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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 January, 2004, 16:30 GMT
Child diet 'is down to parents'
Burger
Are parents most to blame for poor diets?
Most people think the primary responsibility for improving a child's diet should rest with the parents, a survey suggests.

Schools were next in line, followed by food manufacturers and broadcasters.

However, most thought there should be greater controls over the way fast foods are promoted to children.

The poll was commissioned by the Food Standards Agency, which on Tuesday launches a public debate on food promotion and advertising.

There is widespread concern about the role of food and drink companies in the growing problem of weight gain and obesity in the UK.

WHO SHOULD TAKE RESPONSIBILITY?
Parents - 88%
Schools - 43%
Food manufacturers - 30%
Broadcasters - 26%

Many parents argue that efforts to control what their children eat are hampered by marketing targeted specifically at youngsters.

For instance, the survey found that most people thought endorsements from celebrities, such as pop stars and TV presenters, have considerable influence on children's choice of different foods.

Over half (56%) thought that sweets and chocolates should be removed from the supermarket checkouts.

Sir John Krebs, FSA chair, said: "The rising level of obesity in children is worrying to us all, not least to the parents of those children.

"Doing nothing is not an option but reversing the trend is a huge task and one in which we all have a role to play.

"The British public recognise the role that parents must play in improving the diets and health of their children.

"But it is also clear from our poll that they can't do it on their own - they need support from schools, industry, broadcasters and government if they are to make a difference."

Effect on behaviour

A FSA report, published in September, concluded that food promotion to children does have an effect on their food choices and behaviour.

The issues raised in that report will be discussed at a public meeting on Tuesday.

Recommendations for change will be handed to the government later this year.

Professor Steve Bloom, of Imperial College London, said: "The answer is to stop obesity, and the way to do that is to change our society.

"We need more availability of exercise, kids need to walk to school, we need to stop advertising food on children's television."

However, Andrew Brown, of the Advertising Association, questioned whether there was a link between childhood obesity and food advertising.

He said: "Per capita consumption of confectionary has not gone up in ten years, and the proportion of all advertising taken up by food advertising, including fast food advertising, is in decline.

"But kids are getting fatter, and the obesity issue is a very serious issue. Everybody has got to get together to try to find some kind of solution."


Your comments:

Parents are responsible for their children's diets. It can be difficult for parents without easy transport to supermarkets or greengrocers, when only ready meals are available at local shops. Food co-ops are very useful in these areas, if they have them. Avoiding high sugar, salt and fat is easy if you cook for your children. I am concerned however by the high sugar and salt content of breakfast cereals. Why is that?
Claire Pillar, Gaitsgill, Cumbria, UK

I would like to see the removal of sweets at the checkout
Dionne, Maidstone, Kent
I would like to see the removal of sweets at the checkout. It is the parents' responsibility first and foremost but why is healthy food more expensive than junk food maybe if prices were more reasonable mums would be less busy and less reliant on cheap fast food i.e. chicken nuggets oven chips fish fingers etc. It is easy to blame the parent but I think the food industry is just as much to blame.
Dionne, Maidstone, Kent

I agree that healthier food should be brought into schools (and for a cheaper price!), but making kids eat healthy food will only result in another excuse for them to rebel and the ending result in that would be weight gain. We can only do so much for them, and then it's up to them.
Rose, UK

I have difficulty believing that Parents still require education on what to feed their kids. Who honestly doesn't know that sugary and fatty foods are not good for us? Let's be honest, the majority of people are aware of foods that we should avoid but continue to eat them. I think that children should be given healthy balanced meals and snacks but not totally banned from any treat at all.

I allow my children to have two packets of sweets on a Saturday and that is all. If you totally ban children from any treat then I believe that they will grow up with an unhealthy obsession with it. Children need to learn moderation at a young age and this needs to be demonstrated to them by parents as kids will copy what their parents eat.
Felicity, Northampton, UK

It is definitely up to the Parents! A four year old shouldn't be deciding what they eat. Parents just need to learn to say no. Schools shouldn't offer a choice at school dinners. When I was at school there was two choices and certainly chips were only on the menu once a week.
S Sherwood, Bristol

One of the main problems today is the way manufacturers off load food products containing high amounts of sugar and refined flour using slick advertising and calling them low fat as if to draw the wool over our eyes. Previous generations ate three well balanced meals a day, containing reasonable amounts of fruit and vegetables, not the junk (including an enormous amount of breakfast cereal products which are of no nutritional value) that is predominately aimed at children, who in turn become addicted to these products.
Jane Hudson, Perthshire

Children will always want junk food if the alternative is less appealing
S Smith, Buckingham, UK
Children will always want junk food if the alternative is less appealing. Many parents just don't know much about good food or how to cook it, so rely on packet meals and fillers. The French have the right idea - children learn to appreciate fine food and subtle flavours from an early age. Meal times are a special, family occasion where the quality of food is more important that the volume.
S Smith, Buckingham, UK

Food is not the only issue in obesity. Activities based around sitting on your backside do not balance the energy intake of calorie dense foods. As a child I ate my fair share of sweets doughnuts etc but I had sports at school and spent most after school time running around playing games etc with friends, gaining both fitness and social skills. It is balance we should aim for in diet, activity, and even in deciding who's responsible for what is happening to the health of our children.
Stephen, Hammersmith, London

Of course responsibility must lie with the parents. Regardless of the advertising and the 'lies' by the food producers, there is so much information available regarding healthy eating these days that on-one could be said to be badly informed. To suggest that it's the fault of another agency is a sure sign of abdication of responsibility by parents. What do they do when they notice their five year old weighs twenty stone - keep feeding it, or do something about it? No brainer, indeed!!
Randy, Wycombe, UK

I have three boys one 12 and twins of 11, one of the twins has a small weight problem yet he eats the same if not less than the others. They all eat quite a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and veg. Would anyone have suggestions for meals for the three?
Anne Rees, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, England

I have had a weight problem all my life. It is easy to blame fast food outlets when they give away free toys from the latest films to tempt our kids and we feel under pressure to "treat" them. It is hard to say no, especially when some of us lead busy working lives and fast food and ready meals make life so much easier. However I was brought up in a time when my mum didn't work, we never ate ready meals, and the only fast food places were the fish and chip shop. The problem was that she was bored, comfort ate with sweets and treats to cheer her up and fed us them to keep her company.

The truth is there isn't just one factor to kids being overweight. There are many. Our job as parents is to identify and control them so our kids learn an important lesson that applies to all things in life - balance! My two like sweets but they are learning that as part of a healthy diet, they can have them occasionally and enjoy them without guilt. They eat a good balanced organic diet and I find that just as often they head for the fruit bowl than the sweet tin. Neither are overweight.
Pam, Edinburgh

I recently asked my daughter what was so great about McDonalds (we go perhaps once every six months) and she said the Toys in the Happy Meals - I wonder if McDonalds and all the other fast food outlets started retailing their toys instead of giving them away with their food, how many parents and children would give up going! My kids, like all kids, love sweets, cake and chocolate (although not fizzy drinks yet), but I control when they get them and how much - usually they're directed to the fruit bowl if they're hungry. Parents can encourage healthy eating - but many of them need educating themselves before they can pass it onto their children.
Gill, Leeds, UK

Parents are often hindered by the multi-billion pound junk food industry. Time to stop "character related" promotions on junk food and snacks. If the characters weren't there the children would only be interested in what tastes good, not the picture on the label.
Anne Brothwell, York, England

I agree that it is primarily the responsibility of parents. But the issue needs addressing as a whole. This means studies and restrictions if necessary of advertising, and improvements in the schools. Each day, our son has a "healthy option" listed on his school menu. Surely they should all be healthy options!
Chris Green, Bristol, UK

Healthy eating starts at home
Helen, Manchester
As head of a high school, I have made sure that a wide range of healthy food is available in our dining room. Pupils often, however, pick a range of bizarre items, despite all the healthy eating education they have had throughout their school lives. Packed lunches defy belief - crisps, chocolate, fizzy drinks, you name it. Healthy eating starts at home.
Helen, Manchester

I'm using a typical high school in Toronto as an example. Kids eat candy bars, colas, gatorade, chips (crisps) in the morning before class and on and off all day long. What's for sale in the cafeterias is disgraceful. Take a close look inside the so-called beef or chicken burgers and most of it is filler, fat, flavouring, etc. In the morning, the student cafeteria offers some healthy choices (toasted bagels and cheese) but they compete with large chocolate chip cookies, and deep fried hash browns. I'm not kidding when I tell you that fresher, hotter, less fattening food can be more easily gotten at the local McDonald's or Tim Horton's (coffee shop) than in school.
Maria, Toronto, Canada

I brought my children up to eat healthily. Now they are in their late 20s, one is a vegetarian and eats healthily the other makes some effort but nevertheless consumes junk food and is a little overweight. However, this is their choice and at least they have the information they need to make that choice. Most people, including parents, do not. They are systematically lied to by food manufacturers and their advertisers, as well as by the politicians who are in their pay. Parents' fault indeed. It's funny how, when unscrupulous multinationals and their hirelings pursue mega profits at the expense of our kids' health, it still turns out to be all our fault.
Steve McGiffen, Brussels, Belgium (formerly Whitby, England)

Poor diet is not just a child problem. Who is responsible for the parent's diet choices?
Stephen Paul, Reading, Berks

Of course it's up to parents to sort out their children's diets - but it's not easy. My husband and I are careful about the food our two sons eat, but I have had to deal with all sorts of comments about how fussy and even unkind I am. Not only that, but some people have taken great delight in waving sweets and biscuits at my kids as some sort of weird challenge to my stated preferences. I'm not at all against them having treats, but I want them to know what good, healthy food tastes like and to learn to appreciate it before they go off the deep end on sugar, flavourings and additives.

I'm wondering what will happen when my elder son starts school in September. With the best will in the world, a four-year-old does not have the maturity to pick out the healthy option. Once the kids are no longer spending as much time with their parents, it's not possible for us to be the only people to determine what they eat. That's when someone else has to step in. If this means a national policy on decent school food, that's ok with me.
Autumn Wray, London, UK

I too believe that the responsibility of correct nutrition lies with parents, I try to give my two year old daughter a healthy balanced diet with sweets, cakes and biscuits being given as occasional special treats. But it does not help when GRANDPARENTS insist on giving them sweets, cakes and biscuits every time they see their grandchildren. I have repeatedly asked them not to do this, but they do it behind my back. (Coming clean at a later date). My in-laws have my daughter at least twice a week, often more.
Jackie, Penicuik, Midlothian

Parents should always take primary responsibility for what their child eats, right from the very early days before the child becomes aware of outside influences. When my daughter was born I was very careful about what she ate from a baby and never gave her 'junk food', manufactured snacks, sweets or chocolate. She was too young to think herself missing out on anything, and developed healthy eating habits without noticing. Now at 18, though she makes her own food choices, she still prefers to eat healthily. When I had my son, I was working and I wasn't so vigilant about his diet. He grew up with a sweet tooth and taste for junk food, which cause him now as a teenager to struggle a little with his weight, and he has to make a conscious effort to eat healthily.
Annette, West Sussex

The biggest improvement in Health Promotion, would be to monitor any advertising. Fast food advertisement should be banned and stricter policies, how food is advertised so that people have a good idea what they really eat and drink.
Monika Schimming, Plymouth, Devon

Parent's responsibility of course! Usually mother's. Have you noticed how many overweight mothers often have an overweight child in tow? Shame on you! Food nutrition - AND cooking! - should be taught in school - get rid of fast food junk. Lessons learned young, last a long time.
Beryl, Canada

Perhaps some parents need further education in what healthy eating is all about
Clare, Bradford
It is definitely up to parents to teach good eating habits to their children. We are all subjected to the same amount of advertising, the same availability of food in supermarkets and fast food outlets yet not all of us are obese. Perhaps some parents need further education in what healthy eating is all about so they have the lessons to pass on?
Clare, Bradford

A child's weight should be controlled by the child's parents. Advertising food on TV makes no difference if the parents make a stance and refuse to buy the junk food for the kids. Parents need to be more educated in their child's dietary needs, as they are the ones responsible.
Sonal Patel, Nottingham England

Who buys the food and makes it for children? No brainer if you ask me, of course parents are responsible for their children's diet. And if they aren't, what kind of parents are they?
Damian Leach, UK

I think schools should take a large portion of the responsibility. Families from low-income households may not be able to afford a nutritious diet and if the children are fed properly at school, they will get at least some of the vitamins they require. Amazingly, junk food is often the cheaper option.
Kiera, London

Parents should definitely take the prime responsibility for what their children eat. However, the growing problem of obesity is actually due to too much sugar and starches in the diet and not enough naturally occurring good fats in food. Plenty of good fats in the diet provide the essential fatty acids that the human body requires for health, negating the need to take tablet supplements. Unnatural fats - trans fats - combined with starch in processed, ready meals and junk restaurant food together with "low fat" "healthy eating" food where the fat is taken out and replaced with more starches are the worst offenders.

However, pure natural fats in the form of butter, cream, cheese and dairy in conjunction with unprocessed meat, poultry, fish, nuts, vegetables and fruit is the way to a truly healthy diet. I have changed my diet in this way over the past three years and have ended my lifetime of weight problems, and I have educated my own children to check food labels and think about what they are eating.
Katy Wheeler, Southampton, Hants

I was going to write about diet foods, replacing fat with sugar and starch, good and bad fats, butter, olive oil, etc... then I read Katy Wheeler's contribution. Wise words, couldn't have said it better myself and worth repeating.
Gilbert Gosseyn, Bracknell, Berks




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Nicola Carslaw
"The food industry spends well over 400m per year on advertising"



SEE ALSO:
Experts warn 40% 'will be obese'
11 Nov 03  |  Health
How to avoid being a glutton
24 Dec 03  |  Health
'I have turned my life around'
09 Jan 04  |  Health


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