Tackling Childhood Obesity Part 1 - The Problem
The latest figures for primary school aged children show that a third of 6-11 year olds are either overweight or obese and this trend continues pretty much until kids reach 15.
This can carry on into adulthood too, with the average woman in the UK being 5ft 3in tall, weighing 11 stone and wearing size 16 clothing. Finding accurate up to date figures for men is slightly harder; 13 stone and 5ft 9in is the best I can find and that dates from 2010. Thank you to the Office of National Statistics for those facts, depressing as they are. From this I take away the fact that 6 inches of man weighs roughly two stone; a useful fact to mention if conversation dries up around the water cooler at work.
As a parent with three children aged eight, six and three, I can see first-hand the problem with juggling diet, exercise, free time, hobbies and everything else, and let me tell you there is no easy answer. It's all too easy to blame the rise in childhood obesity on the couch potato lifestyle kids have today but I can remember sitting on a hard wooden chair in 1984, playing on our ZX Spectrum until I couldn't see straight but still running around like a looby outside at any given opportunity.
I think at the heart of the problem of childhood obesity is a dichotomy of how we limit our kids independence while at the same time giving them too much independence in the wrong areas.
Like a lot of families, when we're out and about we don't let the kids out of our sight- after all you see all these cases where children have been abducted on the television and it's better safe than sorry isn't it? This understandable attitude removes a lot of the opportunity for self-motivated exercise from children, as well as stymieing their independence. I regularly remember changing the time on my watch when I was 9 or 10 because I'd stayed out playing longer than I should have and knew I was going to get into trouble when I got home.
The kind of exercise my generation used to have basically involved lots of biking, climbing stuff and running around with our friends outside. It wasn't formalised, structured and for the most part didn't seem like exercise. Today though kids get most of their exercise through school or sports clubs. If sitting on a wall outside a shop was classified as a sport, we would have many children immediately reclassified as elite athletes but it isn't. When our kids are young enough to do things like climb trees or go exploring, we limit their freedom to do so because we fear for their safety, while at the same time giving them the freedom to choose more sedentary pass times that often involve little more than sitting around playing video games or watching TV, that we consider "safe". Defined in those terms, as parents we are probably culpable for the obesity epidemic, just not in the way that we might necessarily think.
Of course being thinner doesn't necessarily tie in with being healthier and overall I think it precious few people would disagree that having fitter children is the better goal than aiming simply for weight reduction.
Guest blogger Daddacool - By day a mild mannered accountant. By night...asleep until the kids wake him up. "Britain's premier parent blogger" - Sunday Times.