Why we need to stop sugar-coating the truth about sugar.

I’ve just read a recent, characteristically uncompromising article in The Telegraph, accusing parents who allow their kids to become overweight, of child abuse, plain and simple. That we need to stop pussy footing around the problem and tell it like it is.

I’m not sure such a blaming and shaming strategy would work, I believe that on the whole, parents do try to do the best by their children and all situations are different, so better not to judge.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that adult obesity is on the rise- the UK has become the “fat man of Europe” with 1 in 4 adults weighing in at obese (closely followed by Ireland and Spain with France being a svelte 1 in 7) and we’re passing the bad habits that contribute to obesity onto our kids.

Childhood obesity had tripled over the past 25 years and now a fifth of 4–5 year olds and one third of 10–11 year olds are in this category. And the puppy fat is not melting away any time soon. It has been documented that overweight children are more likely to be overweight adults and face a lifetime of both physical and mental difficulty- some more serious than others.

So what does that mean? What are the real risks for obese children?

According to Public Health England, type 2 diabetes, normally associated with adults, has been reported in children as young as 7. Untreated diabetes affects many major organs, including your heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys.

Asthma- overweight children have a 40–50% greater chance of developing this condition.

OSA- Prevalence of Obstructive Sleep Apnea could be as high as 60% in obese children.

Cardio Vascular Disease- A nationwide surveillance study in the Netherlands recently reported that 62% of young (≤12 years of age) severely obese children already had one or more CVD risk factors.

Depression- While the association between obesity and depression or low self-esteem in children is widely disputed, there is strong evidence to suggest that “by adolescence, there is increased risk of low self-regard and impaired quality of life in obese individuals. Factors associated with mental health problems in obese children include lower levels of physical activity, low self esteem, body dissatisfaction, eating disorders and weight-based teasing. Recent findings from the Millennium Cohort Study suggest that childhood obesity may be associated with emotional and behavioural problems from a very young age, with obese boys at particular risk.”

Musculo-skeletal problems- many obese children not only suffer from restricted activity, but from ankle and foot problems caused by excessive weight on still- growing skeletons.

A combination of too much sugar, fast and processed foods in our diets and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, especially for children, is fuelling this worrying epidemic and experts predict that by 2050 60% of males, 50% of females and 25% of children will be classed as obese, costing the NHS and wider society almost £50b a year.

So what to do?

Did you know toddlers need on average 3 hours of activity a day, including climbing and the overs 5s at least an hour a day of cycling, walking or running and muscle strengthening activities three days a week? No, neither did I. If schoolchildren are regularly being driven to and from their places of study, it could be fairly difficult to shoehorn an hour’s activity into after school time- especially in Winter.

Kids need more exercise and less processed food and sugar. It’s that simple.

Encourage them to walk or cycle at least part of the way to school every day- that’s an hour of exercise right there.

Don’t have sugary cereals, biscuits, sweets or fizzy drinks in the house. If they aren’t there, you can’t be pestered for them. (It works surprisingly well)

Keep sweet things (including high sugar juices and biscuits) for weekend treats and not an every day occurrence.

Challenge the kids to see how much fruit and veg they can eat in a week- it will stop them thinking about what they’re missing (as long as they’re not rewarded with a chocolate bar!)

Download the Change 4 Life app onto your mobile phone if you are unsure of what has hidden sugar, salt and fat (my kids love scanning everything and have made their own decisions on what not to eat) but a good rule of thumb is 22.5g and more of sugar per 100g is high and 5g or less is low.

Sugar- our kids are sweet enough without it.