because it causes health problems later in life but it can also lead to social problems. Overweight children are more likely to be teased and bullied by their peers and/or develop low self-esteem or body image problems. Overweight children are also more likely to become overweight adults.*
Studies have shown that once children become obese they are more likely to stay obese into adulthood and have an increased risk of developing both short and long-term health conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.**
Obesity, not only has significant health and social impacts, but it also has considerable economic impacts. In 2008, the total annual cost of obesity for both children and adults in Australia, including health system costs, productivity and carers costs, was estimated to be around $58 billion.**
Who’s to blame?
Causes of obesity in children include unhealthy food choices, lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating habits. Children are consuming far too many calories everyday than they can burn! What’s worse, most of the food they eat is processed, high in fat, loaded with sugar, contain preservatives, artificial flavours, colours and provide little nutritional
value. The frightening reality is, things
will get worse before they get better unless there is dramatic change in public attitude and culture.
Many people feed their pets better than they feed their children!
When I first set out on my journey to spread the word about the benefits of nutrition, it quickly occurred to me that many people I spoke to were feeding their pets better than they were feeding their children. It may have been unintentional, but never the less from where I was standing, it was obvious. In support of my statement I would
like to share the following experience with you.
When I worked in my health food store in the early eighties, I had many young mothers come into my store with a shopping trolley full of groceries. I would always start a conversation about the importance of healthy eating and the role it plays in prevention of disease. They would often say; “My family eat a balanced diet, lots of fresh fruits, grains and healthy food.” I would ask them kindly if it would be okay if I went through their shopping trolley. Surprisingly, some would say yes!
I would slowly start unloading the contents of their shopping trolley onto my counter and would leave what most nutritionists would consider healthy food in their trolley; fresh fruits and vegetables, some dairy products, fresh meats and grains etc. On my counter we would end up with a huge stack of packaged processed foods, sweets and drinks, most of which were loaded with sugar, salt, fat, preservatives, artificial colours and flavours. These included ice-cream, biscuits, soft drinks, energy drinks, flavoured dairy drinks, cream cakes, sugar candy, chocolate treats, potato chips, doughnuts, canned foods, frozen vegetables, frozen dinners and the list goes on.
I would then ask my customer if they had a pet. Many would say; Yes, I have a dog! I would say: “Would you fill up your dog’s water container with soft drink?” They would say: No! I would ask: “Would you serve them pancakes with syrup for breakfast?” No! “Would you give them ice cream for dessert, chocolate for an afternoon snack or candy before bed-time?” No, of course not! I’d ask: “Why not?” Most would reply: Because it will make them sick! I’d say: “What do you think it’s doing to your kids?” Most customers would get very defensive and say; It’s in moderation! I would point to my counter and then the shopping trolley and would say, “madam, this is not moderation, this is saturation of unhealthy food.”
Here’s the good news!
We can help our children fight obesity by encouraging them to eat more fresh food and avoid eating junk and processed food. It’s also very important that you encourage your children to exercise daily, get them involved in a sport or an outdoor activity. Exercise is the best way to burn off those extra calories. Many health professionals agree that if children adopted healthier eating habits and exercised regularly, this would reduce the risk of them developing many health conditions later in adult life.
Over the last few months I’ve been looking at ways on how to reach more people to help me on my mission and spread the word on the benefits of nutrition and the role it plays in the prevention of disease. I’ve recently started doing radio interviews detailing the alarming health statistics and the health crisis our children and our nation are facing if we continue to ignore the facts. I’m hoping that when you read this article you will also become a health crusader and join in with me to spread the word about the benefits of healthy eating and exercise and the essential role it plays in promoting good health. That’s all I wish for!
Here are some simple health tips for parents!
Firstly I would like you to have a long hard look at your shopping list and start reducing the amount of unhealthy snacks and processed foods. For example potato chips, sweets, chocolate treats, processed cereals, ice creams, biscuits, energy drinks and soft drinks etc. As I said earlier, most of these foods are loaded with sugar and contain artificial flavours, colours and preservatives and provide little nutritional value.
So what should we be eating or not be eating?
A good start is to slowly introduce wholefoods to your diet. For example; replace white bread with wholemeal bread, white rice with brown rice, white pasta with wholemeal pasta,
potato chips and chocolate treats with raw nuts, and replace energy and cola drinks with fresh fruit and vegetable juices (not bottled juices please). Many of these foods are high in fibre, rich in vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. Also, children need to drink at least 600mls of pure water every day.
It’s very important that healthy eating habits start early
Your children need good nutrition for healthy brain function, to build strong bones and to develop a healthy immune system. So the sooner you start your kids on good, nutritional foods, the better. My message is
simple – EAT TO LIVE! What your children eat today is what walks
and talks tomorrow!