Page last updated at 16:38 GMT, Thursday, 13 November 2008

What kind of food-family are you?

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Fruit slices
Families need to be taught about healthy eating

Are you a treater, a role model, or a traditionalist?

They are three of the six categories the Department of Health has identified to classify a family's approach to food.

How does your lifestyle choice influence your child's weight?

They say families with problematic approaches are those with too little time, those who are too inexperienced in preparing food, or those who are overly keen of giving treats.

But your family might also fit into the more positive categories of role models - who tend to eat healthy and organic foods, traditionalists - who feel children should eat what is on their plate, or exercisers - who stay active to burn off their occasional indulgences.

Help needed

The department has also published research looking at families' attitudes and behaviours to diet and activity.

Too little time: lack the time, money or knowledge to eat healthily and tend to have a snacky TV diet
The inexperienced: these are families who have had their children young and do not have the skills they need to promote healthy eating
The treaters: Affluent families who tend to be overweight and unaware of their child's weight
Role models: Tend to be healthy eaters who prefer organic foods
The traditionalists: Follow the traditional view that children should eat what they are given
The exercisers: Do plenty of exercise, but still treat believing that exercise burns off calories

One parent didn't believe her child looked overweight. "I went to the doctor once and he said my daughter was 'obese'. I thought it was totally ridiculous."

Another said: "I kind of make it up as I go along. A lot of it is from the way mum brought me up, I don't really know any other way."

The research, and the six categories, are primarily designed to help health professionals encourage people to eat healthily - by identifying what kind of attitudes a family has, it's believed advice can be better targeted.

Public health minister Dawn Primarolo said a simple lack of knowledge is often the problem.

"Obesity is the biggest health challenge we face. Every year 9,000 people die prematurely.

"And many people simply just don't know that being overweight can lead to major health problems including heart disease and cancer.

"We are leading the world when it comes to facing up to the problem and tackling obesity. From this autumn we are aiming to change the way we all live our lives."

Worrying ignorance

Paul Sacher, research director at Mend (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition, Do-it!) an organisation which tackles childhood obesity, said this was the kind of ignorance that organisations like his own were battling.

And he hailed marketing the groups in this way as a very clever ploy to engage the families.

"If you speak to people they say 'oh everybody knows what a healthy diet is'.

People do still need to know the basics
Paul Sacher, Mend

"But there are many more people that don't know what a healthy diet is than do.

And this is very important for us to be aware of - especially when we are writing healthy lifestyle programmes.

"People do still need to know the basics.

"We are working at the coal-face with programmes all over the country for families.

"There is a very clear message coming through that there is a real lack of awareness by parents about their children's weight status."

He said the difficulty was making people take healthy eating messages on board.

"The government could almost do programmes in every town, but if people don't access them or are not aware of whether their children are overweight or not they will not pay any attention," he said.

Too simplistic

But others are not so convinced.

Elliot Malenfant, from London, is a healthy active six-year-old who loves cycling, roller- blading, running around with his friends and swimming.

His weight is normal, and his mum admits she allows her son the occasional treat.

"My partner Stephane and I both agree we do not like Elliot to have too much processed food or additives, and he is not allowed fizzy drinks.

Elliot Malenfant roller blading
Elliot is healthy, but still gets treats

"Stephane and Elliot eat meat but I don't. Elliot and I are slightly lactose intolerant and have to limit our dairy intake whereas Stephane has a high dairy diet.

"I sometimes reward Elliot with a sugary treat, such as a piece of cake, because I love cake. But Stephane is much less likely to reward Elliot with treats.

"I don't know where Elliot would fit in because he is very healthy, but he does like treats. I guess he'd fit into a 'healthy eating with treats at the weekend' category.

Although not against the idea of classifying families Elliot's mum Martine said she feared the groupings were too simplistic.

"I don't think we fit neatly into any of the categories."

WHAT SORT OF FAMILY ARE YOU?

Family type Attitude to food Attitude to exercise Weight status
Too little time -Often single parents on low income, also lacking knowledge and money Eat convenience food, don't have time to cook, eat for comfort Seen as costly, time-consuming, not enjoyable. Very sedentary Mothers overweight
Inexperienced - Again often single parents on low income, a lack of knowledge and skill to implement healthy lifestyle Children are fussy eaters and rely on convenience foods No interest in increasing exercise levels, children seen as active Family overweight, failure to recognise children's weight problems
Treaters - Affluent families of all ages who enjoy indulging in food Enjoy food, heavy snackers, parents watching weight Believe family is active, only barriers to children's activity is confidence Family overweight, low recognition of children's weight problems
Role models -Affluent, older parents often with larger families, living a healthy lifestyle Strong interest in healthy diet Family active although believe children not confident doing exercise Below average levels of obesity and weight problems
Traditionalists - Parents with strong family values, of all ages, some single, but need to change diet and exercise Strong parental control but eat too many high-energy foods and large portions Know they should do more but time, money and self confidence seen as barriers Parental tendency to obesity above average, children below
Exercisers - Families on average incomes, often younger mothers, get plenty of exercise Eating motivated by taste, diet includes healthy and unhealthy foods Activity levels are high, particularly among mothers Low family obesity, but children's weight levels a concern



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SEE ALSO
The six food family types
13 Nov 08 |  Health

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