The untold story behind the childhood obesity epidemic
A recent study by Britain’s Royal Society of Public Health has found that 25% of students had ordered “a takeaway” delivered to them at school, most of the time via smartphone.
According to the Guardian, the report comes as part of a “long-delayed Government childhood obesity strategy." The researchers sought out the opinions of young people themselves on how to best encourage healthy eating. Among the ideas were “loyalty cards which gave shoppers points for making healthy food choices,” as well as “film-style classifications” for foods high in sugar, salt, or fat. Shirley Cramer, CEO of the RSPH, told the Guardian that “tackling” child obesity “must be a priority for government” and include “a basket of hard-hitting measures, from greater controls on advertising and marketing of junk food to food reformulation.”
But research suggests that as old-fashioned and politically incorrect as it may sound, one of the best “hard-hitting measures” may be to encourage more mothers to stay home with their children.
(“One in Four Children ‘Have Ordered a Fast-Food Delivery to Their School,’” The Guardian, June 23, 2016.)
Few public-health issues have received more attention in recent years than that of childhood obesity. And because of the way childhood obesity predicts adult diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems, this attention is well warranted. However, a closer look at the matter reveals that the commentators bewailing the upsurge in childhood obesity have been keeping strangely quiet about an important backstory: namely, the role of maternal employment in incubating the problem.
The politically uncomfortable backstory does emerge, however, in a review of the relevant research published recently by public-health scholars at the University of Aberdeen, the University of Strathclyde, and the University of Glasgow. As the scholars analyze the latest studies in the United Kingdom and the United States on overweight and obese children, they recognize that certain patterns of home life appear to keep children in healthy weight ranges and that other patterns seem to push children toward dangerously excessive weight.
If public-health officials are trying to reverse the disturbing trends in child weight, perhaps they should join the Scottish scholars in looking very closely at a recent American study concluding that “the number of family meals eaten per week was inversely associated with overweight in the children up to age 7 years.” Evidently, the training table most likely to keep children at a healthy weight is the table where the entire family gathers at mealtime.
Of course, family meals become much harder to arrange as soon as Mom takes employment outside of the home. So it should hardly be surprising that the Scottish researchers uncover evidence from both the United States and the United Kingdom indicating that “the children of mothers who worked more hours per week were more likely to be overweight, particularly among mothers of higher socioeconomic status.”
Unfortunately, the pressures of political correctness have made it difficult to look at some truths squarely and honestly. It is therefore not entirely surprising that the Scottish researchers conclude their study by averting their eyes from the family patterns that put children at risk of being overweight while focusing on possibilities for “interventions on the food environment of young children” that would result in “reducing promotion of high-fat, high-sugar foods, making smaller portion sizes available and providing alternatives to sugar-sweetened soft drinks.”
In the current academic environment, it would take rare intellectual courage to challenge the cultural patterns that have taken mothers out of the home, sharply reducing the likelihood of healthy family meals while sharply increasing the likelihood of fat-laden fast-food meals.
(Source: Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King, New Research, The Family in America 27.3 [Summer 2013]. Study: George Osei-Assibey et al., “The Influence of the Food Environment on Overweight and Obesity in Young Children: A Systematic Review,” BMJ Open 2.6 : e001538. Web.) Reproduced with permission.
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