Saturday 12 July 2014

Give children a healthy start

According to the latest ESRI research, 15pc of five-year-olds in Ireland are overweight

I like to start my articles on a positive note and the fact that so many people in this country are more health conscious and getting out exercising is great and a step in the right direction.

It really is a huge change over a relatively short period of time. If you use racing as a comparison, 20 years ago, the Dublin Marathon would have been struggling to attract 3,000 or 4,000 runners. Now, a lot of 5k or 10k club races around the country can expect to attract up to 1,000 people.

On the downside, I was astonished to read last week's ESRI Growing up in Ireland research which showed that children as young as five years old, studied as part of a wide-ranging survey, were considered obese. Not overweight, but obese. In fact, 15pc of five-year-olds are overweight and 5pc are obese.

Despite more public awareness regarding healthy eating, it seems that this problem is getting worse rather than better. The breakdown shows that children from poorer backgrounds were worst affected and those who spent more time on computers or watching TV were far more likely to end up in this sad condition of obesity.

Focusing on balanced nutrition is key for any family. Making an effort to eat healthily instead of losing weight makes it easier for the family to put changes into action

Parents need to lead by example and educate our children about the importance of healthy eating habits. We have to make this vital decision for the good of the children.

We are led astray, to a certain extent, by advertisements. Last week, while my family was having breakfast, an advertisement came on the radio: "Wake up to chocolate spread!" When children hear this kind of a statement, they think it is acceptable to have chocolate for breakfast.

I think a good way to begin making people more aware of healthy eating is to have an information evening where parents can go and get advice on good nutrition and the consequences if you don't eat properly. It must start in the home, from the parents.

I admit it is hard work and I am constantly telling my two children what foods are good for them and what will give them energy and make them strong and vibrant. If you send a child to school with a less-than-nutritious breakfast, their concentration levels are going to be poor, their energy levels will be low and they will be susceptible to colds and flus.

Today, it is very difficult for parents and children to avoid sweets, cakes, fizzy drinks and the likes. You go into any shop around the country and the amount of confectionery (or rubbish, as I call it) is unreal. A treat now and again is okay, but it must be controlled.

I think, for us to bring more healthy eating habits into our homes, we need more awareness about what foods to eat and what to avoid. Why don't we put the same focus on unhealthy food as we do on smoking or drugs considering the tsunami of obesity issues we are facing according to some doctors.

For instance, we all know the most nutritious part of any breakfast cereal is the milk that is poured on to it. Most, if not all, breakfast cereals have far too much sugar and very little nutrition. But do parents know this? If not, what chance have the children? Fruit followed by some porridge is a great way to start the morning.

We need to get into the habit of eating plenty of fresh produce. You just cannot go wrong with plenty of fruit, vegetables, dairy produce, rice, potatoes, fish, chicken and meat, spread variably over the period of a week.

Hard-pressed parents or those who work and have little time to cook may use excuses, but there is no excuse for not making a serious effort to keep rubbish food out of the house. You will find that fruit or milk is cheaper than crisps, sugary cereals, some processed foods or bottles of fizzy drinks.

People don't realise it but poor diet is the cause of a lot of illness in this country and the sooner we can become more educated on good eating habits the better.

A short-term solution to keeping a five-year-old quiet with a computer game and a bag of crisps is only putting off a bigger, far-louder problem down the road. To read statistics from the ESRI last week, it seems there are some parents who don't believe so. What a shame.

Irish Independent

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