We Have A Responsibility To Feed Our Children Healthily!

“Child hunger and child obesity are really just two sides of the same coin. Both rob our children of the energy, the strength and the stamina they need to succeed in school and in life. And that, in turn, robs our country of so much of their promise.” Michelle Obama

We are living in a time where we just don’t have enough time. People are rushed. They’re over worked, over scheduled. Not enough resources. …But the thing that I want people to understand in this campaign is that families can make small manageable changes in their lives that can have pretty significant impacts.
Michelle Obama

A research, published in The Lancet medical journal, pulled together data from 31.5 million children and teenagers aged five to 19 who took part in more than 2,000 studies. It discovered that universally, the estimated number of obese children and teenagers had risen 10-fold in the previous four decades.

Between 1975 and 2016 the number of obese boys in the world increased from six million to 74 million, while a similar trend for girls exhibited a growth from five to 50 million. Girls in Ireland ranked 79th globally for obesity, while boys ranked 98th. Though obesity in adults is measured simply using Body Mass Index (BMI), identifying it in children is more complex. The study authors used a WHO statistical method that looks at levels of deviation from a “normal” average. Children become overweight and obese for a variety of reasons. The most common causes are genetic factors, lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns, or a combination of these factors.  

In most cases surplus weight is due to overeating and under-exercising. Children need extra calories to fuel their growth and development; if they have taken in the appropriate amount of calories, they should add pounds in proportion to their growth. But if they consume more calories than they’re burning off, the result will be unnecessary weight gain. Childhood obesity is almost always a result of a number of factors working together to increase risk.  These include:

Diet: Regular eating of high-calorie foods, such as takeout food, biscuits and other baked goods; fizzy minerals, sweets and crisps contribute to weight gain. Snacking is another large culprit. 

Absence of physical activity: Computers, mobile phone, tablets, television, and video games collaborate to keep children inside and inactive. This means they burn fewer calories and are more likely to put on weight. Worries about the safety of playing outside and a dependence on cars instead of walking does not help either. 

Environment: If a child opens up the fridge or kitchen cabinets and is greeted by bags of crisps, chocolate, etc., then that’s likely what they will eat. Equally, if you keep your fridge stocked instead with healthy and tasty cut-up fruits and veggies (berries, carrots, red pepper strips) low-fat yogurt and higher-fibre granola bars, then they will go for the healthier food (rather than eat nothing at all). 

Psychological factors: Like adults, some children may turn to food as a coping mechanism for dealing with problems, like stress, anxiety, or boredom.  Children struggling to cope with a divorce or a death in the family may eat more than usual as a result.

Genetics: Some children are born into a family where obesity already exists, they then may be genetically predisposed to the condition, particularly if high-calorie food is readily available and physical activity is not promoted.

A fat man is never so happy as when he is describing himself as “robust.
George Orwell

Socioeconomic factors:  Parents may lack the time, skill and resources necessary to purchase/prepare healthy foods as fast foods are becoming cheaper and more readily available. 

Medical conditions: Although not widespread, there are certain genetic diseases and hormonal disorders that can affect a child and cause obesity, such as hypothyroidism,Prader-Willi syndrome, cardiovascular disease insulin resistance, which is often a sign of impending diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders and even sone cancers such as colon, breast and endometrial.

The number of overweight or obese infants and young children (aged 0 to 5 years) increased from 32 million globally in 1990 to 41 million in 2016. The vast majority of overweight or obese children live in developing countries, where the rate of increase has been more than 30% higher than that of developed countries.

Without intervention, obese infants and young children will likely continue to be obese during childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

It is so important and fun to eat together as a family.

Murf relaxing after International Friday.

My favourite room in the house is the kitchen, it’s where we as a family can be imaginative, creative and share our experiences of the day or plan tomorrow. It’s the room where I have most of my memories. Some of my funniest ones are “International Friday” this is where each week one of us gets to choose the family meal. A lot of research goes into this and it does become competitive as we all try to out do each others meal. However you have to be mindful as we all have very different tastes so the dish must suit all. Tuesday is the day you have to present what you have chosen and detail the ingredients that must be purchased. When possible we will all go out to buy the ingredients, however this happens rarely! We all are involved in the cooking, including the dog who manages to lie in the middle of my very small kitchen and supervise whilst hoovering up anything that may end up on the floor.

There never seems to be arguments and we all pull together as a team each of us contributing and working in unity. I hope this creates lots of memories for my girls and maybe in years to come they may try it with their family. My big confession is I let them relax and do whatever they want after the meal thus let them off the clean up.

Family dinner is important. In todays world it would be so much easier to forget about this meal, we are juggling jobs, children and after-school activities to name a few. We are constantly on the move, thus feeling the need to eat on the run. At the turn of the last century dinner time was 90 minutes, now it is just over 10! Meal time is the only time when all family members are in one place together. Let’s face it some family members view dinner time as a burden and a chore at the end of the day.

In the last couple of decades the frequency of family dinners has dramatically declined by a whopping 33 percent. An American poll found that 62 percent of parents with children under 18 wish they had family dinners more often! The European Unions mission has set out to achieve universal access to affordable, balanced, healthy food to all through intersectoral policies of Health 2020.

Just because things have changed, does not mean the value of meals has weakened. Interestingly enough, according to research at Columbia University, children and teenagers who at least have a family meal three or more times a week are less likely to be overweight, more likely to eat healthy food, do better in school, less likely to engage in risk taking ie drugs, alcohol and sexual activity. They also tend to form better relationships with their parents.

“More frequent family dinners are related to fewer emotional and behavioural problems, greater emotional well-being, more trusting and helpful behaviours towards others and higher life satisfaction.” Journal of Adolescent Health, April 2012.

We are what we eat and it is imperative we start to take responsibility as parents. But it must be more than just in the home where we educate, schools must get on board, our governments, we need cultural change. As a rehabilitated smoker and one that enjoyed a packet a day to not smoking it is proof that when we all come together and promote the dangers of something we can create change. I am not advocating removing peoples freedom of choice but encouraging that we have the information to make the right choices for our family without bias marketing used by modern day food companies. Case in point Activia yogurt said it had “special bacterial ingredients.”

In 2050 we will need to feed two billion more people. Our choice of food we decide to eat is already becoming very important and these choices will have consequences for our planet. In short a diet based around meat and dairy will take a grater toll on the worlds resources then one that is centred on unrefined grains, nuts, fruit, and vegetables.

As today is Friday and my youngest chose the meal which is chilli con carne, which also happens to be one of her favourites! I always enjoy the girls handling onions as inevitably swimming goggles appear on my little ones face to avoid onion tears. Every time it makes me laugh but she does have the last laugh as the rest of us are suffering with tears streaming from our eyes, even the dog vacates the kitchen till it is safe to return!