Unhealthy lifestyles and government inaction

A new study from the British Heart Foundation reveals shocking statistics about how unhealthy British kids are. But if the government is serious about improving children's health it has to do something about poverty.

A new study by the British Heart Foundation shows the extent of unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise amongst children in the UK. BHF Chief Executive Simon Gillespie said, “many of our children are in grave danger of developing coronary heart disease in the future if they continue to live the same lifestyle.”

Some of the statistics to emerge from the report are that:

  • Less than one-in-five children are eating the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
  • Almost a third of children are overweight or obese.
  • Close to eight out of ten 13-year-olds do not get an hour of physical activity a day.
  • Two-in-five 13 year olds drink a soft drink every day.
  • Almost half of boys and more than one-third of girls aged 13 don’t have breakfast

Professor John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health has criticised the government’s policy on public health – or more accurately, lack of one – and argues, “Sooner or later they’ve got to accept that Government has a responsibility to protect its citizens. The nanny state has a role in protecting people from pornography and it has a role in protecting people from unhealthy foods.”

Gillespie said, “Local decision makers need to identify the children and young people at greatest risk of poor health in their communities and take steps to help them improve their lifestyle. By ensuring children develop healthy habits now, we can give them a fighting chance of avoiding serious ill-health in the future.”

Although some commentators will lay the blame wholly on one section of society – parents or the food industry or politicians – the truth is there are a variety of factors at work. There are some parents who wilfully fail to instill healthy habits in their children. But it is also the case that, in a time of squeezed living standards, many parents cannot afford the kinds of healthy foods they would like to provide for their children.

If the government wants to help the health of children in society then it will have to do something about raising living standards.

The Child Poverty Action Group has said that there is a strong connection between obesity and poverty. Head of Policy Imran Hussein said,

“The real reason why our obesity problem is going to get bigger in the years ahead is because our child poverty problem is going to get much bigger as a result of the government’s own policies

“Poor children are much more likely to miss out on healthy food on cost grounds than children living in households with average incomes. And research shows that when the incomes of poor families rise, parents spend the gains on improving the diets of their children through buying fresh fruit.”

Also, in March Left Foot Forward reported that more and more children were going into school hungry and were increasingly reliant on breakfast clubs. A majority of teachers thought that general poverty was behind the increase.

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