Consider these facts: Ireland has a level of obesity above the EU average. Between 1980 and 2013 the number of overweight and obese people rose from 857 million to 2.1 billion. This represents an increase of 28% for adults and 47% for children. 800,000 people in Ireland are now morbidly obese (1). A severely obese person is likely to die 10 years before a person of normal weight. In 2007 we were ranked 5th highest in Europe for childhood obesity (2), and today it is estimated that we have around 300,000 obese children, with an increase of 10000per year, making obesity the most prevalent childhood disease of all. (3).
The bottom lineis that it is time for all of us to join the growing movement aimed at resolving this problem. Individually, we will not change the world, and convince damaging cereal, fast food, and soft drink companies to high tail it out of town for the good of humanity, but we can take personal responsibility for those in our care. The day for passing the buck is gone. If we want the children of today to live healthy lives, and have healthy children themselves, then the time is now for action. The following 5 points are a good starting point for anyone. Its not an exhaustive list. But they are manageable pointers that will give you and your children results.
1. Make School Lunches at Home
One of the best things that you can do to combat childhood obesity is to regularly make homemade school lunches with healthy and natural foods. If your child is used to sorting themselves out at the local shop at lunchtime, they are more likely going to reach for the addictive high sugar and trans fats foods. This may take some work if you are trying to reverse established lunchtime habits, but this is not an excuse to skip this step. Safefood have a nice guide to creating healthy lunches for school going children.
2. Don’t put fizzy drinks and treats on the shopping list
The number 1 thing that you should take from this artle is this:
JUST BECAUSE IT IS SOLD IN A GROCERY SHOP DOOES NOT MEAN THAT IT IS A ‘FOOD’ THAT YOU SHOULD ALLOW YOUR CHILD TO EAT.
Remember, the large food companies do no care for your health. They care about making profit, and making their product as economically as possible. This means that there are a lot of ‘foods’ being sold in the shops that our ancestors would have been more likely to use as weed killer. Sugar is one of the most highly addictive substances freely available to us, and has been shown to be THE cause of much of the obesity epidemic. Do not add soft drinks and treats to your shopping trolley as standard, as they will become the go-to drink or snack if they are not already. Water is the king of drinks for all ages, and fruit/ nuts are the kings of snacks. Use chocolate, sweets, and soft drinks as occasional treats at most, but definitely not as a standard purchase on the shopping list.
3. Get Creative in the Kitchen
When the chips are down (pardon the pun), it is not the time to rely on ready made meals, fast foods, or processed goods. We now simply have to revert to natural foods that grow abundantly in Ireland such as vegetables, and meat, as well as introducing fruits to our diet in a meaningful way again. This can be a challenge, but you can do it! Stepping away from the high sodium, high sugar foods that are common these days due to their convenience means that you will have to add a splash of imagination to your cooking in the kitchen to get children excited about the prospect of a dietary change. Again, safefood have some fool proof guidelines on how to jazz things up for the smallies.
4. Make sure children get at least 45 minutes of exercise EVERYDAY
There are two main lifestyle changes that we need to take on board wholesale without question when it comes to the obesity epidemic. The first is in relation to the food that our children eat, and the second is in relation to the exercise that they get. Children should be active throughout the day; of that there is no doubt. The bare minimum that a child should be doing some form of challenging activity is 45 minutes per day. This is a key part to the puzzle. You are teaching your child habits that will last a lifetime and add years onto their lives. It may not be easy, but responsibility lies with parents and guardians at the end of the day how active children are. Yes of course schools have a responsibility, but what’s going to be easier to change, the schools exercise policy, or your own child’s exercise habits? If you have a child who is not particularly motivated to join a club or be active, seek the help of a professional to aid in finding suitable activities. Children naturally want to be active, as do adults, we just need to break down the barriers that have been put up in front of them.
5. Stay the course
This is the most serious point. You are not trying something new in the hope that its going to work. You are going into battle against a disease that is silently destroying the young population of the country. More importantly, you are taking the fight on behalf of your own children’s future. Stay the course when you implement the changes above. You will have resistance, complaining, and tantrums no doubt, but there are calmer, healthier times ahead where you can stand proud and say that you took the risk of adult obesity by the scruff of the neck and kicked its ass! It will take weeks and months, and maybe even years to ingrain the new positive lifestyle habits into the mindset of your child(ren), but it is a fight worth fighting, and the results will be with it.
Do not glaze over the points raised above if you are serious about tackling the serious issues at hand. The points above were not typed lightly, and they are not Internet fluff. Implement them straight away and stay the course. Even better, if you are tackling childhood obesity with your own children, come and seek the help of a professional who can help you put the systems in place to make the changes that are needed, and measure the progress. Strike now, and strike once to protect yourself and your children from the disease that is ripping through our schools.
This Article is By Ainle Ó Cairealláin MSc CSCS