Childhood obesity has become one of the 21st century’s most rampant health challenges. As adults, it’s our responsibility to educate our children about food and nutrition, but are we adults properly educated?
It seems that everyday, there’s a new food to boycott, and a new food to put on a pedestal – what is considered ‘healthy’ is not so obvious anymore. In order to advance the field of nutrition, our country needs more trained professionals for work and research. So here’s what we know, and what you can do to help yourself, your children and the wider community to make healthier choices.
Over 42 million overweight preschool children
The growing statistics around childhood obesity are alarming. According to the World Health Organisation at least 2.8 million people die each year as a result of being overweight or obese, and the prevalence of obesity has more than doubled between 1980 and 2014.
In 2015, approximately 42 million preschool children were overweight across the globe, according to WHO. Of great concern is the number of adults failing to acknowledge their child’s weight problem, as evidenced by a study conducted by NYU Langone Medical Centre.
In two comparative studies of overweight children during two periods—1988-94 and 2007-12—researchers found that while children in the second study group were significantly more overweight than those in the first, parents’ perceptions that their child’s weight was ‘about the right weight’ remained unchanged.
Closer to home, the statistics are just as disturbing and anecdotal evidence suggests Australian parents’ perceptions do not differ to those in the US. Nutrition Australia report that around 25 per cent of Australian children are obese. While there is increasing concern about Australian lifestyles becoming more sedentary, it is a combination of lack of exercise and unhealthy dietary choices contributing to the problem.
The 2011-13 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that children aged 14-18 were the highest consumers of foods considered to be high in saturated fats, sugars, salt and/or alcohol.
Methods of addressing the problem
Educating the world on nutrition and dietary health is a task of epic proportions, not unlike the combined girth of many upsized waistlines.
In a valiant attempt to address their child obesity issue, the NSW Education Department introduced a controversial edict. They classified obesity as a child protection issue when it impacts on the child’s wellbeing and welfare, requiring staff to raise concerns with the Family and Community Services’ Child Protection Helpline.
Opponents argue it is the parent’s right to decide what is best for their children but with 63 per cent of Australian adults classified as overweight or obese it appears unlikely that parents will resolve the issue without significant education and intervention.
In a proactive move the NSW Education Department also released a new “Healthy Schools’’ canteen policy, with fruit, vegetables, sandwiches, pasta and stir fries making up at least 75 per cent of tuckshop menus.
In 2004, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver also tackled school menus, campaigning to educate children on healthy food choices and improve the nutritional quality of British school dinners. Over 10 years later, Oliver did not describe the ‘Feed Me Better’ campaign as successful. However, a study of results in a south east London borough did show the rate of student illness-related absences fell 15 per cent after the campaign, indicating an improvement to the children’s health, although not their weight.
Study food and nutrition to make a difference
Jamie Oliver is now studying Food Nutrition at St Mary’s University in London, recognising that the way to reduce obesity rates and improve diets is by educating people in nutrition and health, and encouraging healthy food choices. Oliver says he wants to apply his knowledge to everything he does.
In Australia people wanting to make a difference in this important area can study a Bachelor of Food and Nutrition with La Trobe University online through Open Universities Australia.
Whether students are searching for a career in a field with solid job prospects both within Australia and overseas, or a field in which they can help others to improve their quality of life, the Bachelor of Food and Nutrition will enable them to become qualified experts fundamentally able to shape people’s food choices.