Is Childhood Obesity the Parent’s Fault?

Childhood obesity is becoming a hot topic in health circles, even to the point of being called an epidemic. Experts estimate that 20% of children between the ages of 6 and 17 are overweight, predisposing them to terrible diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Why have the world’s children ballooned over the past hundred years?

Ice Cream Adds Up!  (thanks to flickr user lepiaf.geo)

Ice Cream Adds Up! (thanks to flickr user lepiaf.geo)

Part of the problem is the popularity of fast food restaurants and cheap, fattening foods readily available at the grocery store. Policy makers have tried to tackle the problem at a variety of angles, promoting better package labeling and restriction or outlawing of the worst offending foods. Reformers have even targeted the meals provided by schools (efforts which have vastly improved the quality and nutrition of school meals), but the problem extends much deeper. Any nutritionist will tell you that healthy eating starts at home, and that is exactly where the problem now lies for the world’s children.

It turns out that the vast majority of parents are failing their kids, at least when packing them lunch. When Dr. Charlotte Evans and colleagues form the University of Leeds surveyed children’s packed lunches in the UK, they found that only 1 in 100 met the standards for nutritional value set by government agencies. In the UK, 50% of students pack their own lunches, and the findings of this study might explain part of why 1 in 6 of them are obese.

The research was done at the request of the UK’s Food Standards Agency, whose School Meals Review Panel (SMRP) has dictated what’s good and what’s not for schoolchildren since 2005. The government, at the urging of the panel, has restricted schools from serving foods high in salt, fat and sugar or made with poor-quality meat, and established mandatory food items such as protein-rich options, low-fat starch choices, dairy products, fruit and vegetables in the daily diet of students fed by the schools. But the board does not control the meals of the kids who bring their own, so the FSA wanted to know how the meals of these students measured up to the SMRP’s standards.

Researchers randomly selected primary schools throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and selected one class of 8 to 9 year olds from each school. All and all, almost 1,300 lunches were examined by a trained administrator, who went through the lunch and had the child go through a lunch box questionnaire. The administrator also weighed the lunch before and after to determine how much the kid ate.

What They Found

Most lunches contained sandwiches, sweet treats, snacks and sweetened drinks, and the kids ate 76% of what they were given. Few contained vegetables, milk or fruit juice. Of the 1294 lunches examined, only 14 (1.1%) met all of the standards for school meals and 66 (5.1%) met five or more. Fewer than half met the standards for energy, saturated fat, non-milk extrinsic sugars, non-starch polysaccharides, sodium, vitamin A, folate, iron or zinc. Interestingly, the researchers found that girls consumed more vegetables than boys.

The results were sobering.

As the authors write, “since 2004, there may have been some improvements in the nutritional profile of packed lunches due to changes in the composition of some manufactured foods; however, there have been no improvements in children’s packed lunches in terms of the types of food provided.”

While it might save some cash to pack lunches instead of paying for cafeteria food, you’re not doing your family any favors if you don’t pack a healthy meal. Studies have shown that kids that grow up with bad nutritional habits have a hard time breaking them later in life, so how you feed your kids has a dramatic impact throughout their years.

Kids Going to School...with lunches! from flickr user photomequickbooth

To learn more about how to pack the right kinds of meals, check out the School Food Trust’s website or ask your doctor what your child needs nutritionally. Here’s some examples of the good and the bad as described by a parent pamphlet explaining the UK’s 2007 update of the school lunch standards (view pamphlet here):

Good Choices to Eat:

  • Filled sandwiches, rolls, baguettes, bagels, pittas and wraps
  • Toasted sandwiches and paninis
  • Breakfast cereals with lower fat milk
  • Jacket potatoes, pasta and rice salads
  • Salads and vegetable sticks with dips
  • Yogurts/fromage frais
  • Fruit – all types including tinned (in juice) and dried
  • Combination of nuts, seeds and dried fruit (with no added salt, sugar or fat)

Good Choices to Drink:

  • Plain water (fresh tap water, still or sparkling bottled water)
  • Skimmed or semi-skimmed milk
  • Pure fruit or vegetable juices
  • Soya drinks enriched with calcium
  • Yogurt or milk with artificial sweeteners or less than 5% added sugar

Bad Choices to Eat:

  • Sweets/chewing gum (including sugar free)
  • Chocolate bars
  • Bars/biscuits containing or covered in chocolate
  • Processed fruit bars
  • Cereal bars
  • Chips and related products, like tortilla chips, potato sticks, puffs, crackers, corn chips, pretzels, breadsticks
  • Rice crackers, bombay mix, salted popcorn
  • Cakes, pastries, sweets

Bad Choices to Drink:

  • Flavored waters
  • Squash/cordials
  • Sweetened fizzy drinks like sodas and lemonade
  • Sports drinks
  • Diet drinks

Reference: Evans CE, Greenwood DC, Thomas JD, & Cade JE (2010). A cross-sectional survey of children’s packed lunches in the UK: food- and nutrient-based results. Journal of epidemiology and community health PMID: 20089755

  • http://pragmaticmom.com pragmaticmom

    I went to the nutritionist twice over 5 years for one of my children; first she was underweight and then she was overweight. I share the nutritionist advice on my blog http://pragmaticmom.com under the entry Visiting the Nutritionist Deja Vu. I did feel guilty about both times, but I have learned that is no one’s fault…it’s all about educating: the child, the parents and the siblings.

    pragmaticmom

  • http://pragmaticmom.com pragmaticmom

    I went to the nutritionist twice over 5 years for one of my children; first she was underweight and then she was overweight. I share the nutritionist advice on my blog http://pragmaticmom.com under the entry Visiting the Nutritionist Deja Vu. I did feel guilty about both times, but I have learned that is no one’s fault…it’s all about educating: the child, the parents and the siblings.

    pragmaticmom

  • http://www.roadtofitness.ca Rodney

    Interesting article. I do notice the insane amount of obese children here in Canada as well. I also notice in the grocery store what people is buying for their kids and it shocks me amount of process food and sugary products they are buying. I must say that obesity is more than fast food and fatty products, it really is the sugar what catch my attention the most. I also want to mention that North Americans are adding too much toxins to their tables on the daily basis, which usually cause a hormonal imbalance affecting the absorption and metabolization of nutrients.

    Something to keep in mind is that some food can be good for one person and harmful for another one. Examples of that is soy, milk, and some grains. I find that many of my clients react negatively to them and as soon as those foods are removed from the daily diets, my clients tent to loose weight and feel more energetic.

    I like the study done with the kids’ lunch boxes. That really says a lot about what we are feeding our kids. Thank you for the post!

  • http://www.roadtofitness.ca Rodney

    Interesting article. I do notice the insane amount of obese children here in Canada as well. I also notice in the grocery store what people is buying for their kids and it shocks me amount of process food and sugary products they are buying. I must say that obesity is more than fast food and fatty products, it really is the sugar what catch my attention the most. I also want to mention that North Americans are adding too much toxins to their tables on the daily basis, which usually cause a hormonal imbalance affecting the absorption and metabolization of nutrients.

    Something to keep in mind is that some food can be good for one person and harmful for another one. Examples of that is soy, milk, and some grains. I find that many of my clients react negatively to them and as soon as those foods are removed from the daily diets, my clients tent to loose weight and feel more energetic.

    I like the study done with the kids’ lunch boxes. That really says a lot about what we are feeding our kids. Thank you for the post!

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  • http://twitter.com/FloraHCOMer flora

    Experts estimate that 20% of children between the ages of 6 and 17 are overweight, predisposing them to terrible diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

  • http://www.fertibella.com/get-pregnant/fertility-medicine Fertility Medicines

    There are many factors that are involved in childhood obesity. For some children, it is a genetic disposition that cannot be altered. These children may put on weight at a faster rate, and they may be less able to lose the weight due to the manner in which their bodies function.

  • Mware10

    I feel bad for the children who are overwait because they cant help it its their parents fault because they cant help it but the parents can. The parents can stp them but most of them dont.

  • Browniemom578

    I was an obese child. Looking back now, I do think alot of it was the choice I was given as a child. I came from a single parent home and it was easier for my mom to stop by McDonalds than to go home and cook a healthy meal, not to mention it was cheaper also. However, we need to educate parents on nutrition and get our kids outside to play. Schools have a big part in this as well. Dont take away our P.E. Kids need PE 5 days a week while at school. Some people say the school lunches are getting healthier….but have you ate those lunches? They are nasty. If the kids are not eating them then its a waste of our tax dollars to serve that stuff. Im not saying everyday should be pizza day but lets not serve our kids food that even our teachers want eat.

    • Browniemom578

      Also I just wanted to add that if healthy food was as cheap as the dollar menu at McDonalds you may see alot more people eating healthier. Make junk food expensive…if people cant afford it then they cant buy it. right?

  • Carrillopink

    this is so true but the government or the president should stop it before it gets worst

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/EM7VY3KY4SR2MOJBKPAZEGNRF4 Chameleon

    The goverment should stop this.

  • Charliethedog

    Really people? The government should stop this? While it an unfortunate thing that folks in a position of influence over a child don’t teach them better…. it’s not the governments responsibility to raise the children of America. I’m not uncaring about these children it is sad, but the GOVERNMENT is not the solution. A faceless entity that folks, including some of you, seem to think is a bottomless pit of money. The idea of making fast food more expensive so folks will buy health food instead is just stupid. The sad fact is you don’t have to be very smart to breed…. Four wheelers & motorcycles are dangerous lets ban them or just tax them to make the so expensive folks can’t afford them…. it doesn’t work any more than taxing the life (no pun) out of cigarets has stopped stupid people from buying them.

    • charliethedog

      Sorry I guess most of you people are not Americans and may enjoy having the government taking care of your every need… so you don’t have to feel responsible for fixing it.

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