Health: Junk food TV raises big health questions

Ellie Hoban, 3, with her mother Rebecca Cusworth, being examined by specialist paediatric dentist David Auld at Clarendon Dental Spa, in Leeds. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.
Ellie Hoban, 3, with her mother Rebecca Cusworth, being examined by specialist paediatric dentist David Auld at Clarendon Dental Spa, in Leeds. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.
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Most of us love a packet of sweets and a fizzy drink.

Thankfully, as I’ve got older I’ve realised and addressed the impact of my sweet tooth.

Sadly though, as Channel 4’s ‘Junk Food Kids: Who’s To Blame?’ documentary crudely highlighted last week, Leeds is still facing a tide of childhood tooth decay and obesity as a result of poor lifestyles.

A third of Leeds children suffer from tooth decay by age five – well above the national average – while nearly a quarter of reception age children are overweight or obese.

They are stark statistics which beg the question, what are we doing about this? Well the city’s dentists argue, a lot.

David Auld is a specialist paediatric dentist at Clarendon Dental Spa, in Leeds, which he believes is one of the only private dentists commissioned by the NHS to help with specialist work on children.

He said: “You have got professionals spending time and the NHS spending money giving specific tailored advice to patients for their own good but when that’s not always being followed it’s frustrating. It’s almost entirely preventable.”

Clarendon Dental Spa deals with 100 NHS referrals a month for children with decay, while Leeds Dental Institute (LDI) and Leeds Community Dental Service also share the burden.

Stephen Fayle, a consultant paediatric dentist at LDI, said he alone takes out 7,000 to 10,000 children’s teeth a year and in rare cases has to take all 20 baby teeth out. He said: “We need to make sure parents understand the importance of doing basic stuff before their children get to three.”

At the end of the day parents do have the ultimate responsibility in terms of what their children eat and drink, and whether they brush their teeth but decay is a symptom of a wider problem.

Professor Paul Gately, from Leeds Beckett University, set up the UK’s first residential ‘fat camp’ more than a decade ago. Several local authorities still pay for a handful of obese children to attend the More Life programme, but not Leeds.

He claims More Life is also dealing with a symptom of the same issue, which parents are not entirely to blame for, as local authorities nationally don’t commit enough funds to promoting healthy lifestyles.

Prof Gately said: “The reality is the preventative action is actually not really in place.”

Leeds City Council says the city has achieved a “small downward trend” in childhood obesity and commits £500,000 a year to interventions to address childhood obesity.

Childhood obesity and tooth decay are symptoms of a big issue in Leeds, which suggests some families are not digesting public health messages. It is by no means a majority of families falling short but clearly ongoing work by the council, NHS and partners needs to continue and further any downward trends.


- Introduce drinking from a free-flowing cup from six months and stop any bottle feeding by around 12 months.

- Start brushing you child’s teeth twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste as soon as the first tooth erupts.

- Children should first see a dentist when the first tooth erupts.

- Children should be supervised when brushing their teeth until age seven to eight.

- Keep any juices or fruit drinks and any sugary snacks to mealtimes only.