Fat boyMore and more children in the UK are becoming obese. Data from the annual Health Survey for England back in 2004 showed levels of obesity among children had risen over the previous ten years and I have absolutely no doubt this is a continuing trend.

In 2004, around one in four 11 to 15 year olds were considered obese and obesity prevalence in boys and girls aged as young as 2 years old had increased.

News coverage of teenagers like 63 stone Georgia Davis show the extremes of childhood obesity, but who is responsible for this problem?

Parents fear talking to children about weight issues

A new survey finds that more than a third of parents admit they do not talk to their children about their weight because of fears it could harm self-esteem and trigger eating disorders. The figure rises to 65% among parents who have already identified their child as being overweight, suggesting that by avoiding the problem families are contributing to an increasingly obese society, a health group warns.

The survey was conducted by the social enterprise Mend and the online community Netmums for national childhood obesity week.

Paul Sacher, Mend’s co-founder and chief research and development officer, said: “With obesity reaching epidemic proportions and becoming the norm, it can be very difficult for parents to tell if their child is a healthy weight simply by looking at them.”

The Netmums founder Siobhan Freegard said: “Tackling the issue of children’s weight is a growing problem and it’s concerning a third of parents are avoiding the issue for fear of lowering their child’s self-esteem. Every parent wants the best for their child and although initially it may be a tough conversation to have, the family talking together and working together to find healthier ways of eating will lead to happier and healthier children.”

What are the schools doing?

In Sheffield kids could be banned from leaving school at lunchtime as the city’s youngsters continue to battle the bulge. Health bosses today said tackling South Yorkshire’s childhood obesity epidemic is a top priority as new figures reveal the problem is on the rise.

The government’s newly-released public health profiles for Sheffield and Rotherham show the number of Year Six children classed as obese is above the national average. In Sheffield, 20.2% of children between the ages of 11 and 12 qualify as obese according to the NHS’ definition, while in Rotherham the figure is 21.6%. The average in England for 2012 is 19 %.

Health bosses in South Yorkshire are targeting teachers and parents in schemes designed to tackle childhood obesity and is asking schools to adopt and enforce the policy and improve pupils’ dining experience to increase school meal uptake.Bethan Plant, a public health specialist at NHS Sheffield, said: “Childhood obesity is a key priority for us in Sheffield as the health risks to children and young people who are overweight are significant and the total costs associated with overweight and obesity are estimated to rise to £165m by 2015 in Sheffield alone.

Local councils in other parts of the country are also trying to tackle obesity. For example, Haringey could become one of the first places in the UK to restrict fast food outlets to try and tackle obesity. The council says some of its poorer areas have too many places to buy junk food – and that is impacting on life expectancy.

What about food companies?

If you’ve been watching The Men Who Made Us Fat you will be aware that sugar is one of the biggest causes of obesity. So what is the sugar content of food targeted at children?

Which? analysed the nutritional content of a range of items targeted by leading manufacturers at children’s lunchboxes and found that a combination of the most sugary food and drinks could yield the equivalent of 12 teaspoonfuls of sugar in one meal.

The report said that of the numerous such products on supermarket shelves, “many declare that they don’t contain additives, but don’t mention they’re also full of salt or sugar – giving the impression they’re healthier than they are”.

Among those singled out is Robinsons Fruit Shoot orange juice drink, with each 200ml bottle containing 23g of sugar – the equivalent of almost five teaspoonfuls.

The report’s analysis also shows that Kellogg’s Frosties Cereal and Milk bars are made up of seven different sugars, which means the 25g bar is almost a third (8g) sugar. The company’s website says: “Fortified with vitamins, iron and calcium, now you can give your kids a great tasting snack that you can be sure won’t come back from school in the lunchbox!”

Munch Bunch Double Up fromage frais contains more than two teaspoons (12.4g) of sugar, but only 2.25g of fruit puree.

Among those high in salt is a pack of Dairylea Lunchables Ham ‘n’ Cheese crackers, which contains 1.8g of salt – more than half the government’s recommended daily allowance of 3g for a four- to six-year-old child.

Which? points out that Dairylea promotes the fact that this product contains half of a child’s recommended daily calcium intake. However, it still remains high in fat and saturated fat.

Teach every child about food and fight obesity

I think Jamie Oliver gave one of the key answers on how to tackle the childhood obesity problem in the title of his TED speech Teach every child about food and fight obesity. In a world where the population is eating more and more processed and pre-packaged foods few adults, let alone children, truly understand what they are eating. Education about food is key to addressing not just obesity but so many of the diseases that are restricting and ending lives.

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