‘An ambitious new advertising campaign that will help mums, dads and families eat well, move more and live longer will hit television screens, billboards and magazines on 3 January 2009. The aim of the campaign is to kickstart a lifestyle revolution for every family in order to halt the rising tide of obesity’ (Change4Life website).
And it was in response to that ambitious new advertising campaign that my 8 year old daughter pushed away her half-eaten plate of tea one evening.
She is an 8 year old girl who does ballet, tap and modern jazz, swimming, roller-blading and the occasional bit of rock-climbing. She spends the weekends on her bike or turning cartwheels in the garden and the evenings climbing trees or standing on her head on the living room floor.
She is also an 8 year old who has a healthy appetite and a skinny frame, an 8 year old who needs to take on sufficient nutrition to maintain her energy levels for this active lifestyle. Yet the combination of this high profile media campaign and her school’s ‘healthy eating’ education programme led to her turning down food and worry about getting ‘fat’.
Britain may be facing higher than ever levels of obesity – and it is important that children and parents should be aware of the implications of what they put into their bodies and what they do with those bodies. I’m concerned however that my healthy, active, perfectly formed little girl is not the only one who is exposed to a constant onslaught of well-intentioned messages about healthy eating which are overwhelmingly framed within the context of obesity rather than a general sense of healthy living.
She is not stupid – in the rare moments she is actually stationary you are likely to find her clutching a copy of Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart or writing her own fantasy based novels she hopes to publish. But she is too young to distinguish the subtleties of a message driven by adult concerns about the body beautiful as much as they are by genuine concerns for healthy living. Although obesity may be our most visible ‘epidemic’, around 165 000 people in the UK suffer at the other end of the spectrum from eating disorders such as Anorexia, with 10 per cent dying as a result.
Can we not strike a happy medium somewhere and get a balanced message out which speaks to all our children as individuals rather than assuming they are all over-eating coach-potatoes incapable of putting one foot in front of the other to propel themselves into action?