Health: Don’t let your bad food habits impact the next generation

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Failing to keep your 2015 pledge is unfortunate but we shouldn’t let others’ good habits slide, says Jonathan Brown.

Cutting down the carbs, stopping smoking and getting fit are top of our New Year’s resolution tables – but what about the next generation.

It’s one thing setting yourself an ambitious healthy eating plan and caving in to chocolate two weeks in, but it’s a wholly more serious subject if people are passing on their bad habits to children.

In an age of fast food, busy lives and stretched resources, factoring in more fruit and vegetables can be a much harder task than it sounds nevertheless civic leaders claim progress is being made but there is “more to do” to tackle the childhood obesity epidemic in Leeds and the wider UK.

Levels of obesity in children are believed to be reducing, although it was revealed that despite the hard work being done by public health bosses, Leeds City Council and the NHS a third of 10 to 11-year-olds in Leeds were obese or overweight in 2013.

This week is National Obesity Awareness Week, prompting annual calls from health professionals and policy makers nationwide for families to prioritise healthy eating and good habits.

Coun Lisa Mulherin, chair of the Leeds Health and Wellbeing Board, said: “We know people are more aware of the health problems that can come from obesity and we are offering support to people who want to have more active lifestyles, advice about diet and healthy eating, as well as making it easier for people to look after their health more generally.”

Healthier school meals, one-to-one support for young families, free Leeds Lets Get Active exercise sessions at council facilities and work to promote cycling in the city are among the positive steps being taken by the council.

It has also trained more than 1,000 local health visitors and children’s centre workers to deliver the Health Exercise and Nutrition for the Really Young (HENRY) programme to offer support direct to children and families.

The authority claims feedback on the HENRY initiative has been “excellent” so far, with families reporting positive changes in what and how much they eat and how much activity they do.

But Dr Ian Cameron, director of public health for Leeds feels its work is far from finished.

“In common with other areas, we still have more to do and that is why it remains such an important part of the health and wellbeing strategy for the city,” he said.

“The research being done at Leeds Beckett University helps provide evidence to make informed decisions about reducing obesity.”

Leeds academics are among the leading lights in the UK Association for the Study of Obesity (ASO) – an organisation that houses scientists, researchers and practitioners who are looking into the understanding, research and prevention of obesity – which offers advice on the back of research evidence.

ASO members are offering evidence-based advice on social media this week, using the #NOAW hashtag, by providing their top tips to success for a healthier start to 2015.

Pinki Sahota, professor of nutrition and childhood obesity at Leeds Beckett University and chair of the ASO, is urging families to eat together to build healthy eating routines.

“Parents should be encouraged to sit with children and eat the same foods thereby modelling the consumption of healthy foods which in turn encourages children to eat the same foods,” she said. “Research has shown that families who consistently have family mealtimes are less likely to have overweight children.”

Limiting the amount of time children spend in front of the television has also been linked with healthier outcomes according to ASO trustee, Dr Emma Boyland. She claims food marketing encourages children to consume foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt.

She said: “Try to limit children’s screen time to reduce the impact of these powerful and persuasive commercial messages on their dietary health.”

Nationwide nearly a third of children aged two to 15 are classed as overweight or obese, putting them at increased risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. It is thought that the problem is costing the NHS around £5.1billion every year.

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Health leaders have called for an emergency taskforce to be set up to tackle childhood obesity in England.

The Royal College of General Practitioners and 11 other organisations signed a letter sent to the chief medical officer for England, Prof Dame Sally Davies, claiming “an entire generation is being destroyed by a diet of junk food and sugary drinks”.

In August they asked for a group, made up of doctors, nurses, dieticians, dentists and schools, to be set up.