Obesity is a legacy we don't want to pass on to our kids, which is why we welcome the vocal comments of nearly every doctor in the UK calling for junk food adverts to be banned and fizzy drinks to be heavily taxed.
The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges shows how concerned it is about this “huge crisis” by recommending a ban on advertising foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt before 9pm; further taxes on sugary drinks to increase prices by at least 20%; a reduction in fast food outlets near schools and leisure centres; and no junk food or vending machines in hospitals, where all food must meet the same nutritional standards as in schools. Controversially they also suggest a £100m budget for interventions such as weight-loss surgery.
We fully endorse these recommendations. In her talk at the Journal of Family Health Care Nutrition Day last Autumn Alison Nelson made a persuasive argument of the damaging effect advertising has on us all. The millions of pounds spent by manufacturers on advertising means it is hardly surprising that parents and children are easily attracted to unhealthy food options.
The Olympics was proof of why the culture has to change from Government and industry level downwards. At the Olympics, fast food multinational chain McDonalds was chosen by the Government as their main licensed food outlet. Suffice to say this controversial move was derided by anti-obesity campaigners, who said it was sending the wrong messages about what constituted healthy foods.
Evidence which was once “underground” is now getting a wider hearing. At last year's JFHC Live, speaker Dr Alex Richardson spoke of sugar as being “the new poison” and argued that obesity is linked to consumption of excess sugar and bad fats. Her talk was inspired by hearing American advocate Robert Lustig speak.
Another JFHC Live speaker, Tam Fry, has long been an advocate of anti-obesity messaging, and with 1 in 3 schoolchildren classified as clinically obese it is clear we can't continue to forge the same path. Government now has to step in to enforce legislation which requires manufacturers to remove excess sugar, salt and saturated fats from their foods. The current status quo, which is voluntary, is simply not acceptable.
Prof Terence Stephenson, the chair of the Academy, evoked parallels with the campaign against smoking.
He told the BBC: “That required things like a ban on advertising and a reduction in marketing and the association of smoking with sporting activities – that helped people move away from smoking.”
Government also needs to make healthier foods more affordable. It is not acceptable that fast foods are relatively cheap in comparison to fresh fruit and vegetables. Some anti-obesity campaigners argue that cooking also needs to make a return to the national curriculum. Although basic cookery is often taught in pre-school and infant school, we are missing a trick if we don't teach our children to cook healthier foods.
A midwifery conference I attended last year shows why it is vital all health professionals support the message of the Academy of Medical doctors. There, I was stunned to learn that obese mothers are not just passing a legacy of obesity down to their children, but their grandchildren.
For the sake not just of our own health, but that of future generations, we need to ensure we change out thinking and patterns of behaviour and adopt a zero tolerance to the marketing of unhealthy foods to our kids.
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