Don't just ban junk food ads - we must teach parents how to live healthier lifestyles
Is that really the answer to reducing childhood obesity?
Parent Consultant, Early Years practitioner and mum of two.
Will banning junk food ads before 9pm in the UK make a difference to childhood obesity? Possibly, and it is certainly a good start, but parents will still watch the adverts, and parents will still be buying the junk food. So, isn't better parental education around what constitutes as a healthy lifestyle a better way?
I consult with parents on all areas of parenting, and when it comes to supporting them with weaning, it is quite clear that many either possess little or no cooking skills or lead such a busy life, that they rely on ready meals, eating out or take away. This makes weaning a challenge when they are wanting to make the right choices for their baby and many end up using packets or jars to cook with, or they buy ready meals for their baby. These then shape their baby's taste preferences and the way in which they will then go onto eat in the future. You see, the problem with childhood obesity, starts as a baby, around 6 months of age.
This isn't to say that reaching for the 'Freezer Tapas' or buying a ready meal should be completely off the cards, we all have days where that just needs to happen but, when it is an everyday occurrence, that is when it becomes a problem.
Parental education in basic nutrition, how to shop and how to cook properly, along with ensuring that exercise is a priority are, I think, a key part of ensuring that children do not become obese. Of course banning advertising will help, but children's first role models are their parents, so if they grow up seeing how to live a healthy lifestyle and are taught how to cook, they are more likely to adopt this way as they grow into adults. This also means that no food needs to be seen as 'good' or 'bad' because there is the knowledge deep rooted of how to have a healthy balance of the two.
I firmly believe that no food should be banned altogether. Not allowing children to ever eat chocolate or sweets can lead them into temptation as they become old enough to head to the shops themselves, and rather than buying just one chocolate bar, they will end up with several.
It is a tricky balance to get right for sure, but creating consistent boundaries from the start and making them be a part of life, will help. I also believe that parents need to rethink rewarding children with food, or using food as a bribe.
But, it's not just about food, exercise plays an important part too. The saying "you can't out run a bad diet" is certainly true, but exercise compliments healthy eating, strengthens muscles, increases fitness levels and is great for releasing those happy endorphins. Who has noticed how happy their grumpy children are, once they have got out for a walk?
Ditching the pushchair along with the car, unless necessary, and encouraging children to walk, run, scoot or ride on a bike is a must. Did you know that by the age of 4, most children are more than able to cover at least a mile, if they have been encouraged? Being active as a family and children seeing exercise as a normal part of life, is therefore just as important as eating a healthy diet.
It sounds so easy, and in theory it is, but we have years of bad habits surrounding food to unpick, and that, I am afraid is going to take time.