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22nd Mar 2015

HSE and Department of Education need to address growing concerns over our growing children

One in four children in Ireland under five are overweight or obese says study

Sophie White

The subject of how we feed our kids, what we feed our, when we feed our kids, or anything at all to do with our kids, has always been contentious. The whole subject of dictating another parents’ behaviour is pretty contentious. Even when it’s our own parent. I recently asked my mother to stop giving my toddler son crisps and was told I was being “ridiculously sanctimonious”.

A couple of weeks ago the actress, Reese Witherspoon posted this picture with the caption #ISeeAFace and #ToddlerBreakfast on her Instagram account and immediately became the target of online food-shaming.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 14.07.14

Many commenters went on the offensive:

“Sugar and more sugar…oh, and one piece of fruit…That will definitely get the toddler moving.”

“What a horrible thing to feed a growing child for breakfast.”

Though others pointed out that this was just a snapshot glimpse into her life, and that was probably not an everyday breakfast:

“The point of this picture wasn’t to have people judge her food choices…It’s cute and creative! Try looking at the smiley face and see the positive rather than criticising. Moderation is key. A honey bun here and there doesn’t hurt.”

For my part I wondered who had the time, energy or inclination to give a sh*t what Reese Witherspoon or anyone else is feeding their kid for breakfast, never mind composing and posting critiques of her parenting online.

However, children’s diets have become a national focus in this country in the last few years and today’s Sunday Independent published some startling figures on the subject:

Ireland has the highest rate of overweight and obese children (27 per cent) under five years in the EU.

One fifth of nine-year-olds are overweight or obese.

23 per cent of 13-year-old boys are overweight or obese, and 30 per cent of 13-year-old girls are overweight or obese.

Conversely on the other end of the scale the occurrence of eating disorders is on the rise, with leading nutritionist, Aveen Bannon of Dublin Nutrition Centre telling the paper:

“I’m hearing more about girls not eating. Like a group of 14-year-old girls who gave up carbs for Lent.”

Bannon believes the rise in popularity of juicing and smoothies must be carefully monitored in vulnerable people:

“Under no circumstances would they be used to replace a meal”, says Bannon.

Elsewhere in the same paper, chef Kevin Dundon describes the roles parents and teachers must play in educating children to make better food choices:

“I honestly claim that teachers are an extension of parents, and there is an overlapping responsibility there to provide knowledge on food education. The temptation in vending machines and tuck shops should be taken out of schools.”

This week the HSE has stated that while they would welcome a ban on vending machines, that it is a matter for the Department of Education who currently have no plans to remove vending machines.

It is a balancing act between giving our children the right guidance without giving them a complex when this generation are far more image-conscious than preceding generations.