Finally the media and government are waking up to the health risks associated with our sugar intake. In 2014 The Guardian reported that Action on Sugar had developed a seven-point plan to tackle childhood obesity. For the past six months I have been delivering healthy eating workshops in primary schools across Enfield so this is a topic I am very passionate about.
Childhood obesity is said to be at its lowest since 1998, but clearly more needs to be done in boroughs like Enfield. This is my second healthy eating project and I strongly believe that healthy lifestyle workshops are essential for parents and carers, as well as their children and young people.
Just a quick glance at London Borough of Enfield’s statistics shows a strong correlation between social deprivation and childhood obesity. I have been working in Enfield Lock, Turkey Street and Upper Edmonton wards. My conversations with a neuroscientist highlights the importance of healthy nutritious meals at a young age and the impact it has on mental health in teenage years. To hear of young children not actually eating an evening meal creates a bigger problem.
The parent consultation revealed that most parents were unaware of the amount of sugar in canned drinks. A can of Old Jamaica Ginger Beer contains as much as (52g of sugar in 330ml can). This amounts to 13 teaspoons of sugar. Furthermore, most parents claimed not to spend more than two hours a week exercising. This is less than the recommended time of physical activity each week. Considering that one would have to run half a marathon to burn off the calories found in burger, chips and a fizzy soft drink, simply cutting out junk food is a step in the right direction, followed by regular exercise.
The Change 4 Life short videos that we played during the in-school workshops proved effective in increasing the children’s awareness of health risks. Many children feared the risk of cancers and diabetes. Although, our intention was not to use scare tactics, when hearing of children adding seven teaspoons of sugar to their hot drinks, it was certainly worth it. In one day a child age 8 could consume 18 teaspoons of sugar (72g). The recommended daily intake of sugar averages at around seven teaspoons (30g) for those aged 11 and over.
We know that type 2 diabetes and obesity are real risks associated with too much sugar. Plus premature development of cardiovascular disease, stroke, heart attacks and heart failure, which are the commonest cause of death and disability in the UK. These can also lead to severe complications, ie the commonest cause of blindness, renal dialysis and amputation of the lower limbs. Let’s not forget to mention the common risk of tooth decay. All of these can be avoided by adopting a healthy diet and active lifestyle.
Why are these unhealthy sugary options so affordable and readily available? A lot more needs to be done to educate and inform communities, particularly across UK’s most deprived boroughs. We do not need to be expert health nutritionist to take responsibility and share information on this topic.
Other interesting reads: Soft Drinks, Junk Food and Childhood Obesity
For more insights on my community projects follow me on Twitter @KemiBamidele