So whose responsibility is childhood obesity?

whose responsibility is childhood obesity

With the recent stark warning by Public Health England (PHE) that children are consuming half their daily sugar allowance before they even start school (holy moly!), it seems that breakfasts dished out by we the parents have now become so unhealthy that pupils eat the equivalent of three cubes (11g) of sugar every morning for breakfast.

So I, like so many others, can’t help wonder exactly whose responsibility childhood obesity is. To get to the bottom of it, I invited fellow parenting bloggers to air their views….

It’s time to talk truths….

“I think it’s a collective responsibility of parents, school and media to promote a healthy and active lifestyle for children. As a mum that’s overweight I’m very conscious about my daughter eating the right foods and having a balanced diet. I also encourage her to be active, we walk everywhere, go swimming and I encourage her to help me prepare healthy meals. I don’t want her to have an obsession with scales and weighing herself, nor do I want her to be a bully or belittle others for being overweight so I try and talk about body image in a positive way around her as much as I can.” – Candy Floss Dreams 

“I studied the obesity epidemic for a few years from a psychological point of view, and I’ve always taken a harsh stance. If it’s down to diet and food choices of the parents, then I am a firm believer that it constitutes as a form of child abuse. Obviously I every case there will be other factors and it’s not always black and white as simply overfeeding or giving into requests, but obesity is correlated with diabetes, heart disease, depression and increased mortality. If it continues into adulthood your sentencing them to an early death. It’s a combined effort of parents, teachers and the NHS, but ultimately, I think it’s the responsibility of the parents.” – Life With Boys

“It saddens me to read statistics on childhood obesity and just how many overweight children we have in this country. I think it is the responsibility of parents, the media, schools and society to promote healthy eating and the importance of exercise, but I think when a child is already obese that is the responsibility of the parents. I see far too many parents with overweight children who claim they feed them healthy meals and they exercise regularly. The truth is, a child doesn’t become obese through any other way than over-eating or eating the wrong things. Parents need to take responsibility for their own children.” – Five Little Doves 

“It’s a fine line to tread between preventing childhood obesity, and causing serious body image issues. By the time the child gets to 4/5, the damage has been done – it’s hard to undo obesity without causing issues surrounding body image/food. Healthy choices need to start from the very beginning, and families – especially low-income families, who were more likely to have been raised on unhealthy diets themselves – need support, education and encouragement on creating a healthy family lifestyle.” – The Speed Bump  

“I believe it’s a parents responsibility but more importantly the government’s responsibility to educate parents and make healthy choices affordable and accessible. We live in quite a mixed income area and through baby classes and groups I have met parents who don’t see an issue with giving toddlers fizzy drinks and takeaway food on a daily basis. For them this is the best way they know of feeding their children on the budget they have. These are parents who care deeply about their children but honestly don’t realise what they are doing could be damaging to their child’s future health.” – My Mummys Pennies  

“I do think the parents have got a part to play in it but I think it’s more of a society thing as well. We’ve become a nation that don’t walk places because cars are easier and faster. Village schools aren’t around in the same ways so there are less kids walking to school. Computers and televisions and all sorts of technology encourages them to stay inside rather than go out and play. On the flip side, I think we sometimes overact to obesity; my nephew was highlighted as having a weight issue when he’s a perfectly healthy three year old who spends his entire life racing around at full pelt. By labelling kids so early, and sometimes wrongly, I feel we’re setting ourselves and them up for more issues in the long run!” – Devon Mama 

“In this day and age I think its easier for kids to fall into the obesity trap. When we were kids we didn’t sit indoors we were out playing everyday. My son is a good eater and already I’m getting comments about how I should “watch his weight” his 2!” – Max and Kai 

“My daughter is 10 years old. She’s 5’3” tall with adult size 8 feet. She started puberty (periods) last year and she has curves. Because she has always been ‘ahead’ of her classmates, she thinks she is fat. Because she can’t fit into any ‘skinny’ children’s clothes (even those aged 16), because she has curves, she thinks she is fat. In Reception, all those years ago, the visiting nurse weighed her and branded her ‘obese’, because she didn’t take into account her height. My daughter plays in 2 netball teams. She does karate. She swims. She plays football. She helps walk the dogs. I make sure her diet is healthy. Emotionally she is going through a tough time, as all teens do, and in her case I blame the media and the clothes brands for making her feel an ‘outsider’. Children develop at different rates but ultimately end up the same. Super skinny kids are well catered for in stores, but my daughter is ‘plus size’ or a woman’s size 10. All she wants to be is a typical 10 year old girl, yet she tells me she feels like a freak. That makes me really sad.” – Kidz Cruises 

And so now what can be done? Here,  Sports and Exercise Medicine Physician at Highgate Private Hospital, Dr James Thing shares his views on how important it is to set a good example as a parent to prevent obesity progressing into adult life and that children should get at least one hour of exercise per day.

Do you feel that childhood diet and lifestyle is a contributing factor to adult obesity?

There is no doubt that the eating habits that one develops as a child will, more often than not, be continued into adulthood. It is essential for children to learn what a good diet consists of from an early age.  There is good evidence to suggest that obese children are much more likely to go on to become obese adults.

Do you feel parents should intervene within their child’s diet and lifestyle more proactively to prevent problems later on?

Absolutely, it is often hard for parents to be told, usually by teachers, that their child is overweight or obese. The usual reaction is anger and denial however parents have an essential role in preventing and controlling poor eating and lifestyle habits.  Parents often feel that these lessons should be learnt at school however a child will learn best by following a good example that must be set by the parents, at home.

It appears many parents are unsure what a healthy breakfast consists of. Can you recommend what a healthy breakfast is?

A healthy meal traditionally has been thought of as containing carbohydrate, fat and protein.  More recently this notion is being questioned, with greater emphasis on fats and a reduction in carbohydrates.  A healthy breakfast may include porridge, wholemeal/brown bread/toast with peanut butter or an egg for protein, greek yoghurt and berries.  High sugar cereals, pastries, biscuit bars, chocolate, cakes and sugary drinks should be avoided (but are often seen in the hands of children on the bus to school across the UK).

Apart from campaigns aimed at promoting healthy changes how can we change the way people shop, cook and eat?

Education is imperative.  Learning about a healthy diet from an early age will lead to short and long-term improvements in eating habits and reduce obesity in the population.  Celebrity Chef’s such as Jamie Oliver have tried to instill in people that healthy eating can be quick, simple and cost effective.  These processes can be facilitated by making healthy foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables more affordable, and sugary “bad foods” less accessible, potentially in the form of a sugar tax.  Effective neighbourhood planning can also support this by avoiding having shops/fast food restaurants nearby schools.

How important is physical exercise and how much exercise should children do a day?

Physical activity is one of the most important modifiable risk factors for any individual, young or old.  In order to lead a healthy lifestyle it is essential to be physically active.  Large, long-term research studies have clearly. demonstrated the importance of physical fitness as a risk factor for morbidity (illness) and mortality (death).  Individuals who are active in their younger years are more likely to be active throughout their life.  Children under 5 should undertake 180 minutes of physical activity per day.  Children aged between 5 and 18 should undertake 60mins per day of physical activity that includes moderate and vigorous activity, as well as activities that strengthen muscles and bones.

What are your views on childhood obesity? Whose responsibility to do you think it is? Please do leave a comment and share your opinions below.

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  1. I do believe that the parents play the major part here, but also that there are a lot of parents who do not necessarily understand good nutrition. I think as a society we also need to look at sugar and hidden sugar in foods, as sometimes you are led to believe an item of food is healthy, but when you look into the nutrition it really isn’t that great.

  2. Can I be a bit controversial …. I think sweeteners are as bad, if not worse, than sugar. It fools the body into thinking a sugar hit is happening, when it isn’t, and it actually gives you more of sweet tooth than if you stuck to sugar. I am sugar (and sweetener) free, but I have a husband on the Slimming World diet who drinks gallons of sugar-free/no added sugar squash and fizzy drinks … they are SO SWEET that I won’t let my children drink them. I think everything in moderation is the way to go – I know many ‘obese’ children that went on to be skinny adults, and skinny children now on permanent diets as adults. I maintain though that children develop at different rates and in the majority of cases by the time they reach adulthood they are ‘normal’ size (whatever that is these days!)

  3. I think as parents we have the responsibility to teach our children about healthy eating and living. I allow my children to have a bit of everything. I’m never going to stop them have sweets and chocolate but I teach them about portion control. This is not just about food though and we are also responsible for ensuring our children keep active and not sit on the xbox all day.

  4. Very interesting article! That’s true, sugar is absolutely everywhere today. Even flavoured “WATER” contains it! I think parents should be aware and always read the ingredients label on the packeging.

  5. I believe its down to the parents first and foremost. A balanced diet and exercise is important.
    I’d prefer to go for a long walk in the park than see my daughter stuck to a screen all day

  6. It is such a contraversal topic but yes I do think parents have a major role in it, as a mum who is also overweight I will always make sure that my son knows about healthy and unhealthy foods and as long as I have control over what he eats he will have a healthy balanced diet. It doesn’t matter what budget I am working with that week, a healthy diet can be given if you try hard enough. Don’t get me wrong though, our socirety these dos not help, it is harder to find healthy on the go snacks and the advertising of yummy foods is crazy these days

  7. This post is really important and informative. I think the responsibility is of all the educational resources that children have: parents, media, schools and society. Of course, parents should be the first responsible ones but a little bit of support from the rest would be really good x

  8. I think parental understanding of nutrition is key. Many are uneducated in this area (school barely touches the subject.) Also the fact that high fat/sugar food is constantly on offer in supermarkets adds to the problem.

  9. It’s parents responsibility to make sure their children are eating healthily. It’s just so terrifying that there are so many people who really don’t pay attention to nutrition so it’s not a suprise that we are having rising numbers in children obesity.

  10. This is very much what I would like my new blog to be about. Having yoyo dieted myself for many years I could see the impact it had on my teenage years and with 2 young daughters I did not want the same for them.
    I believe teaching them while they are young is better than waiting for them to make the same mistakes many of us adults make. Great blog.

  11. It’s so hard to stop this when people have a certain mind frame. I know for myself personally, my daughter has always been raised with healthy nutritious foods. She has porridge every morning and she never has bad food apart from one time in a blue moon. However, when she goes to her dads house, she has cocoa pops for breakfast and he thinks there is nothing wrong with this. It’s so frustrating because when they’re younger and unable to make decisions for themselves, we need to be giving them healthy choices. x

  12. Parents play a huge part in the child’s lifestyle. I was an obese child and wasn’t encouraged to eat well or be active. I have made a conscious effort to make sure my children eat a varied diet and do regular exercise, it’s just me that needs sorting out now

  13. I think that parents play a very important role in this, they should ensure that their babies eat a balance diet and exercise (take walks, play sports, etc). A side that little children might face bullying because of their weight, obesity is also a health concern. #coolmumclub

  14. Oh this is such a tricky issue because there are just so many factors to consider aren’t there? Parents, teachers, media, government, society all influence and share responsibility on the subject. In our house sugary cereals are a complete no no but even ones that appear healthier still have a fair amount in them. We have treats but I’m *constantly* banging on about how much sugar is in everything so the kids do have an awareness that it’s bad for their health although I am very conscious not to specifically focus on weight because once you do that a whole other world of issues that terrify me rear their ugly head – body image!
    Having one naturally very skinny child who never seems to gain weight and one who is naturally cuddly (and perfect!) makes it even harder to deal with as I have to be careful to try to give them the amount of fuel their body needs to stay healthy without making any obvious difference to what each of them ‘gets’.
    I would like to think that regardless of their natural body type my child wouldn’t get to the point where they are medically obese but I can see how easily it could happen if we were less strict about their overall diet. Convenience, cost, time and let’s face it, some days just not having the energy or inclination to whip up 3 healthy meals, all play a part but ultimately all aspects of their health are our responsibility until they are adults and that includes their diet. #coolmumclub

  15. I do agree that it’s down to us as parents to make sure we know what we are putting into our childrens bodies. I think sometimes things that we think are healthy and good for them are actually filled with sugar and nasties. It’s difficult through as in my opinion I wouldn’t want to deprive my son of the odd treat. Suppose it’s all about balance.

  16. This is thought provoking. I think it is mostly the responsibility of parents, but schools and society in general need to help parents to make the right choices. Healthy eating and cooking needs to be taught in school so children can eventually pass on good habits to their own children. There’s no quick fix here. We need to look at it as improving the health of future generations.

  17. I’m not 100% sure exactly where I stand on the issue because I feel there are a lot of products on the market aimed at children that have an inappropriate amount of sugar in them. I feel the manufacturers have a certain part to play. However I think the biggest responsibility is with the parents. I don’t believe is taking away all sugary products or breakfasts, I believe in balance. I am trying to make my children understand the food choices they can make. I know that one day they will not be having closely regulated school meals and will be able to go to the shop and buy themselves a can of fizzy drink if they want. I simply hope that at that point they understand their options fully and they haven’t been deprived it for so many years that they crave it and go overboard.

  18. (my phone died and I think my first comment with it! Sorry if I comment twice!)
    I ultimately think responsibility lies with the parent, however some parents don’t know how to eat healthily and they are just doing their best – like all of us! I think they could use a bit of help, and also the hidden sugars etc in products is worrying. Its an interesting one.

  19. A really interesting read – points to take away for me are 1) I am a good parent for taking Tigs to gymnastics this evening. 2) I should do them a different breakfast than the standard cereals (they love peanut butter on toast and eggs, and porridge so would be over the moon to have that). 3) One issue not mentioned is the struggle for parents with fussy eaters. If anyone can help me get my picky eater to eat less sugar I would hug them – it’s so hard when they eat very little… answers on a postcard!
    Love these educational posts Talya – keep em coming!

  20. It is 100% the parents’ responsibility. Everything else is secondary by far.

    We can say schools are responsible for educating our kids, but where I live most schools have such strict guidelines when in comes to lunches (both due to allergy concerns and nutrition) that I don’t’ know what my poor Peachy will eat by the time she’s school age. We can say society is to blame by promoting an unhealthy lifestyle but expecting the world to set a good example for our kids is living in a dream world. We the parents have to set the example.

    With the internet being accessible to just about everyone, we can no longer say that we don’t know what a healthy diet is. We can easily educate ourselves. There are plenty of resources out there to answer all of our questions on this issue.

    Money can be a factor, but I don’t think it’s impossible to eat healthy on a budget. Meals made from scratch are often cheaper and usually healthier. They just take time. And that’s what it comes down to. Unhealthy food is so much more convenient.

    Lets keep in mind that when it comes to something like what a parent feeds their child, there is a fine line between advice and dictating how we should raise our kids. To say that it is child abuse is a slippery slope. What next? There are many questionable decisions parents make that could be viewed as dangerous. Where do we draw the line? Who decides what concepts we can force on parents and what decisions they get to make on their own?

    As much as I push a healthy lifestyle upon my family, I don’t appreciate rules telling me how to parent. Perhaps that is the reason why I feel so strongly about it being the responsibility of parents. I accept the responsibility for the parenting decisions I make but I expect the right to make those decision for my family. #coolmumclub

  21. This is a huge part of our job! For goodness sake, who else will teach them well but us! We must own it and do it in a proper way, especially with little girls, who can so easily be swayed into disorder via the media or the tv. Healthy choices, strength, outdoor play, and sweets in moderation. As someone who grew up eating disordered (well into my 30’s), we have to be aware of body image, self esteem, empowerment, and mighty girls! Great post. #coolmumclub xo

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