Sunday, 19 April 2015

Why not go for a walk in the countryside? Fat chance!

The countryside offers many ways to help tackle obesity
The other day I followed a family of four out of a supermarket and as they got outside, they all stopped so that each of them could open up the tin of Coca-Cola that they were carrying. Why am I mentioning this rather boring everyday occurrence? Well, the reason is that this family were all incredibly obese, to the extent that the parents obviously found walking quite difficult.

I wondered if they knew that to get the same number of carbs contained in each one of their 12 oz cans of Coca-Cola, they would need to drink roughly two 750 ml bottles of wine. As for the sugar content, to get the same amount of sugar from just one can of Cola would mean that they would need to drink roughly 6 bottles of red wine or munch on the equivalent of 10 sugar cubes. 

Now, I quickly want to say that I am no angel! I love my food and I drink way more alcohol than is recommended as a sensible daily rate.

However, eating a poor diet which includes too many high-fat and sugary foods, coupled with inactivity, has now become a major issue in this country.  Many of us are spending too much time watching television or stuck in front of a computer.

There has been a marked increase in the proportion of adults that were obese in 1993, from 13.2 per cent to 26.0 per cent in 2013 for men, and from 16.4 per cent to 23.8 per cent for women. One in three children in the UK are also now overweight, while one in five is obese, with the number of children who are classified as obese, having more than tripled in England over the past 25 years. 

This is putting huge pressure on our National Health system, with around 12,000 hospital admissions a year for obesity related conditions. Experts believe that being significantly overweight is responsible for a wide range of health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and infertility.

So, what role can our countryside play in trying to address this crisis?

Well, I think there are two very obvious ways it can help.

We need to collectively get off our backsides as a nation and get walking, jogging, cycling, fishing, shooting/beating, riding, hunting (beagling – now there is a way to get fit!), orienteering, rock climbing, bird watching and just about anything else that gets us out of the house and into the beautiful countryside, for some fresh air and exercise.

Secondly, we can source good, fresh, British food and prepare and cook it ourselves! I believe that so much of this problem lies in hidden “additives” such as the vast amount of sugar that is in prepared foods. I have mentioned Coca-Cola, but even an ordinary tin of baked beans can contain up to 3 teaspoons of sugar – how ridiculous is that!

Children need to be taught how to cook and be involved in food preparation from an early age. They need to handle the “raw” ingredients, so that they know what to do with an onion or a Chicken and realise that not everything comes out of a packet or can.

This is just not happening in many homes, so I believe it should be given a much higher priority in our primary schools. Teaching kids about their nutritional needs and fostering healthy eating habits early in life is so important, as it can help children form a solid foundation for good health and well-being throughout their life!

What is more, ALL children should have visited a farm at least once before leaving primary school, to find out where their food comes from. This should be built into the curriculum, and made much easier for schools to accomplish. Some red tape needs cutting – how daft that you must have wash basins available in case a child has touched something "dirty" such as a farm animal, and yet we seem to be very relaxed that a company can add the equivalent of 10 sugar cubes into a can of soft drink.

Jamie Oliver can’t do it all on his own – whatever the make-up of the next government, they need to seriously tackle this problem as a priority. We keep saying how we need to do something otherwise we are storing up the most monumental difficulties for future generations. Well, I'm not so sure, I think the problem is already here!  

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