You would've had to be living in isolation to not be aware of the issue we have in the Western world regarding children and obesity. Rewind 30+ years and you wouldn’t have seen those 2 words in the same sentence. So, where did it all go wrong?
If we look at the data supplied by the NHS in 2015/16, over 1 in 5 children in Reception, and 1 in 3 children in Year 6 were diagnosed as obese. But what does “obese” mean, and how do we measure when someone is obese and not just overweight?
The body mass index (BMI) is a measure of a person's weight taking into consideration their height. It’s given by the formula: BMI = weight (mass) in kilograms, divided by the square of the person's height in metres. The average BMI is between 18.5 and 25. 25 to 29 is classed as overweight and If a BMI of 30 or over is recorded, then that is classed as obese.
We are seeing more and more “chubby” kids in the classroom, and it’s especially worrying when they begin to suffer from weight related health issues, like diabetes, cardiac problems, breathing problems, plus many more.
So, what factors contribute to our children becoming obese?
With busy lifestyles, it’s easy for parents and carers to grab a takeaway for dinner. There’s so many drive-through, fast food outlets available, making it a quick option, and it's sadly becoming the norm. Takeaways were a rare treat when I was a kid, and it was normally a weekend meal. But it’s not just takeaways; supermarkets are seeing an increase in the number of ready meals that are purchased by families.
Although the “traffic light” system is seen regularly on food packaging, it can be misleading; plus these healthier option ready meals come with a hefty price tag, and lower income families have argued that they cannot afford the “healthy option”.
In addition, fresh fruit and vegetables can be time consuming to prepare and cook, and the fight to get 5 portions a day of these can still prove a battle that many parents simply haven’t got the time or energy to keep fighting.
As we know, food and drink can also be subject to trends in society. Energy drinks come in brightly coloured cans, and with crazy names, which are marketed at the younger members of society. They're sometimes associated with famous sports names, and dupe children into thinking that drinking them will make them a better footballer / rugby player / athlete etc. Wrong.
The sugar content in these drinks, as well as the artificial colours etc. is through the stratosphere (don't get me started on the additives), with many drinks containing as much as 20 teaspoons of sugar per 330ml can, which is 3 times the recommended amount for an adult. No wonder we're seeing an increase in childhood obesity!
Teenagers are also falling foul of the energy drink issue. With sedentary lifestyles, so many sit for hours, sometimes thought the night, playing fast paced video games (this can increase the heart rate but they are not getting the exercise).
Thus they suffer from a lack of sleep, so down energy drinks in order to play a game of footie or rugby. The heart is not prepared for this sudden exertion, and so has to work much harder. Not healthy.
Sports clubs are under increased pressure to ditch the “burger and chips” match meal, and provide a healthier option. But, many caterers at grassroots rugby clubs are against doing this, as it will affect their income; players will simply go elsewhere and get their meal from the local takeaway.
What can be done?
It comes down to education.
We must educate children from a young age. Ruggerbugs are pioneers in developing a fun and exciting Pre-School development programme, which is based around non-contact rugby for boys and girls, aged 18 months to 6.
It’s designed to ensure that each child has a positive introduction to sport by developing and enhancing their basic level of movement, self-awareness and social interaction, as well as introducing them to the basic fundamentals of rugby (passing and catching) in a fun and stimulating environment.
This is a great start, but more needs to be done.
Food, including the buying, preparation and cooking of it, should be educated in all schools, and from a young age. An understanding of where our food comes from, why we should eat healthily and what certain foods do to us, are all critical in turning this obesity epidemic around.
We, as adults, are all responsible for the health of the future generation. Yet, we are encouraging bad habits to make our own lives easier. Many schools are able to obtain “accreditations” for healthy eating and I think that sports clubs should do the same. As a parent, I would be encouraged by a club that had a Healthy Eating Kite Mark alongside its logo.
Food for thought (pardon the pun): The food we eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.