Childhood obesity: face the fats

25th June 2004 at 01:00
You cannot fault the Executive for trying. The question is: are they trying in the right way or hard enough? The issue is the rising levels of childhood obesity, now feared to be reaching crisis proportions and increasingly the preoccupation of schools.

It is, of course, a problem of the western world. But it is no excuse for complacency to acknowledge that the United States comes top of the youth fatness league and that Australia is second, as Ron Mackay points out in his letter this week (page 2). The fact that these two countries are seen as successful sporting nations only serves to underline the fact that this is a complex issue.

The conference held in Edinburgh on the subject this week (page 5) was a reflection once again of the seriousness with which educators as well as health professionals are taking childhood obesity.

Each time the issue surfaces, the warnings become ever more dire - the latest being of an obesity epidemic. Common observation provides enough pointers: this piece is being penned in an office overlooking a McDonald's outlet, which is rarely anything other than packed with customers.

That underlines a further point that homes, never mind schools, are not in control of events: the Edinburgh conference heard that 40 per cent of food is consumed outside the home. We do, of course, need to start somewhere, and the Executive has to be commended for its emphasis on fitness and health.

But, like many other areas where schools are urged to get involved, this is yet another example where schools cannot do it all. The power of the supermarket chains, together with the farmers and suppliers which depend on them, shapes taste and intake as much as anything schools can do.

This week's conference showed, however, that there is support for firmer action: two thirds of the audience wanted free healthy school meals for all pupils and four out of five delegates backed a ban on fizzy drinks in schools.

Some are already showing the way which shows that there are some things schools can do - with Executive and parental support.

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