Are parents causing childhood obesity?

childhood obesity.jpgIt’s no secret that obesity is on the rise in the UK. The scare stories are always out there, and a walk around certain parts of Britain will paint the picture for us in no uncertain terms. We are told that fast food is to blame; that our reliance on TV and video gaming makes us fat, and that food marketing sells us the dream of highly-flavoured, high calorie processed meals and snacks. But is it really that simple?

Certainly the comparative wealth of the western world has created a situation in Britain where food is readily accessible to most of us. Competition on the high street has driven bars and restaurants to offer food at any time of the day or night. Profit-obsessed supermarkets work tirelessly to fill the nation’s bellies with the quickest snacks available at the lowest prices possible. And at the touch of a keyboard, high calorie food can be delivered to our sofas without even the energy required to fish a fiver out of a wallet. But I believe the reason for our increasing obesity statistics is much more complex than a simple availability of cheap, unhealthy foodstuffs.

So, childhood obesity: hands up if you blame the parents? According to an article in The Guardian this September, “the recent start of the new school year was greeted with reports of a dramatic rise in demand for extra-large uniforms for primary school pupils.” Apparently 22% of 4-5 year olds are now overweight. How do kids that young wind up overweight?? Well, a huge amount of factors are probably at play:

  • Many of today’s parents were raised in the 50’s and 60’s, when post-war, post-rationing nutrition insisted on clean plates, minimal wastage, and the preponderance of filling carbs. Lots of adults today find it impossible to listen to their hunger signals, and continue that legacy of plate-clearing with their own offspring.
  • Everyone has a car nowadays, and busy lifestyles make driving to school much more appealing than a pedestrian school-run. Add to that the fear of ‘stranger danger’ and you can see why parents keep their children in cars, indoors, in front of the TV rather than playing out on the streets.
  • Parents are working longer than ever before, have less time to cook, and eat as a family. Consequently children grow up without the skills – culinary or social – to appreciate the creation and consumption of food as a healthy part of family life.

Another contention has surfaced in the last few years too: several recent studies have highlighted the risk of obesity due to bottle feeding, and logically that feels like a sustainable argument. A mother’s driving urge is to nurture her child. As the mother of a child who could not feed, I can tell you there is nothing more distressing than not being capable of nourishing your baby. I have heard breastfeeding women fret about not knowing how much their child is drinking, and I have seen women meticulously note down every half ounce of milk consumed from a bottle. Experts claim that whilst the desire to empty the bottle satisfies the parent’s need to nurture, it comes at the risk of over-feeding the baby, creating a larger than necessary appetite, which will eventually see the child over-eating in later life.

How do you feel about obesity in Britain today? Is it all down to our westernised culture, or are parents to blame?

Mandy x

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