Guest post: Treat culture - to blame for the obesity crisis?
Nutritionists have told parents to stop buying fizzy drinks and ban fruit juices at the dinner table in a bid to reduce childhood obesity. Here, Sarah Boseley - author of The Shape We're In - tackles the thorny issue of how we feed our kids. How can we ensure they eat healthily, without making an issue out of food?
Journalist and author of 'The Shape We're In'
Posted on: Thu 26-Jun-14 10:22:51
(116 comments )
We live in a treat culture, besieged by advertisers of sweets and chocolates, urging us to reward ourselves and our kids. Because we're worth it. Because it will make them happy. Because it is a kind of tangible proof that we love them. And because, our kids tell us, 'all our friends have this stuff and their parents are kinder than you.' There is massive emotional blackmail going on when it comes to food.
Even if you take a tough(ish) line on sweets, it is all but impossible to resist the pressure to allow snacks. Children do get hungry between meals, especially if they didn't eat a proper breakfast or lunch. I have a child who is a monster when she is hungry and sweetness itself once she has had something to eat. Breadsticks and apples work when they are small, but then the clamour for crisps and chips and cake begins. Do you give in or do you make an issue of food? Either course seems hazardous.
Usually the arguments catch us at a bad moment - typically at the local shops or the supermarket. They may be tired and fractious, or simply full of energy. We are plain tired. Are we prepared to wage war with the kids at the checkout? Or is it just not worth the grief?
No, it's not important enough for tears and tantrums - theirs or ours - but yes, it does matter. Among the many things I learned in the course of my research for this book is that our attitudes to food - not only what we give our children, but how we ourselves react and behave - crucially shape their future eating habits. But, I came to realise, these habits are really not entirely our fault. In fact, it's not even mostly our fault if our children are eating too much of the wrong foods and drinking too much sugar-laden pop. There is a massively rich and influential food and drink industry out there - and I include the supermarkets in that - which has spent decades persuading us it is normal to buy this stuff and that the convenience will allow us to live more fulfilled lives.
Children do get hungry between meals, especially if they didn't eat a proper breakfast or lunch. I have a child who is a monster when she is hungry and sweetness itself once she has had something to eat. Breadsticks and apples work when they are small, but then the clamour for crisps and chips and cake begins. Do you give in or do you make an issue of food? Either course seems hazardous.
But even well clued-up parents resistant to marketing can have a tough time trying to encourage their children to eat a healthy diet. The first problem is establishing what a healthy diet looks like, with competing claims that sugar is the cause of obesity rather than that old villain, saturated fat. As we now know, there is sugar in pasta sauce and in ketchup, and it is ladled into “low fat” yoghurts to improve the taste.
We used to think fruit juice and smoothies were undeniably healthy, but now it turns out that the concentrated juice contains excessive sugar. And while trans-fats are evil (and disappearing) and too much saturated fat in meat and butter is not recommended, olive oil and other mono- and polyunsaturated fats are positively good for you.
I think there are two main rules of thumb. Robert Lustig, the US paediatrician who is the most vocal opponent of sugar, says “Eat real food”. Other experts say similar things. Processed food is bad news. Vegetables, fruit (eaten whole!), nuts, pulses, fish and lean meat are all good. It does mean a return to cooking, but not the sort of labour-intensive dinner and dessert our grans used to serve up. There are quick and easy meals - bolognaise, grilled meat, fish fried in olive oil - which don’t take that much longer than heating up a ready meal out of a box. Nor are they always more expensive, as food campaigner and MN blogger Jack Monroe has shown.
Will the kids eat it? Ah. That's where the second, more difficult rule comes in. Our own attitude plays a part. They are influenced by what we eat and what they see us enjoy, particularly in the early years before the cultural influences and peer group pressure start. A parent who says “if you eat your dinner you can have some ice cream” is setting up a conviction in the child that dinner is not as nice as pudding. Psychologist Jane Ogden from Surrey University told me that there are three main influences on our developing appetite: our culture (chicken nuggets in the UK, fish and rice in Japan), our parents’ likes and dislikes (and later on, those of their mates) and association (chocolate mousse is preferable to fish).
They need to see that we enjoy eating green beans. In an ideal world, we’d all sit round the table together, eating the same thing, taking time over a meal and having enough to stay full until the next one. Yes, it's tough and maybe only fully doable at the weekend. But I think we're worth it.
By Sarah Boseley
The treat culture evolved through sugar being rare and expensive. No patronising government advice will change the attitude of a nation about a food which is both addictive and deeply culturally aspirational.
So make sugar a true treat again, by making it expensive and rare.
Very good article. Parents need to feed their children the same food as they eat, and avoid 'children's foods', which are usually processed rubbish, like fish fingers and chicken nuggets. And they need to do this from the earliest days of weaning.
It's such a good point about making dessert out to be the truly rewarding part of eating, and the main dinner is something to get out of the way first. Similarly insisting that a child finishes everything on their plate, rather than encouraging them to regulate their own appetites from the earliest days. So allowing them to feed themselves, and no praising for eating a certain type or amount of food.
There is new advice from the government today about how parents should be offering only water or milk to their children, no fizzy drinks or squash. I understand the article's point about advertising and peer pressure with school age children but for under 5s there is no excuse for giving sugar laden drinks.
My rather simplistic view of it is that it took centuries, possibly millennia of neuro physiological evolution to make us value sugar so highly. Our attitude to women took about the same amount of time to embed in our psyche and that was without the chemical aspect involved with effect of sugar. It took changes in the law and a lot of struggle to change that 'behaviour', and it will take the same for sugar and obesity.
You can't do this through worthy campaigns about attitudes and well meaning suggestions of jugs of water on tables, it will take a hefty sugar tax. That way the rich can get fat if they want to and the rest of us get to live longer and healthier lives, while saving taxpayers and NHS money.
Only when it costs £20.00 for a large bar of cadburys is this ever going to change.
Yes, sugar is bad for us. But it's actually too much carbohydrate in our whole daily diet that is causing obesity. Not only in our meals, but also in our snacks - and the fact that snacking is something that we expect to do.
If we ate less carbohydrate and more protein/fat we wouldn't be so hungry between meals, would snack less, and would assault our bodies with much less sugar.
And just to make it clear - the body treats carbohydrate in the same way as sugar, so it's not just 'obvious' sugar that we need to watch out for, but also sugar from bread/pasta/rice etc.
Agree BIWI, the constant topping up with carbs and sugar is crazy as well as detrimental to your health. I also don't understand why anybody would take their children to the supermarket - that's what Internet shopping is for.
I also hate a lot of the language about food that gets passed onto kids - this is naughty, aren't I bad for having cake etc.
'I also hate a lot of the language about food that gets passed onto kids - this is naughty, aren't I bad for having cake etc'
YES! I work in an office with all women and this is non-stop if anyone is passing round biscuits or chocolates or whatever- 'oh no, trying to be good', 'well I might be naughty and have one'. Such an unhealthy attitude.
The thing is it's also the WAY we eat. The Paul Mckenna way of eating says that we need to eat Slowly and consciously (not while we're on line etc.) really taste and chew our food. A cadburys bar then tastes VILE because it's got more sugar and fat in it than proper chocolate.
Proper chocolate is fine in moderation. I reckon a lot of obesity is down to driving and, being driven, everywhere and DCS staying in ' or not being allowed to go out to play' and playing computer games.
Of course it's best to drink water (filtered water is best ) less salty than a lot of mineral waters. Try telling the govt. to forgo the huge taxes it makes on all the shit fizzy, high sugar, chemically sweetened drinks.
i'm so tired of reading this stuff. the thing is my son isn't fat. apparently we have a 'childhood obesity' problem and all of us are meant to become neurotic and obsessed about what our children do and don't eat. but what if your child isn't fat, is very active, does eat enough healthy stuff etc - why should he not have biscuits or sweets? i was raised in the 70's where most of us ate tons of sugar, fizzy drinks and god awful freezer food yet virtually no one i know if fat or sitting around stuffing themselves on sweets endlessly and in fact most of us love our veg and real food despite it having been downplayed during our childhood as everyone aspired to the findus pancake type convenient/modern food thing.
my son, much as it was for me, helps himself to the biscuit tin and i have no qualms buying sweets every other day. he is a grazer and there is no way he could live from mealtime to mealtime (as defined by whoever decided we need three meals a day even though personally i'd be bloated and exhausted if i ate that often and some people would faint if they left it that long).
the key is in not obsessing about all this. if there are children who are obese deal with those parents and children. the more government advice and pseudo science (usually paid for by the food industry) that comes out the more people are going to start saying what a load of nonsense and going back to just feeding their kids what works for them and not getting their knickers in a twist about biscuits.
children eat lots and have a very sweet tooth - they also have tiny bellies and are extremely active and growing - they eat a lot of calories. my generation did and it didn't translate into obesity or a lifetime of poor diet. if anything has changed it isn't sugar but the additives and things like trans fats and the use of high glucose syrups and such in things and those are matters to take up with the food industry not to pretend parents should control rather than just hold food profiteers to high standards.
i've just read some comments. this whole nation seems to meet the criteria for an eating disorder with a side helping of ocd these days. we've gone completely mental about food and diet.
isn't the main difference between our childhood in the 70s and today in that we ran out the door after breakfast played all morning ran back in for lunch, ate left came back for dinner.
And watching my son two children playing any game is far more active than 1 child and a parent.
but sarcy - do you eat like your parents? the op is saying it's a fundamental influence but the reality is i don't know anyone of my generation who eats like their parents ate. so are we all anomalies?
yes we were maybe a bit more active but i should think the main difference was yes we ate lots of fat and lots of sugar but it was fat and sugar rather than cheap industry modified adulterations of those things which are about more than just calories i should think but about the effect on the body.
though to be honest i'm not even convinced our children as a population have an obesity problem - some children/families yes but then address those.
really we need to see the full demographics of who these obese children are in order to draw any conclusions otherwise it's like any old undifferentiated stat that draws broad population conclusions rather than properly address individual conditions such as socio-economic factors or geographic location. are these urban? rural? rich? poor? male? female? etc children? are there patterns in their lifestyles or access to certain things? are they people with access to decent food or stuck shopping from a corner convenience store? there are so many factors yet we never get a proper breakdown just another 'our kids are fat' headline grabber.
I beg to differ. I say, "You can have ice cream if you eat your dinner. This because your dinner is much healthier than ice cream and if you can't finish your dinner then you're not hungry enough to move on." It's not about it being nicer, or a treat for eating their food, just the next thing if you have space for it. If you don't have space that's ok as it's not adding to your nutritional needs anyway. (They know that too). So why even have ice cream in the house? Well, I think it means they won't get totally obsessed over it when they go to friends' houses or parties. Also it is enjoyable. It tastes nice, but no, it's not hugely healthy so it's ok to have it sometimes but you don't NEED it like you need protein, fibre, vitamins.
I am not obese at all and my kids are positively slim. We only have water on the table. But if we go out I let them have a fizzy drink as part of the experience of eating out. For me it's more about teaching them what's healthy and that things which aren't healthy but taste nice, are ok to have sometimes. No one is going to persuade them that ice cream tastes horrible!
there is no way on earth any poor child is going to get away with not knowing what has been decreed 'healthy' or 'unhealthy'. even 4yos are sledgehammered with it. the words are so overused they're beginning to sound like nonsense.
Honeybadger, I agree with everything you've said. As my Ds2 would say, "They're assessed with it!"
Yes, we do have a broad definition of healthy. My basic definition is that if it doesn't have a load of additives, it's fairly healthy. Home made cake is definitely healthy .
Very interesting article. Sugar and snacking are far from being the sole cause of the obesity crisis, but they are a significant factor. We have developed a mindless grazing culture in the UK; we don't savour or linger over our food as e.g. Mediterranean countries tend to do, but rather treat it either as a simple fuel or something that has an entire moral code of its own (the whole naughty/nice scenario).
We somehow need to put an end to the sugar=treat mentality. I think this needs to start in childhood, by eschewing the idea of 'kids' food' and insisting on proper meals rather than snacks. As ppeatfruit has already said, it's not just about what we eat, but how we eat it - basic things like teaching children to sit down to eat rather than snacking on the hoof and really thinking about how our food tastes. Having worked in schools, and seen the 'quick turnaround' culture of the school dining hall, however, I suspect that this may be something of a challenge!
Also, we need to work on our entire definition of a 'treat'. Somehow this has changed since my own childhood from 'something that is only eaten very occasionally' to 'something we eat all the time but really shouldn't'. As a teacher, I also see a lot of food-related bribery going on - things like rewarding good behaviour with chocolate. This may mean that sugar comes to be equated with feelings of self-worth.
As someone who doesn't have a sweet tooth and whose own parents were sensible and enlightened about food I'm continually shocked by the number of sugary 'treats' that are consumed daily by my colleagues. First people brought in cakes/chocolates for their birthday, then this became normalised so that some kind of sugar/carb-laden treat now appears in the staff room every day. Normally the cake or tin of Quality Street will have been polished off by the end of the mid-morning break - I still find this amazing as I grew up with the idea that chocolate was to be eaten in moderation, in the evening and at weekends!
It doesn't tell the whole story, though - all of this needs to be looked at alongside exercise levels and other lifestyle issues.
see i'm sure it used to be as simple as 'toxic v non-toxic'. now they're allowed to put toxic crap in food we have to have new labels called healthy v unhealthy. why not just go back to not being force fed toxic crap?
I was raised on irnbru and crispy pancakes, but not much of them. Portion sizes were smaller in my day. Every time I go home I'm struck by how small the glasses and cups are. I've been known to make 2 simultaneous cups of coffee after a night at my Mum's because her cups are too small. If you have an old lady living nearby, peer into their glass cupboard and be amazed.
iron bru was probably made with sugar rather than glucose-fructose syrup (cheaper and sweeter and disastrous for health) in those days.
agree on smaller wine glasses but my aunt had sherry glasses a giant would have been proud of.
Merry I totally agree. I have known parents who go out of their way to avoid using dessert as a reward - result: child only wants to eat dessert because they don't understand that you need to eat real food too, and obviously it tastes better! I don't use a treat at the end of a meal as a bribe, but if my dcs don't eat proper food first, they are not allowed to simply fill up on pudding. I'm talking usually fruit or yogurt, not haribo!
Having said that - obesity is not the only problem with excessive sugar but also diabetes which is on the rise.
I was rather taken aback by the BBC headline about parents being urged to 'add less sugar'! The main source of sugar in all our diets is the hidden sugar added by manufacturers in even apparently 'savoury' food. My two have always had water with meals and no fizzy sugar water at all (they never liked it when they had it at friends' houses either). My mother was a nurse and health visitor and when she read Prof Yudkin's book in the 1970s she took immediate action! She banned us from adding sugar to our tea - in fact to anything except 1/2 tsp on our Cornflakes. We soon got used to it. She never bought us sweets either. I have naturally done the same with my two - both are v slim. As for nagging that is simply not tolerated and they have never done it - as I recall I simply stated without even looking at them that if they mentioned it again then X sanction would occur. Always I would listen to an argument (a case) though and they were often very inventive and amusing. Once we were coming home, desperately hot, from an air show and my 8 yr old DS suggested that we stop at MacDonalds because it had air-conditioning...This did give pause for thought and we stopped at Safeway and went to their cafe which also had AC!
My BIL's dad is a GP. They were rampant on sugar in their house. He is totally 'assessed' with it (though he IS slim and healthy). Dsis cannot have biscuits or chocolate in the house as he will eat it ALL in one go. No such thing as a couple of biscuits. He also has massive dessert portions whenever there is dessert as he LOOOOVES it.
I'm so so tired of anyone putting the blame for obesity on food, sugar, the whole industry. It's a personal choice whether to overindulge in food or not, or to over indulge your children or not. Blogs like this, articles on this take away the personal responsibility issue. Best we teach our children to eat fresh at mealtimes and snack responsibly between meals (fruit, cheese, or a couple of biscuits not the whole pack) than blame others. I'm all for the food industry changing but this household is full fat, fresh foods and lots of exercise and we are not obese even with biscuits and crisps in the cupboards. Yes, I want to loose 6lbs, but its only a few pounds, not stones.
cdwales MY dm read the same book as yours but she didn't BAN anything because she thought that would lead to us obsessing with sugary stuff (like a friend of ours who nicked sweets in our house that we didn't bother with because they were there). Did you not go overboard for sweets when you were away from yr. Mum?
I think, if nutritionists are going to try to cut obesity by singling out sugar, they need to talk to the leisure industry too. Particularly the kid friendly restaurants. Our DS doesn't like chocolate, ice cream, cream or juices (only drinks water). His choice, we've never imposed anything on him - to be honest in our household it's me and DH who devour chocolate so we could hardly ban him!
But, if we go out for a family meal I always check the menu on line for the kids. I don't have a major problem with chicken nuggets when we are out. He doesn't get them at home so I don't see an issue. What we have a problem with is the dessert choices and drinks options. Rarely do they offer a bottle of water - we always get tap water for him of course but we pay for a set menu which includes every sticky, vibrant colour drink imaginable but not usually water.
We went to one restaurant recently for a family birthday celebration. The kids choices of dessert? Ice cream with sticky sauce, ice cream with a milky way in it, or ... ice cream plain and simple. No fruit, no yoghurt. Luckily I had brought a banana with me as I had checked out the menu before we arrived so he had that.
Places like Beefeater and, dare I say it, McDonalds, seem to cater for kids who don't want ice cream by offering a fruit bag or fruit salad. They also offer a bottle of water in the set price for the meal. Beefeater even have a selection of yoghurts. I can't understand how the other places get away with it. If you're weaning your kids off sugar and take them out for a meal you'll be undoing all your hard work at the moment.
The place that really made my jaw drop was the hotel at Chessington World of Adventure. We took DS there a couple of years ago as a birthday treat and stayed overnight. The kids dessert menu was ice cream, chocolate mousse, donuts (which they had run out of so DS was out of luck). I asked the waitress why they didn't offer fruit. Because it goes off quickly she said. But, I said, you offer a fruit salad with breakfast and you're on the same site as a zoo so surely the fruit would get used up. Never got an answer that didn't consist of er, um, well you know and Chessington never answered my email...since then I always check the menu and bring my own dessert - if a restaurant has a problem with that I tell them they need to offer a better option than ice cream or chocolate.
We all know nowadays the basics of what is healthy and what is not - but what is hardest to get a handle on is what is healthy for one person might not be healthy for another. I have two children both who eat all the same healthy, non-processed foods and exercise the same amount. One is verging on skeletal and the other is verging on overweight. In my opinion, one should be eating more carbs, the other less. Their bodies actually need different things. But how do you go about actually serving them different meals? I don't want either of them to be worried about it (even if I do)...
My dds eat sugar, sweets, biscuits but they are out every minute they are not at school. Eldest is 6 and other than checking shes ok I never see her shes in the park and running around, playing hula hoop, skipping etc.
ceeb You've hit the nail on the head there I follow my blood type Way of eating and it's fascinating because it explains why some people do well on the Atkins and others don't.
We are all different, I'm an A type and do well with some fish but very little white meat . DH is an O type and he can eat meat (all except pork) which is toxic for everyone.
Anyone who stops eating sugar for two weeks will find they don't actually want it and will start to appreciate naturally sweet foods.
Sugar is addictive and should be treated like any other addictive substance. It should have a hefty tax charged on it so that we do only use it as a treat. If a Mars bar. Costs £5 you're just not going to buy them and wean yourself off sugar.
White flour carbs aren't in the same league as sugar because the contain protein and you'd have to eat an awful lot to get the equivalent that's in the sugar in two biscuits.
Humans only ate naturally occurring sugar for hours ands of years, generally only in summer. It was very special stuff. We need to get back to the point where it is a rare occasion to eat sugar, a celebration, not a daily hit. Unless you're very rich of course.
The problem with not eating ANY is that you can't eat 'normal' shop bought food because it's packed with sugar.Although in the USA it's much worse (or it was) have you read any American recipes for cakes or pumpkin pies? they are quite amazing.
I reckon it's their influence that has pushed the manufacturers, (Mcdiabetic anyone?) into plugging the high sugar, high fructose corn syrup produce it's cheap and addictive they can't loose
Normal shp bought food won't be packed with sugar if sugar costs £10 a kilo.
Let's add aspartame etc. to that as well. IMO the chemical sweeteners are worse than sugar unreal
I think its got something to do with it however the other major factor is too many kids spend too much time indoors playing xbox, minecraft, playstation, ipad, ipod or making fecking loom bands. I had a diet fgar from perfect according to these nutritionists but I was booted out at half 8 in the morning to go and play and I wasn't allowed in unless I needed the loo or it was lunchtime.
My kids are the same, I dont allow them to play in the house while its nice and light after school or holidays and weekends. They go out and play with their friends in the street, hide and seek, rounders, bikes, scooters, chasing each other, all the kids round here do and I can only think of one little boy who is on the larger side.
Add aspartame to that too, good idea.
Xcountry, my dd was the same, always out but thats stopped this year as she's older and she's gone up a size very quickly. It's quite scary.
Message withdrawn at poster's request.
I definitely disagree with ALL these statements:
Do you give in or do you make an issue of food? Either course seems hazardous.
yes, it does matter.
it's not even mostly our fault if our children are eating too much of the wrong foods and drinking too much sugar-laden pop.
We used to think fruit juice and smoothies were undeniably healthy,
now it turns out that the concentrated juice contains excessive sugar.
trans-fats are evil
the sort of labour-intensive dinner and dessert our grans used to serve up. (mine didn't, why assume things about them??!!)
A parent who says “if you eat your dinner you can have some ice cream” is setting up a conviction in the child that dinner is not as nice as pudding.
Probably disagree with these statements:
“We live in a treat culture, besieged by advertisers of sweets and chocolates, urging us to reward ourselves and our kids.
There is massive emotional blackmail going on when it comes to food.
Even if you take a tough(ish) line on sweets, it is all but impossible to resist the pressure to allow snacks.
our attitudes to food - not only what we give our children, but how we ourselves react and behave - crucially shape their future eating habits.
Money shapes our eating habits more effectively. If sugar cost £10 a kilo, we wouldn't be eating so much of it.
If there is just a concern for weight problems I am convinced that a lot of these are caused by not enough exercise. My DS is 7 walks home from school with me every day and it is almost 2 miles. He was skinny before but he eats a lot of snacks and that does include chocolate, crisps. He is a nightmare without snacks- very moody and rude. When I'm organised he gets healthy snacks but sometimes it is slightly sugary stuff. I try to limit this not because of his weight but because of his health in the long run.
My Dad was talking to me about how rare it was to see overweight children when he was growing up in the 50's-60's and they did have puddings every night so what are the differentiating factors? Exercise is one if them but there is also research suggesting a link between the increased use of antibiotics in infants. The use of antibiotics in very young babies alters the composition of bacteria in the body and this in turn causes diseases like obesity and asthma, both of which have seen a dramatic increase in children afflicted with these health problems.
The trouble is, we're so used - now - to snacking that we think it's normal.
"my son, much as it was for me, helps himself to the biscuit tin and i have no qualms buying sweets every other day. he is a grazer and there is no way he could live from mealtime to mealtime (as defined by whoever decided we need three meals a day even though personally i'd be bloated and exhausted if i ate that often and some people would faint if they left it that long)."
If someone can't live from mealtime to mealtime without being bloated, exhausted or fainting is eating way, way too much sugar. Usually in the form of carbohydrate. And the problem is, that people like TheHoneyBadger will think that they're eating healthy snacks, because they will be serving fruit, or breadsticks.
no you've misread that totally BIWI - i said i couldn't eat AS MUCH as three times a day without feeling bloated and stuffed. i don't feel the need to eat until pretty late in the day. i also know people who have found their body runs better on frequent small meals of complex carbs and protein - not a ton of sugar as you seem to assume. and where the fuck do you get people like me think they're eating healthy snacks on fruit or breadsticks?? i don't eat fruit personally or at least extremely rarely.
lost as to how your comments are anything to do with me bar a weird set of assumptions.
the main person who comes to mind as little and often eater is actually obsessed with not eating sugar, processed foods and is into his paleo eating and gets literally everything organic due to a history with cfs actually.
like honeybadger I don't worry too much about what my children do and don't eat - but they do have relatively non-sugary breakfast, no sweet things at school/nursery, and a home-cooked meal at home each day (often with dessert - the kinds of things I used to have, jelly, custard, but often fruit or yogurt). But they also have biscuits, cake (often homemade), but very few sweets and no juice/fizzy drinks. They both run around a lot, and are a healthy weight. We let them self-regulate, encourage them to eat fruit/veg, don't let them have dessert if they haven't eaten dinner.
But what I wanted to say is that unpopular as it may be to say this, but obesity in children is a class issue - the reasons aren't clear to me (food poverty, bad habits, lack of access to shops, etc?). I live in a deprived area (not in UK, but close) and I see a lot of overweight children and adults; my children's school is very middle class - 400+ kids and barely any of them are anything other than a healthy weight. These are broad brush strokes - I'm not saying that all middle class kids are fine, nor that no working class kids are a healthy weight. But it is striking to me, and we are failing everyone if we can't think seriously about the causes and come up with solutions.
at the minute my son likes those little mini shredded wheat type things that look like cardboard for breakfast (dry). despite his taste for sweets and biscuits he doesn't look for sugar in other foods and prefers really plain simple foods - for example loves pasta, doesn't like sauce with it or anything on it but to have say a handful of prawns and some crispy veg with it on the side. there seem to be assumptions that kids who eat sweets will want and get sugary everything. it doesn't hold true here at least.
for those worrying about carbs for breakfast he moves on next to wanting a small protein fix - maybe some cheese or egg. just to beat you to the sugar of carbs malarchy.
Absolutely rhetorician, as I said, charge a tenner for a kilo of sugar and the poor will be less overweight. They won't even miss it, as it becomes slightly unpalatable once you have stopped taking it.
All this pissing about with jugs of water, x a day and 60 minutes of exercise is really getting on my nerves now. How can you do 60 minutes of exercise if you're 5 stone overweight, haven't got a table to stand your jug on, and can't afford the ridiculous prices charged for fresh veg?
They've been calling it the white death as long as I can remember.
It's all about the money as the song goes. Meanwhile the NHS has been starved paying for the huge costs of care for the nations damaged bodies.
Treat culture is not to blame for the obesity crisis - a treat should be a treat, thus rare and not very large in quantity.
The problem is 1) the snacking culture. It always surprised me to see the parents allowing unfettered access to food to their infants. Do toddlers really need to be shoving rice cakes and juice in their gobs every half and hour? "But is is HEALTHY". No, it is creating the habit of needlessly munching on garbage (sorry, rice cakes are disgusting and the sweet versions are the worst!). Also, the amount of juice/squash given was surprising. But it is a FRUIT smoothie! Well, yes - an you are mainlining sugar into your child.
Secondly, treats being treats is fine - the attitude of "I deserve this" or "I'm going to have this because I feel like it" are not fine. T
hirdly, the demonisation of foods into good and bad is counterproductive, dangerous, and just plain wrong. We have lost sight of what food should be.
Fourth, the number of people who don't/won't cook and rely on packaged foods or partially packaged foods is alarming. The further you go away from the initial state of the food item, the greater the chance that that food had been adulterated in some fashion. Bread is not the Devil's Lure. Bread as it is made traditionally is just water, flour, salt. Full stop. This is the way I make bread and which artisanal bakers make theirs. Have you seen the ingredient list of plastic packaged bread? Tomato sauce is just olive oil, salt, tomatoes, and maybe some aromatics and herbs. Not so for those in jars! People complain that they do he not time to cook.
Demonizing single ingredients or food groups is simplistic, lazy and just wrong.
Snacking isn't really a huge problem, humans are hunter gatherers, it fits with our genetic evolution. Most tomato sauces only have extra thickener, overall it does you a lot more good than harm. Rice cakes are as good as any other snack, sure the flavours and added sugar aren't great, but tiny amounts won't damage you.
The constant redefining of foods is wrong because it detracts from the main issue, that sugar should be made hugely expensive.
The food industry love sugar, it is their magic ingredient. Without it we would all be eating sensibly and wouldn't be constantly craving for that treat.
Every article blaming people for unhealthy eating is simply a convenient distraction for the food industry and enables them to continue to keep us hooked on this drug.
I see a lot of overweight kids where I live and I do wonder what they are eating. I know some of it can be genetic. But my kids have full fat Greek yoghurt for breakfast with Granola (very, very high cal and fat), dessert in school and dessert at home at least 4x per week, plus 2 main dinners plus fruit snack in school and biscuit/ cake/ popcorn/ fruit after school. They are like sticks. They are fairly active but not massively (they are tired after school and tend to play games or watch TV not play football or go on trampoline). I am constantly trying to get weight on ds1. But I do home cook all my meals apart from fish fingers and chips. And I do buy the bread from bakery section which is sliced but not in the plastic wrap, and it doesn't last as long as the other bread so I assume there is less tat in it. Maybe it is something to do with processed food.
Interested in this mominatrix the demonisation of foods into good and bad is counterproductive, dangerous, and just plain wrong. We have lost sight of what food should be. Can you elaborate?
I do see a change in snacking behaviour in small kids. I see 4 and 5 year olds eating snacks during hour long sporting activities when told to get a water break- which come to think of it is usually juice or squash.
At my local primary the kids have chocolate and crisps during their 15 minute morning break. It was very rare for anyone to take a snack in when I was at school. I thought school trips were ace as I had crisps and a can of Lilt! Once a year... I sound a little bitter!
It would be interesting to check the amount of sugar and SALT used by the fast\junk food sellers. IMO and E it's difficult separate the two because our bodies crave them E.G. a sweet cake after a pack of salty crisps.
Thinking about it when dcs were young and I would meet other Mums I would never take anything with me, it would be two hours or so. They were far more into healthy foods than me, I just did it because I thought they knew better. We do drip feed them nowadays. It stops at school thankfully.
Omitted to say that my healthy friends would always be the ones with snacks.
The general advice for adults the last 20 years was not to miss breakfast then healthy snacking and frequent small meals to avoid blood sugar dips. I think we are in the middle of a big turnaround in the evidence and subsequent official advice. Smaller kids will always have smaller more frequent eating patterns but maybe the automatic thrusting of (healthy) snacks at them will get reined in.
Adviceplease, your local school is missing a trick with OFSTED. It's so easy to get a healthy eating rating. I don't know of any schools where you are allowed to bring a snack, let alone chocolate. We are not allowed choc or crisps or anything except water in packed lunch either. At our infants, the school provide fruit and milk which they stop by Y3.
When I say nothing except water, I mean no other drinks! Water only would certainly be a low fat/ low cal/ low carb lunch!
Desert was ALWAYS after you had eaten your main, but the obesity epidemic has only happened in the past 2 generations. I think it it silly to say you can train a child to not realise that desert is a treat.
Agree about snacks. Kids don't need them. I love seeing parents fret that their children"don't eat a thing" while managing to forget they've just demolished a bag of cheesey crackers, grapes, raisins, and a biscuit.
They are stuffed, that's why they've not eaten their lunch!
seriously look at what has been added to food in the last two generations. and look where the obesity issue started and the timeline there with the addition of these ingredients (for want of a better word) to food.
i disagree 'kids don't need snacks' - maybe some don't. they're not a generic blob but individuals with different metabolisms.
if a child is only eating healthy food i'd love to see them get their calorific needs in 3 meals only. unless these are children who don't expend as much energy as my son does the meals would have to be way beyond what his small stomach could take in one go.
TheHoney Exactly. I can't eat enough at a meal to only eat 3 meals a day let alone children! I do follow the Paul Mckenna way of eating though. I eat when I'm hungry; I'm not fat now !
whereas i couldn't eat three meals a day as i'd still be trying to digest the last one and would end up bloated and wanting to go to bed. i don't know why we pretend one thing suits all.
i'm actually beginning to think this is some kind of deliberately induced neurosis to distract people, and channel their anxiety, away from things that actually matter and are worth this much energy and concern.
I'd like to also mention the skinny past kids you see these days whose parents insist they are healthy. You get skinny healthy kids who have chubby faces but you do get the ones that are really ill looking. In every case I know their parents are in complete denial about their children's health.
So what Honey says about nutrition advice leading to neurosis is right. Charge much more for sugar and these children will hopefully benefit too from a less deterministic approach to the nations obesity, because obesity won't be a problem and foods will be forbidden because they are expensive, not unhealthy. When the parents of unhealthy skinny children are refusing them full fat milk, bacon, Chips and creamy puddings there is a big problem.
i have seen people be immensely proud that their unhealthily thin children aren't allowed snacks and only eat at mealtimes and eat everything that's put in front of them. err that's because they're starving! literally!
We are so obsessed with carbs, protein, fat, sugar... It's just food. Eat food, mostly plants!
And I think there will come a time when this isn't a problem because we will be facing a real food crisis, which is a national security crisis we seem quite happy to walk into. Average age of a UK farmer is over 55!
My kids snack, but I'd say they eat about 5 small meals a day, I.e. Their dinners aren't that much bigger than their snacks. If they don't eat, I don't worry. They have a snack at school around 10 (but start early so breakfast is done usually by 7.30 in our house) and lunch at about 12.10. Dd has something small (often leftover lunch) when she gets home, dinner at about 6, fruit or crackers before bed
Fruit OR crackers isn't a small meal rhetorician.
Dentists wouldn't like your system unless they rinse their mouths out after each snack.
Honey I don't think people count calories for their childrens food which is a problem, quite often they're just not getting the calories. They need a lot more than most people think. At a time when their bones are growing adults should be a little less obsessed. Obesity in adults is what costs money and lives and that's just down to cheap filler food, particularly sugar.
Pardon `unreal an apple "isn't a small meal" you mean it's a snack yes?
Oh and my dm has taken fruit to eat in bed for many years . She still has all her own teeth and is 85. The dentists are happy with her!
The fruit/crackers before bed is sort of an extension of dinner! Yes, teeth! They brush twice a day, but don't eat very much processed sugar/sweets/juice/fizzy drinks. Dd1's teeth are good, but it is something to watch. But we are perhaps getting off track, it's not really about what my kids eat or don't eat. I think the point I was making is at to I am conscious of what they eat, keen to ensure it is mostly healthy, whilst admitting that it isn't perfect. Equally I don't want them to be over conscious of what they eat, but they both know what foods are good for them and which are not. I want them to enjoy food, know how to cook food, but not be in thrall to it, either through emotional eating or because of weight issues
Interesting post and discussion
For me, the constant requests aren't really an issue, I no longer generally have biscuits etc in the house. When we are out we eat anything, they have fizzy drinks in restaurants etc, as others have said I think if they eat healthily most of the time then there's no need to be too obsessed with what they have. If we are in a shop and they want something, they accept it if I say no.
I like them to have a bit of awareness about healthy eating, I don't think there's anything wrong with saying, for example, no we aren't having xxx as we had some recently and we don't have it that often because it's not so good for you.
They are learning to notice the effects of certain foods on their body though. For example DD had fizzy drinks two days in a row this week - dinner out on her birthday so she was allowed Pepsi, and we dug out the barely-used (free gift) soda stream when we had people round for cake. Both evenings she had a really sore tummy at bedtime and she agreed it may be the fizz as she's not used to so much at once. I've said she can always have some if she wants to in restaurants etc but it would be good to only have a little bit.
I also agree exercise is a big part of it, too many children are driven everywhere if DCs' friends are anything to go by. Easy for me to be smug about that though since we don't actually have a car
MerryMarigold we are not in England so no Ofsted!
We moan about the packed lunch police over here, but maybe it is a good thing. I can see that if some kids were bringing chocolate everyday, dc would be wanting it too and it makes it harder. Sometimes the rules are there for a good reason. Where are you, advice, and are many kids obese?
Scotland. And yes! Though I have to say not too bad (relatively) in our school. It's more obvious that there are more overweight kids than there used to be at High School age, maybe as activity levels drop off?
or depression, boredom and comfort eating kicks in. we always talk about obesity as if it was just about food rather than looking at what makes individuals overeat.
There are as many reasons for over eating as there are people.TheHoneybadger
But a lot of us seem to crave highly salted and highly sweetened junk\fast 'empty' foods IMO and E.
Honeybadger it's a lot harder to Overeat without sugar as an ingredient.
Filling up on chips doesn't take too much, but wash it down with coke and you double the calories. Mars bars aren't that big and you could have a days calorie allowance at one sitting.
Sugar makes a huge difference.
Yes, sugar is at the root of it and processed foods. We simply don't have any foods like that in the house so no one has them unless they can be bothered to take themselves out to a shop to buy them. I have teenagers so we have lots of interesting discussions about foods and different views on foods. I am lucky they eat well.
I eat 100% paleo myself anyway and just drink water.
Most posters on here are fully aware of good dietary habits but we tend to have an attitude of 'if I can do it why can't everyone else?'.
The treat culture is deeply ingrained in our genetic evolutionary psyche (my term for it). We are programmed to want to eat sugar. When it's in almost everything we eat it wreaks havoc on our appetite and we forget what we want or need.
Your taxes are paying for the healthcare of those people who have been duped by the sugar industry and are eating themselves into an early grave. Telling them to stop with dietary advice from on high is pointless. We need to price it so high that people just can't afford to buy it. Putting 20p on a bottle is pissing in the wind.
Well, I think the last paragraph is sad - that sitting round the table, eating together is only doable at weekends? How do her children eat in the week?
I've sat down and eaten dinner with my 3 children every night all their lives - food cooked from the raw ingredients!
IMO the govts. are hypocritical with their 'advice' ; they don't help by making all fresh foods cheaper. Just putting up prices of rubbish will only make a lot of people poorer. They are the same with alcohol and packaging it's crazy actually.
would you like a badge tempe48 or will the warm glow of smugness be enough?
the only regular source of sugar i get is in alcohol and this thread has caused me to pause and wonder if it's the sugar as much as the alcohol that sometimes makes me want to have a drink.
i actually think it is because when that hanker for a drink particular feeling comes upon me it's beer that i fancy rather than something with less or no sugar. i crave a fizzy beer. god that's food for thought. given beer is about the only sugar filled thing i consume it would make sense that a craving for sugar would translate as a craving for a beer i guess. hmm.
Well both sugar and alcohol are addictive as I'm sure you know The HoneyBadger
Indeed - they work on th ebit of the brain crack cocaine works on and you start with needing a little hit and then more and more of it. Some people don't have that brain chemistry. One of my sons can get an Easter egg and eat a tiny piece a day over 6 weeks. Most people are unlike him and stuff it all down and for some of us it is better not to have any of that kind of food at all just like you don't give alcoholics a little bit of alcohol.
for sure ppeat but it is interesting to realise that what you assume is hankering after one may actually be the other. i am not a daytime eater so when i get an out of nowhere craving for a drink in the late afternoon it could actually be that my body/brain has learnt that's where it can get quick sugar from
oh and jane my sister was the one piece a day and torture everyone else with her ability to make easter eggs last months. she is now clinically obese and has absolutely no self restraint so clearly that chemistry is plastic like most of our neural functioning.
That's interesting about your son Jane, I used to be the same as a child but it was partly because we didn't have much sugar at home so I valued it more than I craved it. At 14 things turned upside down, and I think changes in the teenage brain don't help, that's exactly when we are looking for stimuli and exactly when we are all let out of school for lunch to the nearest sweet shop.
I disagree that people are being smug, it just highlights that government advice simply winds everyone up, not just those who can't afford fresh veg or those who have no willpower.
Consider the smoking ban. Years of government advice and tweaking advertising. Decades in fact, meanwhile we all got sicker. Then the smoking ban comes in (fairly quickly, unfairly in Scotland first) and now nobody peeps about it. We need rules from on high, not just kindly advice.
I'm not sure whether health risks from smoking are higher than those from sugar, but over the years it may cost the NHS far more. diabetics live on for decades on medications.
Honeybadger you don't eat all day then crave for a drink? That really doesn't sound healthy at all.
not every day unreal! honest. no, it's more i've noticed say i'm having a really busy active day and haven't eaten, i am likely to crave having a beer which this discussion has made me realise is probably to do with the sugar and given i don't really eat anything with sugar added on a regular basis beer is possibly what my body associates with a sugar fix. i may experiment and see the next time it happens if a sugary alcohol free drink sates it the same - then i will know it's about sugar.
Interesting about the people who don't (or didn't) crave sugar;dh never even liked sugary carby food in his slim 20s but now he's hooked on it, and a pre type 2 diabetic, I reckon it's just the eating of it that does it! we're all different in our reactions to it as well.
I don't have refined sugar but I cook with molasses and maple syrup occasionally and find I want a bit of the brownie (or whatever) every day so even the BEST unrefined sweeteners have that inherent in them. it's like coffee.
ppeatfruit. You also crave sugar for energy, so tiredness and small kids could have done it for your dh too. Anecdotally, I also crave sugar less when I am exercising more, like my body just doesn't want stuff that's bad for it. It's odd.
Honey, however busy you are, you can surely manage breakfast and lunch or a couple of snacks. If not, you are far too busy and will die of a heart attack, not induced by obesity but by stress! There's more to health than healthy eating.
I find I want to EAT less when I'm exercising more MerryMarigold whatever the food. That's the answer isn't it? It's not really the sugar causing the weight problems it's (as a lot of us have already said) lack of exercise!!
It's a bit more individual than that though I always have a much better appetite if I exercise. I look and feel better for the exercise but unless I was in an environment of restricted food I'd not lose weight.
But ppeatfruit, why do we want to eat less when exercising? In theory we should be hungrier. I think I eat about the same but whereas I may crave a carrot and houmous when exercising, if I am not I would crave a Twix!
I did a detox recently and the main thing it made me realise is how rarely I feel hungry. I mean, not wanting the sensation of taste in my mouth or 'craving', but tummy rumbling hunger. It was fantastic. I am now trying to eat when I am hungry as opposed to 'craving'. Lost a lot of weight this way. I agree - portion sizes get out of control. You only need to go to America to see that. 2 people can usually share 1 adult portion!
Of course if you tax refined sugar there may be a need to increase the cost of unrefined substitutes as well. The food industry would try and find a way round it.
Molasses mars bars might actually be quite nice.
Merry the fasting diets are good for getting the appetite back in check. My problem is fitting it around family meals without making my daughters get food issues.
It may be that I'm drinking more water merry? I follow the Paul Mckenna way of eating which among other things says to eat only when you're hungry and eat slowly (i think I said upthread) and I've lost 3 stone that had crept on also i'm maintaining, which is the most important thing . It is how our some of our dcs, and naturally slim people eat.
Drinking a herbal tea and or water when formerly I might have eaten really helps with the above way of eating.
I have a daughter and 2 sons. I told them it was a 'detox' and I was doing it to get a bit more healthy. I think it's much more damaging to go on about being fat, than to do 9 days of 'different' food. You still eat 1 meal per day (which can be with family) and then it's shakes, supplements and ridiculous amounts of water! Basically, I cut snacks. (only for 9 days!) I was very hungry though.
unreal molasses are delicious! dh is having them instead of his honey and jam fix. He has reflux and is feeling loads better now (also his type 2 diabetes is disappearing).
Paul mckenna is not about the actual food you eat (though he says to eat healthily). You 'd like it merry I'm never hungry on it !!
it's not busy-ness really it's just the way my body and appetite is and always has been. i've never been able to eat breakfast - i literally feel sick attempting it and i don't tend to feel any sense of hunger till late in the day. the busy bit was obviously on a very busy day i'm expending more energy than usual and theorising that that is where the beer craving comes from - my body being desperate for a quick hit of energy and the only thing it associatees that with given i don't often eat sweet stuff is beer.
incidentally when i do try to eat more frequently and regular meals i feel awfully sluggish and my digestion is miserable.
Sorry to go on but P.M. says "Only eat when you're hungry" And STOP when you're satisfied (so don't overeat). If, e.g. you ate fruit like that TheHoney maybe you'd feel less sluggish. between meals. I never eat big meals I can't !
sorry - just seen your reply. the thing is if i do force myself to eat in the day i become ravenous.
Honey now it really sounds like you're making excuses for drinking beer
Funny though I was always the same, couldn't do breakfast. Now I do as a habit, but am rarely hungry in the morning. But now I'm 3st overweight. BC I would eat as I pleased and was slim and fit.
Many overweight people are emotional eaters for whom eating relieves stress or anxiety.
Before I joined Mumsnet I read an article which highlighted the reality for many mothers who cannot afford to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. Many rely on foodbanks. Many go without food in order to feed their children. This article prompted me to join this site.
Where is the 'treat culture' here.
"Major survey reveals money worries put strain on mums' relationships with their loved ones
Eighty percent of mums on a low family income said they felt guilty about how they brought up their children, according to a major survey released today.
Some 42% said this was because they could not afford to pay for their children to take part in the same activities as their friends and 18% said it was because they did not have the money to allow their kids to keep up with the latest fashions and gadgets.
The survey also revealed that in the last year nearly two thirds of mums have struggled to cover the cost of their day-to-day living expenses and 80% of those with a low family income have had to make cut-backs.
This includes 54% who have had to cut back on buying their children new clothes and 16% having to cut back on buying fresh fruit and vegetables for their children.
This had led to 39% of mums having to rely on overdrafts and 36% having to borrow from friends and family to get by.
Nearly half of mums say money worries are affecting their relationships with their children, the figures reveal.
And even more say financial concerns are putting a strain on their relationship with their loved ones.
The poll, conducted by Turn2us and Home-Start on the parenting website Mumsnet, revealed 43% of mums said their relationship with their children was affected by money worries and this rose to 59% for mums with a family income of £28,000 or less.
And 49% of mums with a low family income said they were sometimes grumpy and snappy with their children because of money worries with 13% even saying they felt their children resent them because they are unable to afford to buy them what they want.
Carolyn Longton, founder of Mumsnet, said: “Financial anxiety can definitely impact on family life and Mumsnet's discussion boards are full of conversations about how tough it can be to make ends meet. It's important that those who are struggling financially know that they are not alone and we know that being able to share their anxieties on Mumsnet as well as getting practical help and support from charities like Turn2us and Home Start can be of enormous benefit not just to the mother, but to the whole family.”
Mums with money worries also said financial concerns put a strain on their relationships with their other halves, including 76% of mums with a low family income. Some 41% said they often argued about money worries and 28% said they do not get to spend enough quality time together because one of them is always working – with 33% unable to go out on their own together because they cannot afford to pay for a babysitter.
Turn2us, who commissioned the survey with Home-Start, helps people understand the often complex world of benefits and grants through its free to use website".
Director Alison Taylor said: “Many of the families who visit Turn2us are struggling to pay their bills and put food on the table, let alone pay for luxuries like babysitters.
“Mums face enormous pressures in their day-to-day lives but we would like to remind mums in financial need that there is help out there and they should visit the Turn2us website to make sure they are claiming all the benefits and grants they are entitled to.”
It's not so much sugar, in its natural form, that's added by the ton to all processed foods (including savories). It's HFCS -High Fructose Corn Syrup. This is a manufactured product, a by-product of the US corn industry. It's so cheap that it gets dumped - here, there, everywhere. USian farmers are subsidised to grow the corn. We are uninformed recipients of the most dysfunctional food system ever, and only an intensive educational campaign will raise our heads high enough to challenge it.
Read this half-hour essay: Eat food. Mostly Plants. Not too much. by Michael Pollan. It will save much more than kids' obesity.
I think we are getting fat because we like sweet food and avoiding activity. I don't think this is anything new - it's just that it's only recently that it has been possible for most people to live a life style where this is possible.
Not just possible - but easier than than the alternative.
I also agree with Merry Marigold - the more you exercise the more you are likely to eat healthily, the more inactive you are the more you are likely to feel lethargic and crave a sugar boost.
I was booted out at half 8 in the morning to go and play and I wasn't allowed in unless I needed the loo or it was lunchtime.
So wish it was possible to get away with doing this now!
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