Tackling Obesity – all Talk?

So today’s News informs us that obesity will be worse than cholera or AIDs for our health service.

Yesterday we were told we’re heading towards being the fattest country in Europe.

And previously we heard that 85% of all Irish schoolchildren take a lift bus/car to school every day. And all about the 50 inch waistbands for school uniforms.

Statistics, surveys, reports. Seems we’re great at talking about the crisis of obesity surrounding our children in Ireland – but what is actually being done about it?

Of course personal responsibility has a huge role to play.

And there is a separate case to make between Primary and Secondary school children. Under 12s as a general rule do not shop for or feed themselves. Barring a medical cause, isn’t the obese primary age child surely creation of the adult hands that feed it? Something for another day’s discussion.

But it’s different when children hit teenage years and secondary school. They have their own money, free will and ability to make good or bad choices when it comes to food. It is also a time of huge growth spurts and boundless energy requirements. Not to mention the fuelling of body and brain to cope with the State exam regime and thereby open the gates to college, career and all life’s opportunities.

My first child is starting secondary this year. I did a random, non scientific survey of local schools, and amongst friends and colleagues with teenagers. For this most vital stage of our children’s lives, the options seem to range from;

  • Canteen facilities (subsidised or not) providing healthy, hot and cold food options
  • Canteen facilities with less healthy choices
  • No canteen facilities, but pupils stay on the premises at lunchtime
  • No canteen facilities and pupils must leave the building at lunchtime (to buy lunch locally). One option here is the trip to the local ‘hot counter’ to purchase deep fried, brown food. I have counted queues of up to SIXTY uniformed kids at these so called delis, with the salad bar invariably far quieter.

It is just not good enough. Why such variation between schools? Why is this acceptable to the Departments of Health and Education?

  • Why can’t we have subsidized canteens in ALL secondary schools, providing healthy lunches and facilities to bring/heat your own food.

And while I’m ranting;

  • Why not roll out a National Healthy Eating Policy amongst all Primary and Secondary Schools
  • We’ve had ‘Bike to Work’ – how about a ‘Bike to School’ scheme?
  • Why not ban the sale of Sports drinks (all fizzy drinks?) directly to under 18s. Radical…but 12 teaspoons of sugar anyone? A professional and exhausted sportsperson might need that in 500 mls of liquid. But 9yr old Johnny coming home from half an hour of football does not.
  • Make Physical Fitness a recognised and assessable school subject.
  • Set up ‘Green Mile Zones’ around or within schools, highlighted like cycle lanes. Buses and cars drop off at these designated mile points and pupils walk the remaining mile to/from school, with frequency of use all going towards your ‘physical fitness’ grade at the end of the year. Green Miles could be painted inside school grounds/gyms also, to be similarly used on arrival at school early or during lunch time.

Now you can run a rule over some or all of the above and dismiss them as unrealistic/pie in the sky. So be it. But the obesity solution, we are always told, lies in physical activity. So, at least these are suggested physical actions and not just words.

And before you mention the Cost word – none of the above will cost as much as treating the tidal wave of obesity ill health that faces our population down the line.

So why not invest in Prevention instead of Cure.



Healthy Eating? – Something’s Not Adding Up

(I wrote this letter to Weetabix earlier. If any foodies  – or mathematicians – have anything to offer – please share!)

Dear Weetabix,

I’m interested in healthy eating and levels of added sugar in food. I regularly buy Weetabix products and have been studying your ingredients more closely of late.

Taking the ingredient labels on your various products, can you explain the following to me:

Product name            Ingredients                          Sugar per 100gr

‘Weetabix                             Wholegr Wheat 95%                                       4.4gr’

‘Oatibix                                   Wholegr Oats 97%                                            3.2gr’ 
(so far so good…)                                                                                                                      
‘Weetabix Minis                  Wholegr Wheat 93%                                    17.7gr……??


i.e if 93% of what goes into the box is wheat, mathematically not more than 7% can be sugar. The sugar levels in the other two products make sense in this regard. I don’t understand where this extra 10% sugar comes from?! Can you explain it to me.

I look forward to hearing from you.