The new government plan for action on childhood obesity says: “Obesity is a complex problem with many drivers, including our behaviour, environment, genetics and culture. However, at its root obesity is caused by an energy imbalance: taking in more energy through food than we use through activity.”

Seriously. Is this the best they can come up with?

This smacks of the language used by big food companies, who try to claim that modern, overly processed, foods are not the cause for the rise of obesity and related diseases.

For example, in a 2012 interview with USA Today, Katie Bayne, Coca-Cola’s 45-year-old president of sparkling beverages in North America said: “A calorie is a calorie,” adding that, “there is no scientific evidence that connects sugary beverages to obesity,” and, “there is no scientific evidence” that sugar, particularly in soft drinks, works on the brain like an addictive substance.

I believe that “a calorie is a calorie” is a smoke screen used by the food industry to distract us from the oversimplification of nutrition used in the marketing of processed foods.

In May 2011, The Guardian newspaper reported on research by the International Association for the Study of Obesity. The research looked at the cost of 100 calories of various different foods. 100 calories of broccoli cost 51p. By comparison, 100 calories of frozen french fries cost just 2p. Another example was good quality, lean, meat-filled sausages. These were 22p for 100 calories, whereas 100 calories of cheap, fatty sausages cost just 4p.

If people believe all calories are the same it just helps the food industry to push these low-price, highly processed foods.

In the words of the award-winning author, Michael Pollan, “The more a food is processed, the more profitable it gets.”

Seriously, which is healthier, 100 calories of broccoli or 100 calories of donut?

The government document Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action says: “Although we are clear in our goals and firm in the action we will take, the launch of this plan represents the start of a conversation, rather than the final word.”

Put another way, it does NOT launch compulsory actions, but rather uses lots of words like “should”, “might” and “we encourage”.

Sugar Tax

One of the few enforced actions is the new sugar tax on fizzy drinks. This is a levy on producers and importers, and not on consumers, and is designed to encourage producers to reduce the amount of sugar in their products and to move consumers towards healthier alternatives.

The words “healthier alternatives” scare me as I fear this means an increased use of artificial sweeteners.

In 2014 it was reported that low-calorie artificial sweeteners actually RAISE the risk of obesity.

The Israeli researchers said that ‘today’s massive, unsupervised consumption’ of artificial sweeteners needs to be reassessed.

In a study of almost 400 people, the researchers linked artificial sweetener with being fatter and having glucose intolerance. The really scary thing is that volunteers who didn’t normally eat or drink artificially-sweetened foods began to become glucose intolerant after JUST FOUR DAYS of consumption.

Other research shows a host of side-effects linked with artificial sweeteners.

One of the most popular artificial sweeteners, Aspartame, is shown to cause weight gain; headaches; seizures; nausea; trouble sleeping; vision problems; fast, slow, or irregular heartbeat; anxiety and depression.

Sucralose (also known by the brand name Splenda) has recently been linked with an increased risk of leukaemia and other cancers.

Surely this crap is not the answer to the obesity epidemic.

The report talks of making funds available to “stimulate new processes and products to increase the availability of healthier food choices”. We DON’T NEED new products, we need to go back to making food from basic ingredients!

The report claims “we have already done a lot to improve school food” and “many school canteens are unrecognisable from those 20 to 30 years ago.”

Sadly they are unrecognisable. 30 years-ago I was 11 and saw the majority of school meals cooked from scratch. The cooks peeled vegetables and prepared meals from basic ingredients. Now the majority of meals are made offsite and reheated.

The School Food Plan, published in July 2013, which the government claim “has helped bring about whole school improvements in food” says one or more portions of starchy foods should be served every day with “one or more wholegrain varieties of starchy food each week”. This is giving school caterers a licence to give white refined carbohydrates to our children 4 days a week. When consumed these foods are rapidly turned to sugar, yet they are NOT classed as sugar and hence are not restricted.

By comparison, the School Food Plan says “one or more portions of vegetables or salad as an accompaniment every day”. Why as an accompaniment? One of the quickest ways to make an impact on the health of our children would be to make vegetables the main feature of the meals served in schools, with starches and meat / fish becoming the accompaniment.

Physical Activity

Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action says: “There is strong evidence that regular physical activity is associated with numerous health benefits for children. The UK Chief Medical Officers’ recommend that all children and young people should engage in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity for at least 60 minutes every day.”

Whilst I agree that all humans are designed to be active and that movement is critical to health, we must remember that you cannot outrun your fork.

Getting kids active is great, but ONLY if they also have appropriate nutrition.



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