This week a UK clothing retailer launched a plus-sized clothing range for children. The range caters for kids three to 16 years and features jeans and tracksuit pants with larger than normal waists.
Also this week a coalition of Australian health groups lobbied the Federal government to introduce a sugar tax on drinks.
As part of an eight-point plan to tackle Australia’s emerging obesity problem, the 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks is intended to work much like the tobacco tax where a packet of cigarettes can now cost around $40. Eventually, health experts are hoping, cigarettes or sugary drinks will just be too expensive to justify.
Two very different responses to one very big issue.
What no one is denying is that we are getting very fat (in developed countries). It’s how we are responding to that information that is dividing people. The UK Telegraph reports that a plus-sized children’s range is evidence that childhood obesity has moved beyond epidemic proportions because it is now considered normal.
Should we accept we are getting fatter as retailer Next has done and offer lifestyle solutions for this growing market, or should we try to combat the issue as the coalition of health groups are asking the government to do?
If we do accept our growing waistlines as a nation, should we implement an obesity levy in our annual tax to make sure there is enough money in the government health coffers to pay for the inevitable increased load on the health system, because this increase in weight is causing a corresponding heightening of demand on an already stretched health system.
The Obesity Policy Coalition estimates that in Australia 63 per cent of Australian adults and 27 per cent of children are either overweight or obese with an annual cost to the health budget coming in at $8.6 billion.
And what is our responsibility to children in particular? If an overweight child has a diet of sugary and fatty foods who is responsible for that child? The parent? The child? The media? Advertisers? Big business? The government? The system (and what is the system anyway?)?
If we don't accept that we are going to get fatter and sicker, we have to actually DO something as a society and as individuals. What will that be? From the macro: A sugar tax? Weigh-ins and education programs at school? Making home-cooked meals cheaper than take-outs? To the micro: Saying "no" to kids when they ask for more "treats".
I don't want to accept that we are impotent to letting our children get fatter and consequently more likely to suffer from the health problems associated with obesity such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea, joint issues, fatty liver disease and social and psychological problems.
I understand this is a complex issue and that the research and statistics tell us the most common risk factors for childhood obesity are:
- Diet: A poor diet high in sugar and fat. Simply overeating is the heart of the issue.
- Exercise: Too much time spent being sedentary not enough time being active.
- Family Factors: If a child comes from a family with parents who are overweight or obese.
- Psychological Factors: Personal, parental or family stress.
- Socio-economic factors: Limited access to good foods due to cost or convenience and limited access to safe places to exercise. Lack of education over healthy eating.
I'm a parent to three kids and I've understood for a long time that the weight of our children has been increasing to levels that must be impacting the quality of their lives. I understand this because I see it every day when I walk down the street or go to the local shopping centre.
I want my children to grow up into healthy and happy adults and I think hard about how I will help make this happen.
I have made conscious decisions about how my home should combat the constant barrage of snack, processed and convenience foods. I've taken a common sense approach: I don't ban foods but I don't have a fridge full of soft drink either. We have treats, but they are treats - not constants, which meant when they were younger I said "no" a lot. None of it is extreme.
I'm working on a micro-response; the small everyday things I can do at home. We have limited take-aways. Veggies are served with every dinner. We sit together at dinner and talk to each other. The fruit bowl is - usually - full (bananas never seem to last). Breakfasts are not sugary cereals. Exercise in whatever form is encouraged.
LISTEN: Bec Sparrow and Robin Bailey discuss their relationships with food on The Well (post continues after audio...)
None of the above happens by magic. My husband and I cook healthy meals on the weekend so take-away isn't the easy option after a long day at work. We ferry kids to sporting games and training and we both exercise regularly ourselves. We do the most boring bloody grocery shop every week so there are nutritious options in our kitchen. We don't own scales. My daughters have never seen their mother go on a diet.
I do believe I am a huge influence on the weight of my kids. I also know it's an incredibly uncomfortable, complex subject because no-one knows what goes on behind closed doors in other people's homes, but surely there can be acknowledgement that in most households parents play an instrumental role in the weight of their offspring?
And, furthermore, if you want to take the role of someone who actively fights childhood weight gain, that will take time, thought and effort. It's not going to happen just because we hope it happens.
I don't want to shrug my shoulders and accept an epidemic of childhood obesity.
Children who are obese or overweight are much more likely to become obese or overweight adults and often that means they will have a lifetime of related health issues.
We can talk as much as we like about the burden on the health system due to too many people accessing medical services, but that's not what I think about when I read about a childhood obesity epidemic.
I think about a brilliant, gorgeous seven-year-old with their whole life ahead of them who needs an adult to step in and plan for their future.
That adult is not the CEO of an international soft-drink company, or an advertising executive whose job it is to spruik donuts or even a politician sitting in Canberra. That first adult responsible for protecting a seven-year-old child, surely, is the person who knows them best and loves them best.
Do you think parents are responsible for their child being overweight?