News Analysis

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Sinead Moriarty: Blame lies with parents as poor diets condemn our children to obesity

Published 07/02/2013 | 04:00

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Cheap food is not a bargain when it produces obese children who face a barrage of abuse from their peers and are prone to serious illness

AS a parent, I am very slow to judge other parents. No one knows what went on in the hours before that mother shouted at her child in the supermarket. No one knows what happened prior to that father telling his son he's a "nightmare" on the side of the football pitch. It is not for us to judge – except in the case of obese children.

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According to consultant paediatrician Dr Sinead Murphy, children are putting on weight because they are living in a "toxic environment" where healthy food is not available. Some 40pc of children being treated for obesity are at risk of heart disease. The same percentage of children treated at Temple Street Hospital in Dublin already had potential heart problems.

A six-year-old child who weighs seven stone is not to blame. A seven-year-old boy with heart problems due to obesity is not at fault. His parents are. Young children do not cook for themselves. Young children do not decide what to have for dinner.

The parents are the ones who do the shopping. The parents are the ones who put the food on the plate. The parents are the ones introducing unhealthy eating habits to their children. The parents are the ones who are putting their children's lives at risk.

We are inundated with TV programmes dealing with adults trying to lose weight. How many of these adults learned their bad eating habits as children? How often do we hear stories about cheap supermarket meat being made up of everything but meat?

We have seen numerous high-profile documentaries being made about the dangers of a fast food diet. Who can forget Morgan Spurlock's film, 'Super Size Me'? After a 30-day period during which he ate only food from the McDonald's menu, he became very unwell. He put on 24 pounds, had a 13pc body mass increase, saw an increased cholesterol level of 230 and experienced mood swings, sexual dysfunction and fat accumulation on his liver. With all the damage done to his body, it took him 14 months to lose the weight gained from his month-long experiment.

The food we eat today has changed more in the past 30 years than in the previous 3,000. We now live in a culture that is far removed from where our food comes from. We no longer see how food is made or what chemicals or food colourings are added to 'enhance' it.

If we knew where our burgers and chicken nuggets actually came from, we'd probably never eat them again. Maybe that's the solution. We need to educate ourselves as to the origins of what ends up on our plate.

I know it is not easy when you are on a tight budget to opt for the more expensive organic foods, but you can make sensible decisions that do not cost more. Go to your local butcher, talk to him about what you need. Cheaper cuts of meat do not have to be unhealthy ones.

Do we want our children eating chickens that have been stuffed full of grains laced with antibiotics and arsenic to help them grow faster? A study commissioned by the United States Department of Agriculture reported that 78pc of the beef used in the fast food industry contained faecal matter. Surely that would make you think twice about ordering a cheeseburger.

THE bottom line is that fast food, cheap food and junk food make our children fat and unhealthy. It can also put their lives at risk. Obesity is not just about being fat, it brings with it so many other physical and psychological problems – knee pain, breathlessness, low self-esteem, depression, heart disease. Being overweight also exposes your child to bullying. One in 10 children suffering from obesity admitted to being severely bullied.

With the recent spate of suicides among teenagers in Ireland, surely it is time to rethink our shopping lists and make healthier choices for all the members of our family. It is a parent's job to give their children the best start in life. Sending them to school out of breath, wearing XXL clothes, to be ridiculed by their peers, is just not good enough.

Irish Independent

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