Victorian parents are proclaiming “Let them eat cake” when filling up their children's lunchboxes. According to “Victoria's largest ever lunchbox survey” released by the State Government, 93 per cent of primary school children find junk food in their lunchbox. Cakes, chocolate and sweet fruit drinks are contributing to poor health and nutritional development of our children.
Australian parents have lost the ability to feed themselves and their children healthy food. According to the 2001 National Health Survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, around half of Australian adults were overweight or obese. The corresponding figure for 1989 was just under 40 per cent. The prevalence of obesity in children is more difficult to assess due to the lack of standard definitions. However it has been estimated that its rate of increase over the corresponding period outstripped that for adults.
Reality TV has turned its attention to the battle of the bulge. In You are what you eat, a UK program recently shown on Australian television, a “nutrition makeover expert” wonders in amazement at seemingly sane adults consuming insane amounts of fat and sugar in their diet. Sadly for Australia and the UK, this is not “reality television”, it is reality and most of us could be the stars of the show.
We must recognise our responsibility towards the younger members of our society. Let's practice what we preach when we proudly proclaim “my family is the top priority in my life”. As Mark Latham did recently, let's push our health and that of our children from the periphery to the centre of our lives.
What children need is a positive role model. Education in the kitchen and at the dinner table is the best approach for teaching children about food. Many of us may not possess the necessary cooking skills, time or financial resources to prepare the latest recipe by a TV chef with a Cockney accent. Nevertheless the mantras about healthy eating are already in the public domain and most of us are fully aware of them. A small change to our daily eating behaviour can have enormous benefits for our long-term health.
Generation X needs to act today to ensure our children don't become Generation XXL. It requires effort and discipline but it surely beats watching a 10-year-old short of breath when walking from the car to the school entrance.
It is true that the environment we have built and the lifestyle we choose to lead makes it harder to be healthy. Obesity is caused by a complex and not well-understood interaction of factors, but nutrition is fundamental. Nutrition education should receive greater support than at present and should be at the core of our education system.
In today's society, fighting obesity is a monumental struggle for Australian parents left to their own devices. Taking cakes out of a lunchbox alone won't win the war but it is a much-needed first step in the right direction.
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