Taking personal responsibility

Ian Munro
Ian Munro

We all have personal responsibility for the way in which we conduct our lives. However, in a democracy, a government does have some responsibility for legislating for the common good, parenting columnist Ian Munro writes.

Consequently, like many involved with children, I'm extremely disappointed in the lightweight (no pun intended) Childhood Obesity Plan released last month.

This country is well on its way to a major health crisis in the next decade, as obesity-related disorders start to eat away greater and greater portions of health funding.

The World Health Organisation Commission report on Ending Childhood Obesity (Echo), co-chaired by the Prime Minister's chief science adviser, has produced a comprehensive set of proposals.

These include tax measures and tougher restrictions on marketing junk food to youngsters. While junk-food manufacturers are easy targets for regulation, equally, our youngsters are easy targets for the manufacturers and their advertising agencies.

However, the Government's plan talks of ''partnerships with industry'', voluntary pledges and guidelines, even though there's strong global evidence that neither self-regulation nor guidelines are greatly effective.

On the other hand, the impact of taxes and advertising restrictions on the sale of tobacco, along with the industry's ongoing kicking and screaming, provides evidence that regulation is effective.

Schools and the Education Review Office can't bring about the sizeable shift needed. Schools already run a range of healthy eating and healthy activity programmes, but neither schools nor the youngsters control the family diet.

Referring obese children to GPs might help with currently obese children but, ongoing, it's a ''closing the stable door after the horse has bolted'' approach.

What is needed are the measures to prevent obesity in the first place as recommended in the Echo Report.

There's the argument that we might have eaten all manner of things ourselves as children and ''it did us no harm''. However, it actually did and we're starting to pay in all sorts of ways.

There wasn't as much understanding of the effects of this type of food back then, but our ageing bodies are certainly providing proof today.

There's also more junk food and sugary temptations available to children in more places than ever before and, with reducing physical activity to burn this off, we're seeing an upsurge in heart problems and old-age-related Type 2 diabetes in youngsters.

Having said all that, it still falls to us as parents and grandparents to protect our youngsters' health. This is the personal responsibility bit.

Government regulations or not, we can impose our own restrictions on sugary foods and drinks, on between-meal snacking and on sitting around doing very little physically.


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