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John Simkin

Changes in Society: Childhood Obesity

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The Food Standards Agency in the UK published a report yesterday on the food children take to school. They discovered that nearly half of school lunch boxes do not contain fruit or fresh vegetables. Nearly one in five contain no sandwiches or alternative main ingredient but are packed with crisps, chocolate, biscuits and sugary drinks instead. More than two-thirds of children had a packet of crisps in their lunchbox every day. More than three-quarters contained sugary drinks.

Only 11% of sandwiches were made with wholemeal bread. A growing number of packed lunches contained highly processed dairy foods. Although marketed as healthy, these products are high in salt, fat or sugar, and additives.

Despite an extensive publicity campaign concerning the right diet for children, this appears to be having little impact on parents. For example, the average fat content of lunch boxes has risen by three grams since last year and salt and sugar levels remain well above recommended levels.

Other research by the Food Standards Agency reveal that nearly half of our teenagers are short of vital nutrients such as iron.

A joint report published recently by the Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Paediatrics and the Faculty of Public Health, urged the government to put together a coherent strategy to fight the obesity epidemic in Britain. The incidence of obesity in children is growing at an alarming rate. It more than trebled in 6 to 15 year olds from 5% to 16% between 1990 and 2001.

Schools have played an important role in this development of obesity. Probably the most important factor in this was the privatisation of the school meals service. In an attempt to maximize profits these companies have encouraged students to buy unhealthy foods in schools. This has been backed up schools providing vending machines in schools selling high-fat and high-sugar snacks. When challenged on this head teachers say they need this income to buy essential things for the school. It would seem everything has its price in 21st century Britain.

I know some people believe that there is little we can do to reverse the trend in obesity. As educators, we have a responsibility to do what we can to tackle this terrible problem. We need to remind ourselves that schools can make a difference. Look for example how Finland have been able to reverse this trend in obesity in its young people. However, it does mean that the people of Finland have had to endure restrictions on their freedom. As a recent BBC report pointed out: “In this country (Britain), the accusation of presiding over a 'nanny state' is the worst form of insult that can be thrown at a politician. But in Finland politicians seem to smart less at such allegations.”

In the 1970's Finland had the highest rate of deaths from heart problems in the world, largely due to a flourishing dairy sector which played a big part in the Finnish diet.

But as a result of an assertive public education campaign - to promote exercise and healthy diet - it has escaped the escalating obesity rates now emerging in Britain.

In the 80's Finland's obesity rate was twice as high as ours - but in the years that followed, as Britain's obesity rate soared, our Nordic neighbours more or less contained the problem, experiencing only modest rises. For instance, 19% of women in Finland are now classed as clinically obese. In the UK the figure is closer to 26% and our children are getting fatter too.

So how have they done it?

Largely through assertive government campaigns and co-operation from the domestic food industry. In this country, the accusation of presiding over a 'nanny state' is the worst form of insult that can be thrown at a politician. But in Finland politicians seem to smart less at such allegations.

In Finland school kids are weighed annually and the results recorded in their end of year reports. If there's a problem the doctor is called in. Each child receives a free school lunch which must comprise one third of their calorie intake, and exercise plays a prominent part in the school day.

A recent a report written by the country’s top cancer specialists, claimed that cancer cases will treble over the next 20 years. It warns that a cancer underclass is developing (overweight poor people who smoke). The report predicts that by 2025 the NHS will have to treat 3 million people suffering from cancer. It warns that the cost of this treatment will bankrupt the NHS. They claim that unless the government acts on this issue they will be forced to introduce a semi-privatised NHS. In other words, the treatment people receive will depend on their ability to pay.

This report illustrates the dilemma facing the government. An unwillingness to introduce legislation now will result is some unpleasant decisions being made in the future. The problem we face is that governments tend to leave unpleasant decisions until as late as possible. After all, they will say to themselves, why should we make decisions that make us unpopular when future politicians will gain the benefits for these actions. It is very similar to reasons why governments are reluctant to take unpopular decisions to protect the environment. It is in fact one of the disadvantages of democratic government. All we can do is urge our governments to make decisions that are good for future generations. As intelligent individuals we have a responsibility to do that.

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The Food Standards Agency in the UK published a report yesterday on the food children take to school. They discovered that nearly half of school lunch boxes do not contain fruit or fresh vegetables. Nearly one in five contain no sandwiches or alternative main ingredient but are packed with crisps, chocolate, biscuits and sugary drinks instead. More than two-thirds of children had a packet of crisps in their lunchbox every day. More than three-quarters contained sugary drinks.

Only 11% of sandwiches were made with wholemeal bread. A growing number of packed lunches contained highly processed dairy foods. Although marketed as healthy, these products are high in salt, fat or sugar, and additives.

Despite an extensive publicity campaign concerning the right diet for children, this appears to be having little impact on parents. For example, the average fat content of lunch boxes has risen by three grams since last year and salt and sugar levels remain well above recommended levels.

Other research by the Food Standards Agency reveal that nearly half of our teenagers are short of vital nutrients such as iron.

A joint report published recently by the Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Paediatrics and the Faculty of Public Health, urged the government to put together a coherent strategy to fight the obesity epidemic in Britain. The incidence of obesity in children is growing at an alarming rate. It more than trebled in 6 to 15 year olds from 5% to 16% between 1990 and 2001.

Schools have played an important role in this development of obesity. Probably the most important factor in this was the privatisation of the school meals service. In an attempt to maximize profits these companies have encouraged students to buy unhealthy foods in schools. This has been backed up schools providing vending machines in schools selling high-fat and high-sugar snacks. When challenged on this head teachers say they need this income to buy essential things for the school. It would seem everything has its price in 21st century Britain.

I know some people believe that there is little we can do to reverse the trend in obesity. As educators, we have a responsibility to do what we can to tackle this terrible problem. We need to remind ourselves that schools can make a difference. Look for example how Finland have been able to reverse this trend in obesity in its young people. However, it does mean that the people of Finland have had to endure restrictions on their freedom. As a recent BBC report pointed out: “In this country (Britain), the accusation of presiding over a 'nanny state' is the worst form of insult that can be thrown at a politician. But in Finland politicians seem to smart less at such allegations.”

In the 1970's Finland had the highest rate of deaths from heart problems in the world, largely due to a flourishing dairy sector which played a big part in the Finnish diet.

But as a result of an assertive public education campaign - to promote exercise and healthy diet - it has escaped the escalating obesity rates now emerging in Britain.

In the 80's Finland's obesity rate was twice as high as ours - but in the years that followed, as Britain's obesity rate soared, our Nordic neighbours more or less contained the problem, experiencing only modest rises. For instance, 19% of women in Finland are now classed as clinically obese. In the UK the figure is closer to 26% and our children are getting fatter too.

So how have they done it?

Largely through assertive government campaigns and co-operation from the domestic food industry.  In this country, the accusation of presiding over a 'nanny state' is the worst form of insult that can be thrown at a politician.  But in Finland politicians seem to smart less at such allegations.

In Finland school kids are weighed annually and the results recorded in their end of year reports. If there's a problem the doctor is called in.  Each child receives a free school lunch which must comprise one third of their calorie intake, and exercise plays a prominent part in the school day.

A recent  a report written by the country’s top cancer specialists, claimed that cancer cases will treble over the next 20 years. It warns that a cancer underclass is developing (overweight poor people who smoke). The report predicts that by 2025 the NHS will have to treat 3 million people suffering from cancer. It warns that the cost of this treatment will bankrupt the NHS. They claim that unless the government acts on this issue they will be forced to introduce a semi-privatised NHS. In other words, the treatment people receive will depend on their ability to pay.

This report illustrates the dilemma facing the government. An unwillingness to introduce legislation now will result is some unpleasant decisions being made in the future. The problem we face is that governments tend to leave unpleasant decisions until as late as possible. After all, they will say to themselves, why should we make decisions that make us unpopular when future politicians will gain the benefits for these actions. It is very similar to reasons why governments are reluctant to take unpopular decisions to protect the environment. It is in fact one of the disadvantages of democratic government. All we can do is urge our governments to make decisions that are good for future generations. As intelligent individuals we have a responsibility to do that.

All we can do is urge our governments to make decisions that are good for future generations. As intelligent individuals we have a responsibility to do that. As intelligent teachers we can educate children on healthy lifestyles, including healthy eating and exercise. Myself and another university student created a unit plan, titled ‘You are what you eat’ and I believe units like these should be taught within primary schools. Children are the future, so if we teach them, they can teacher others, even their parents. Also, if a child knows that chips are bad for them and will make them overweight, they may ask their parents not to put them in their lunch boxes anymore. Also, instead of showing obese people or talking about cancer with will most likely scare the children (scare tactics), implement a challenge for a week or two where the children eat healthy and exercise and write a journal each day about how they feel, if they have more energy, if they have lost weight, etc. This way, children will learn first hand, by eating healthy and exercising that they feel better, having more energy and are happier with themselves.

I really like the strategy in Finland where the school kids are weighed annually and the results recorded in their end of year reports and if there's a problem the doctor is called in. Each child receives a free school lunch which must comprise one third of their calorie intake, and exercise plays a prominent part in the school day. Do you think schools could implement this program? Or does it depend on the government?

I would like to introduce the importance of breakfast also. I found this article at

http://www.daa.asn.au/common/news_events/csa.asp

On 18 August, a national media release announced the launch of a new DAA Community Service Announcement (CSA) to educate children, parents and carers on the importance of eating breakfast. DAA believes the CSA will be widely supported for its effective promotion of an important nutrition message. The CSA is proudly supported by DAA gold partner, Kellogg Australia and television, print and radio versions have been developed.

Research findings into breakfast

Recent findings from The University of Sydney National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Study, supported by a research grant from Kellogg Australia, found that one in four children go to school hungry. The study also found that amongst high school students, females were more likely to skip breakfast than males and those from lower socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds were less likely to eat a proper breakfast than those from higher SES backgrounds.

Of major concern, are the study’s findings related to overweight and obesity in school students with:

• Children who skip breakfast or drink only fluids being significantly heavier than children who eat breakfast.

• Female children who skip breakfast being significantly heavier than female children who eat breakfast.

• Male children who skip breakfast being significantly heavier than male children who eat breakfast.

• One in four children who are overweight not eating a proper breakfast.

• One in five primary school children who are overweight not eating a proper breakfast.

• Two in five high school students who are overweight not eating a proper breakfast.

• One in two female high school students who are overweight not eating a proper breakfast.

• One in three children from low SES backgrounds who are overweight not eating a proper breakfast.

The study involved 34 schools from all States and Territories of Australia. 29 public schools, one private school and four catholic schools from urban, rural and regional areas participated. A total of 4,819 students completed the questionnaire with 49.4% of participants being male and 50.6% being female. Students ranged from Years one through to 12 with 2,026 in primary school and 2,793 in secondary school. 1,185 students from disadvantaged schools (low SES) participated and 3,634 students from non-disadvantaged schools (middle/high SES) participated.

Other scientific research from around the globe also shows that:

• Eating breakfast can have a significant effect on learning with students more able to pay attention and retain information as well as being more interested in learning.

• People who eat breakfast have more nutritious diets than people who skip breakfast with breakfast eaters tending to have lower intakes of fat and higher intakes of fibre, and many vitamins and minerals.

• People who eat breakfast have better eating habits than people who skip breakfast as they are less likely to be ravenously hungry for snacks during the day.

• Children who eat an inadequate breakfast are more likely to make poor food choices for the rest of the day and in the long-term, which may lead to an increased risk in obesity.

• Students who are overweight are less likely to eat breakfast and participate in physical activity than non-overweight students.

The importance of breakfast also need to be taught as it does have an effect on the children ability to learn and pay attention. Instead of Finland’s lunch program, I believe breakfast should be provided, because as they say, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”.

Information and stats from

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/2824987.stm

They believe skipping the first meal of the day increases the chances of becoming obese, developing diabetes or even having a heart attack.

The researchers believe that eating first thing in the morning may help to stabilise blood sugar levels, which regulate appetite and energy.

They suggest people who eat breakfast are less likely to be hungry during the rest of the day and are, therefore, less likely to overeat.

"Our results suggest that breakfast may really be the most important meal of the day," said Dr Periera.

Danielle Ramia

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Did you know that the only reason that Mcdonalds put gurkins on burgers is because otherwise it would be labelled confectionary due to the amount of sugar in it. In my opinion advertising has a lot to do with the various foods and the lack of nutritional education in schools. In an extreme case some schools in the us are sponsored by Coca Cola and only Coke products may be sold on school grounds and students must watch 10 mins of Coke adverts per day, thats capitalism gone crazy.

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In the Netherlands children are also gaining weight. I believe the biggest problem is the fact that sports are no longer a normal hobby for many children. The computer has replaced this. Also at school it's not considered cool to try your best during sportslessons.

The schoolcanteen serves mainly snacks en candy. Children start eating this food in the morning.

Schools should ban these foods from their buildings and take an active role in making sports more popular. How to do this I don't know. Maybe someone else has a idea??

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Schools should ban these foods from their buildings and take an active role in making sports more popular. How to do this I don't know. Maybe someone else has a idea??

Schools can indeed ban these foods from schools. This is what Finland has done. I am sure other sensible countries have similar policies.

Here are a few stories on the subject.

http://www.wistv.com/Global/story.asp?S=1633568&nav=0RaPKfJa

http://www.helsinki-hs.net/news.asp?id=20040113IE15

http://www.helsinki-hs.net/news.asp?id=20040217IE17

Why don’t British governments bring in similar legislation? The main reason is the funding of political parties. The major parties are unwilling to upset the powerful food and drink industry.

For example, in 1994 the government’s advisory Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition recommended a model diets for the UK. This included a large reduction in salt, sugar, etc. The food industry obtained a leaked draft and four of the largest food manufacturers, Cadbury Schweppes, Tate and Lyle, United Biscuits and Mars demanded a meeting with the department of health. When the government went ahead and published the report, virtually the whole of the food and drink industry cut off financial support for the Conservative Party. They got the message and made sure that similar reports were not published. New Labour of course are willing to publish reports on the subject, however, they are fully under the control of the food and drinks industry and refuse to pass legislation to enforce a change in diet. The government knows that its health campaigns can not compete with the spending employed to promote junk food to the young and the undereducated.

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One of the main problems the English school has in ensuring that school meals are healthy is the requirement to put the catering contract out to private tender. Effective line management of the catering providers thus becomes virtually impossible and the private company providing the food will invariably cut as many corners as possible to make money and push the unhealthy, easy to prepare and profitable junk that kids become so readily addicted to.

This is clearly an area which would benefit from government regulation and control - remove the market and remove the "customer" choice and we can perhaps begin to take some sensible decisions about what the children eat.

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McDonalds is one of those companies that are suffering because of the recent reports on the link between junk food , obesity and poor health. Last year McDonalds saw a 71% drop in its profits in the UK. It has now decided to bring in new menus that are supposed to contain “healthy” options. This includes grilled chicken flatbread, six varieties of salad leaves, porridge and low-fat carrot cake.

Apparently, McDonalds have been told that they have to change its image. This means abandoning its golden arch logo (one of the three most recognised images in the world – Coca-Cola logo and the crucifix are the others). The rebranding will be announced on Friday. A golden question mark is going to replace the golden arch. Next to the question mark will be the strapline: “McDonald’s. But not as you know it.”

I think the junk food industry is on the run.

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It's hard to do things about what kids eat at home, except through education. Our outomes based curriculum here allows us to address this sort of thing because we don't have an imposed national curriculum. One of the expected "outcomes" is expressed as "Personal Well-being" so all schools run units of work which incorporate learning about food/diet/health etc.

Our state DoE encourages school canteens, which are all run by P&F groups, to have only healthy food and, although there are still some which could improve, most are getting better at it. The opposition party tried to bring in one hour of compulsory PE/Sport a week, but actually when a survey was done, it showed that all schools did that or more already. (Maybe Australians are a bit more sportcentric). However, obesity is still a problem, and probably for the reasons mentioned above - too much sitting at a PC, too little exercise as in walking to school, running round all weekend, and bad food habits at home.

What you can do about all those, I don't know.

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New Labour promised it would “sort out the troublesome issue of food once and for all”. However, it succumbed to the pressures of the food industry.

There are signs that they really will need to stand up to the food industry. A recent report revealed that obesity alone costs the UK around £7bn a year whereas coronary heart disease costs more than £11bn. The Health Service will eventually crumble under the burden of this government spending.

The Food Standards Agency has recently launched a £4m anti-salt campaign. The government is also spending £13m on free fruit for 4-6 year olds. However, the food industry spends over £500m a year enticing us to consume sugary, fatty, salty brands. We now know that persuasion does not work. It is time for regulation.

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Yesterday, John Reid, the health secretary, launched the government’s blue-print for disease prevention. This includes measures to deal with childhood obesity. Reid rejects the idea of compulsion and instead proposes voluntary action by the food industry.

School meals will in future be inspected by Ofsted and standards will be revised to reduce fat, salt and sugar and increase fruit and vegetable consumption. The government is also considering introducing nutrient-based standards” covering meals, vending machines and tuck shops.

Reid also announced provision of pedometers, so that children can measure their own walking. He will also put pressure on schools not to sell playing fields.

At the moment only 60% of schoolchildren get a minimum of two hours of PE and sport. Reid says the government hope to increase this to 85% by 2008.

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In 1947 Ancel Keys studied 283 businessmen in the Minneapolis area. He found that smoking, high blood pressure and cholesterol wre more apparent in men suffering heart attacks.

In 1958 Keys published a report documenting the eating habits of 12,763 healthy middle-aged men living in Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Holland, Finland, Japan and the US. It found that heart attack rates corresponded to diet and exercise. Those living in Greece and Italy were healthier than those in the US and Finland. He concluded that Mediterranean meals of fruit, vegetables, bread, pasta, chicken, fish, olive oil and a little wine, were good for your health.

Keys actually lived his life based on his research. He moved to Italy where he followed a Mediterranean diet. He also spent a great deal of time walking and swimming.

Ancel Keys died a couple of weeks ago. He was a 100 years old. His wife, who also followed this diet and exercise plan, is still going strong.

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Keys actually lived his life based on his research. He moved to Italy where he followed a Mediterranean diet. He also spent a great deal of time walking and swimming.

Ancel Keys died a couple of weeks ago. He was a 100 years old. His wife, who also followed this diet and exercise plan, is still going strong.

Just think how bored he must have been though :D

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Scotland has appointed a health tsar to oversee Hungry for Success, the Scottish executive’s £63.5m campaign to improve the quality of school meals, says the government in England needs to put pressure on food manufacturers to improve their products.

The Scots now dictate that oily fish should be served at least once a week and processed meat products only once a week; that brown bread should always be on offer; and that there should be two helpings of vegetables and two of fruit on every menu each day. There are product specifications for levels of sodium and fat in processed meat, fish and some other products such as pizza.

For example, schools in Scotland have been told to drop Turkey Twizzlers from school menus. Twizzlers have 21.2% fat when cooked, more than twice the 10% maximum recommended for processed meats under Scottish guidelines. Yet this processed meat appears on the menu in schools all over England. As Gillian Kynoch, the health tsar pointed out, if the UK government was willing to put pressure on the manufacturer of this food, Bernard Matthews, he would be forced to take it off the market (he has already promised to redesign Twizzlers in order to get it back on the menu in Scotland).

The same happened to McCain’s Smiley Faces. They were banned because they were too high in salt. They were reformulated very quickly and are now back on the menu.

The government of course take more care over the meals provided to those in prison. According to a recent survey the government spends 35p a head on each school meal and 60p on each prison meal.

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Scotland has appointed a health tsar to oversee Hungry for Success, the Scottish executive’s £63.5m campaign  to improve the quality of school meals, says the government in England needs to put pressure on food manufacturers to improve their products.

The Scots now dictate that oily fish should be served at least once a week and processed meat products only once a week; that brown bread should always be on offer; and that there should be two helpings of vegetables and two of fruit on every menu each day. There are product specifications for levels of sodium and fat in processed meat, fish and some other products such as pizza.

For example, schools in Scotland have been told to drop Turkey Twizzlers from school menus. Twizzlers have 21.2% fat when cooked, more than twice the 10% maximum recommended for processed meats under Scottish guidelines. Yet this processed meat appears on the menu in schools all over England. As Gillian Kynoch, the health tsar pointed out, if the UK government was willing to put pressure on the manufacturer of this food, Bernard Matthews, he would be forced to take it off the market (he has already promised to redesign Twizzlers in order to get it back on the menu in Scotland).

The same happened to McCain’s Smiley Faces. They were banned because they were too high in salt. They were reformulated very quickly and are now back on the menu.

The government of course take more care over the meals provided to those in prison.  According to a recent survey the government spends 35p a head on each school meal and 60p on each prison meal.

Surely in a free society it is better for schools to offer a selection of food which reflects the choices children will later be confronted with as adults.

Education should be about empowerment rather than nannying.

Schools should certainly "teach" about healthy eating. They should teach both about the importance of freedom of choice and also the consequences of eating unhealthily every day.

The problem I have with structuring choice in the way John seems to be proposing is that the recipients will either become totally reliant on Nanny and unable to make rational decisions for themselves, or revolt against such busy bodyism and fail to appreciate the validity of some of the message. They will also tend to vote with their feet and feed at a source where there are no healthy options. After all in a market economy children can always get their lunchtime fix of fat and salt from the local shop :)

Is John suggesting that the government should try to kill off the excessive prison population with fatty foods? There would perhaps be fewer prison riots if the incarcerated population were all bloaters... there may well be other advantages to such a policy - fewer cases of "going over the wall" (though 'through the wall' may become an issue), escape tunnels would have to be wider and would be more difficult to dig, bars on cells could also be wider making for real savings for the tax payer on metal to name but a few

:) .

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The food industry has claimed for some time that there is no link between fast food and obesity. They claim that the main cause of obesity is a lack of exercise and is not connected to the type of food people eat. They also deny that there is a link between fast food and type 2 diabetes, which is becoming an increasing problem in affluent nations.

Mark Pereira from the University of Minnesota and David Ludwig from the Children’s Hospital in Boston have studied the diets of 3,000 adults over a 15 year period. They discovered that those who went more than twice a week to fast food restaurants weighed an average of 4.5kg more than those who did not. They also had a twofold greater increase in insulin resistance making them more prone to developing diabetes.

Currently 30% of Americans are clinically obese. The condition is blamed for 300,000 deaths a year and costs $100bn (£51bn) in the US per year.

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