Children obesity in the UK Obesity, which is defined as ‘abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health’, nowadays is a growing problem in most developed countries and is responsible for a significant degree of morbidity and mortality in the world. This phenomenon, in last decade, widely spread especially in the United States of America, has recently affected western part of Europe as well. Obesity in adults has been an increasing problem for many years. However, there is a major and constantly rising problem of obesity in children too.
One of the countries where the overweight issue, as far as the children are concerned, has reached the critical state is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The combination of a changes to eating habits and less active lifestyle are blamed of the rise of obesity. In the last few years the statistics of obese children tripled, which is a warning sign for parents, teachers and the government to take actions to reverse the rising tide of this so called ‘social disease’.
Britain has an outstanding traditional food such as Yorkshire pudding, Lancashire Hotpot or fresh salmon from Northern Ireland.
Unfortunately, currently it is difficult to find good British food as people simply eat it lesser and lesser. There is a great cultural diversity in the UK and that is why new cultural trends, including eating patterns spread to it and mixed. Local Indian and Chinese restaurants are more popular than traditional British ones. People in Britain are more likely to eat fast food or convenience meals, which are already cooked and all you have to do is just heat them up in microwave. It is very popular among children and teenagers. It is not time-consuming, easily accessible and ,what is more important, cheap.
Due to that the problem of obesity, particularly in children will never be solved. The most commonly chosen by children products are: soft drinks, crisps, savoury snacks and pre-sugared breakfast cereals, for example the ‘Big Five’. Teenagers are also interested in pre-prepared foods, which are high in sugar, fats and salt. However, restaurants like McDonalds, KFC, Burger King are enjoying record popularity among young people. Talking about children eating habits we cannot omit factors which influence theirs food choices. According to the ‘Ofcom’ summary titled: ‘Children’s food choices, parents’ understanding and nfluence, and the role of food promotions. Executive Summary & Conclusions’ we can divide determinants into few categories: psychosocial, biological, family, behavioural factors, schools, commercial sites, consumerism and media. One of the most important factor is undoubtedly family. The way we are eating is highly determined by our parents and friends. Through the years their habits are becoming our habits. British people are believed to give relatively little attention to the quality of food. (O’Driscoll 185) Every tourist can notice it while being in the UK. Young people and families with children who eat at fast food places are not interested in quality. ’ (O’Driscoll 184) Rising incomes, longer working hours and more cash-rich parents tend to support a ‘convenience food culture’ and the consumption of HFSS foods . There is a decline on the number of occasions that family eats together. It is much easier to give children money and do not care about preparing nutritious meals. The ‘Ofcom’ research suggested that only a minority of parents seem to exercises effective control over their children’s food choices.
What is more important, those parents are quite often found in the higher socio-economic groups. We may assume that difficult financial situation is an obstacle, which heighten rise in children obesity. Poorer people choose cheaper products of lower quality and greater amount of harmful, artificial preservatives. The role of school in children’s feeding is crucial. School, is a place where children spend most of their days gaining knowledge and putting a lot of mental as well as physical effort.
As a result, school has to help parents to provide appropriate conditions to keep children in good health and development, but unfortunately, it happens very rarely. Most of the schools have few, if any, rules regarding the food pupils bring in to eat during the school day. What is more, a wide range of school canteens and buffets assortments appeared to be driven by what children want and can be seen as giving an approval to eating HFSS products. Vending machines full with crisps, soft drinks and confectionery are a nightmare for nutritionists. In 2007 the city council of Birmingham employed an official Dr.
Patric Lowe to tackle childhood obesity in more than 400 schools, where a third of 11-year-olds are overweight. The aim of Dr. Lowe vision was to create more playgrounds, extra cycle lanes, but he wanted parents to be shown how to prepare cheap and healthy lunchboxes as well. Similar case took place at the beginning of this year. The Government put forward Jimmie Olivier to hold classes in schools about healthy feeding. Another undertaking was took up last year by 9 cities of the UK. They started to propagate healthy life style by distributing cards of loyalty in return for buying healthy food, going to gym.
Such cards can be exchange for sports equipment or clothing. Actions like these should be taken not only in few cities but across the whole country. More importantly, they must be promoted and recommended in all medias. Children spend nowadays more and more time watching television and reading magazines. This ‘activities’ reduce metabolic rates and displace physical exercises. Moreover, media have a significant impact on children lifestyle, food they choose. That is why they should replace advertising pre-prepared meals or fast food consumption with promoting physical activity and non-HFSS products.
Consequences of being obese for children may be extremely serious. We can divide them into mental and physical ones. The mental health effects of obesity include social discrimination, low self-esteem and even suicide. However, physical effects seems to be more important as far as the costs of treatment are concerned. Physical consequences of obesity in children allow for problems with sleeping, difficulties with conscious, hypertension, some forms of cancer, absence of energy and asthma. It is crucial in the UK because of constantly growing expenses for treating obesity.
For instance Oxfordshire is now spending 7 times more money than it used in year 2007. The costs of overweight individuals to the National Health Service are estimated to be L4. 2bilions and what is worse they are forecasted to double by 2050. In January 2008 the Government introduced a program of fight against obesity in the UK titled: ‘Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives: A Cross-Government Strategy for England. ’ The main focus is directed to children. The Government distinguished five main areas where thorough reforms will be made. These are: ‘1. The health growth and development of children, 2.
Promoting healthier food choice, 3. Building physical activity into our lives, 4. Creating incentives for better health, 5. Personalised advice and support. ’ In the introduction to above-mentioned strategy, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: ‘Our ambition is to be the first major nation to reverse the rising tide of obesity and overweight in the population by ensuring that everyone is able to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Our initial focus will be on children: by 2020, we aim to reduce the proportion of overweight and obese children to 2000 levels. One of the most important ideas is to introduce compulsory cooking for all 11-14 year-olds by 2011 in schools. The Government want to announce also National Child Measurement Programme, which involves children at the age of 6 having their height and weight recorded every year in every school. The whole strategy will be followed by a public annual report that makes recommendations for further action and assesses progress. Being obese for a child can be unimaginably difficult and may cause plenty of problems such as rejection of peers, alienation, loss of high self-esteem.
Most obese children and their parents are unaware of, or choose to ignore, the reality of the child’s situation. It is crucial for not only parents and government, but for the whole society to reverse the rising tide of obesity, to make sure that individuals and families have an access to the opportunities they want and the information they need in order to make healthy. Educational programmes to promote healthy eating, improved food provision in schools, promotion of physical exercise and labelling of foods are these actions without which the British society will never manage to solve the problem of obesity.
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