Angry criticism today from the medical profession at the Government’s perceived watering-down of the “sugar tax” promised by George Osborne, and intended to combat childhood obesity.
Well over a third of British children now leave primary school overweight or obese.
The latest figures, for 2014/15, show that 19.1% of children in Year 6 (aged 10-11) were obese and a further 14.2% were overweight. Of children in Reception (aged 4-5), 9.1% were obese and another 12.8% were overweight. This means a third of 10-11 year olds and over a fifth of 4-5 year olds were overweight or obese. (Source: Public Health England.)
Parents who are obese themselves are twelve times more likely to have children who are overweight. And Britain has the highest rates of obesity in Western Europe, according to NHS choices http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/loseweight/Pages/statistics-and-causes-of-the-obesity-epidemic-in-the-UK.aspx
The finger is being pointed at the diet of British children, who are also now less physically active than they have ever been. Sugar is seen as the main culprit.
This is borne out to some extent by other evidence. The 2013 survey of children’s dental health (published in 2015) found that 31% of five-year-olds had signs of tooth decay – and a fifth of those eligible for free school meals had severe or extensive tooth decay.
Considering these children have only had their teeth for a relatively short time, this is pretty staggering. They have to make the next lot last for a lifetime, so establishing some good habits is crucial, not just in terms of dental care but in reducing consumption of sugary food and drink.
Many medical experts and dieticians are clear that sugar is addictive. Research has shown that we are born with a sweet tooth – newborn babies had a preference for sweet flavours over others in a study carried out at Washington University.
A recent Australian study found that excessive sugar consumption increased dopamine levels in the same way as cocaine. And the more sugar people consumed, the more they needed to maintain the dopamine ‘hit’. So Professor Selena Bartlett, a neuroscientist from the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation at Queensland University of Technology has no doubt that sugar is addictive. And like other addictive substances, it can have serious long-term effects.
She says: “We have also found that as well as an increased risk of weight gain, animals that maintain high sugar consumption and binge eating into adulthood may also face neurological and psychiatric consequences affecting mood and motivation.”
The combination of sugar and fat is more potent still, as scientist Dr Paul Kenny found when he offered his lab rats cheesecake.
In nature, sugar and fat hardly ever occur in combination. But human beings have combined them with delicious – and for some, disastrous – results. The laboratory rats found the cheesecake they were offered irresistible. They gorged on it and couldn’t stop. Even when they were full, they continued to nibble…and nibble. And when a healthy alternative was put in front of them they refused to eat it. “They completely reject that food. The animals would rather starve themselves”, says Kenny.
This shows how difficult it is for people – including children – to break the habit of eating ‘addictive’ foods that actually give us very little in terms of nutritional value. Willpower alone often just isn’t enough to cut it. And who would expect children to exert willpower anyway, when faced with an ice-cream or a bar of milk chocolate (both high in fat and sugar).
No wonder that people who are overweight often turn to hypnotherapy for help. Some of them simply want to bolster their own motivation, others may even want to go so far as to create an antipathy to certain foods, like chocolate, so that they feel disgust at the thought of eating them.
Cheesecake – the new ‘legal high’? Roland and his mates think so, anyway.