Sep 24, 2023
Sep 24, 2023
James Young, 8, and his brother Michael, 4, are whining. They want pizza and chips for dinner even though their mother is preparing chicken casserole with rice. Michael runs out of the kitchen crying, and James says he will not eat the food. "I'll get up at night and make my own chips," he tells his mother.
Carole Young rolls her eyes. She is tired of trying to persuade her children to change their diet, but admits it is her own fault. "It's been so easy to heat ready-made food in the oven," she says.
Young is divorced and raising her children alone. She works full time as an office administrator in Cambridge, and says the last thing she feels like doing at the end of each day is dicing and chopping vegetables. But she also understands the need to improve her children's diet.
Recent studies have highlighted the growing problem of obesity among young people. More than 25 per cent of British children aged 11 to 15 are classified as obese, almost double the rate measured 10 years ago. (Health Survey of England, April 2006)
And the problem is not limited to Britain. The International Obesity Taskforce (IOTF) predicts that the number of obese children worldwide will double by 2010. Overweight children are likely to develop diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease - the same disorders that cut short the lives of overweight adults.
Dr Tim Lobstein, Coordinator of the IOTF's childhood and adolescent obesity research programme, says governments must act quickly to prevent this spiralling growth in obesity. "We can only do this if we seriously address the need to cut down the consumption of extra empty calories in high fat and high sugar food products, and we do much more to improve children's opportunities to be active."
The British government is even considering a clampdown on advertising aimed at children, and one government minister has begun preaching directly to parents.
Public Health Minister Caroline Flint, a mother of three children, has urged parents not to give in when their children whine for unhealthy snacks. Speaking at the launch of a new healthy eating campaign in May 2006, she said: "All parents know that if you buy several packs of biscuits, you will come home and find they have all gone."
Young admits James is probably carrying a few pounds too many. The young boy blushes when he hears his mother say this. "It's all that sitting in front of the computer and television. This weekend, if the weather's good, we're off to the park to play football." She smiles when she says this and even coaxes a grin from her oldest son.
However, she says, the time she takes to prepare fresh meals and take the kids out for exercise also means less time for housework or leisure. "I used to quite like having some quiet time just to myself, but it's getting more and more difficult."
Young says she is often tempted to give James and Michael junk food. "Sometimes, I do. I just pick up pizza and chips from the supermarket, pop them in the oven and take them out 20 minutes later. It's so easy and the kids love it. I figure that if we just do it once a week then there's no harm."
Children's nutrition and health in Britain were highlighted when celebrity chef Jamie Oliver led a campaign against poor nutrition in school meals. His television programme showed most children eating reconstituted meats containing high salt and fat but little nutrition. It stirred up so much controversy that the government was forced to inject a further '280 (US$1=UK'0.53) million into school meals.
But the programme turned many parents off school meals, so that increasing numbers of children now take packed lunches to school. One teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, said the contents of the school meals vary from potato crisps, chocolate bars and fizzy drinks to carrot sticks and healthy sandwiches.
"You can definitely tell the difference between lunches prepared by mothers who work and those who stay at home. It's terribly difficult for working mothers to put quite the same preparation into their children's lunches," she says. "There is a whole trend toward giving children a better diet. Sometimes it goes too far with children turning up at school with only yoghurt and celery sticks to eat - this is clearly not enough for a growing child."
Young gives her boys sandwiches for lunch. Her mornings are busy so she prepares them the night before. The crisps and chocolate bar they used to take for break have been replaced with a banana.
Another change to her children's diet has been breakfast. "There was a letter home from school that said kids learn better when they've had a good breakfast. They even gave us a list of foods that make a good breakfast," Young says. Until this point, James and Michael had eaten a brightly-colored cereal before school. Now they eat a wholegrain cereal with much less sugar. "They moaned at first, but we compromised and I give them a little bit of chocolate milk over the top."
Young is aware that children's food could affect their behavior. Michael would become hyperactive after drinking Coca-Cola or Pepsi. "It was amazing to watch - he was uncontrollable. Even my ex-husband noticed it and we both agreed to make sure he didn't get any more."
At the moment, Michael is a very slender pre-schooler, but Young worries he might gain fat like his brother. "I feel that if I start them eating healthier now, it'll be best later," she says.
The fashion for children's nutrition is showing up on bookstore shelves as well. Nora Sands, the school dinner lady who appeared in the television series with Jamie Oliver, has written a children's recipe book called 'Nora's Dinners'. This sits alongside titles such as 'The Cool Lunchbox' and 'Real Food for Kids'.
Mrs Young has not bought any of these books because they are too expensive. She says preparing healthier food not only takes longer but takes a greater bite out of the family budget. "If I'm careful, I could make a cheap meal out of eggs, chips and beans. With fresh food, it costs a lot more," she said.
With more money going into the food budget, she hates to see her children pick at their meals and leave food on their plate. "I know it'll take time to change their habits and I'm not giving up. Eventually, when they're really hungry, they'll eat the lot and I won't have to scrape any into the bin."
James shakes his head as though that day will never happen.
"Just you wait," she tells him. "You'll love rice better than chips one day."
The young boy laughs. He isn't convinced.
More by : Yvonne Barlow