I've always loved the ‘pic-n-mix’ sweet selection in Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s. Trying to squeeze as many sweets as I could into a tub required the delicate skill of arranging jelly beans at the very bottom to create a kind of cushion. Then wrap the liquorice snakes around the rim and place the chocolate buttons on the top! I enjoyed issuing the challenge to my friends – Can you replace ALL the contents back in the tub after I have emptied it? It was a task more suited to the ‘Krypton Factor.’
With that kind of thinking, it was little wonder that in my school-going days I was proud to have made the primary school quiz-team. My belief in my extensive general knowledge at the age of 9, was interrupted by a sharp dose of reality when I had to suffer the embarrassment of answering a tricky question and hearing the audience go into fits of laughter. ‘………. a day keeps the doctor away?’ asked the quizmaster. My reply - ‘A Mars!’
I was of course thinking of the clever advert jingle for the renowned chocolate bar – ‘A Mars a day helps you work rest and play.’ The 19th Century Welsh proverb ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away,’ wasn't even in my thinking at that time and even if it had been, it was never going to compete with Cadbury’s! The logic behind my answer lay in the similarity of the wording and the rhyming, but I realise now and humbly admit that an Apple and a Mars bar are miles apart in health benefits!
Recent reports show that childhood obesity in England has reached alarming rates with more than 20% of school beginners obese or overweight. Worryingly, these figures show an increase, rising to more than a third by the time they leave.
We read today that young people’s sugar intake could amount to three times over the recommended daily dose. Put more starkly in research by Public Health England - many children in England are said to have consumed more than half of their daily recommended intake of sugar before they are seated at their school desk each morning.
By the end of the working day, instead of eating the recommended maximum 5% of our daily calories from added sugars, children are getting 12-16% from sugars. The danger is that as high sugar foods usually have fewer vitamins and minerals, not a good replacement for the proper nutritious foods needed during our development and growth years.
The Department for Education in UK introduced the Breakfast Club initiative as a means of helping to highlight and support children in eating a nutritious meal prior to the commencement of the School Day. Such a scheme has been running in Australia since 2001.
Even with the support of programmes designed to promote breakfast-eating and going so far as catering for it, the evidence that came from the Evaluation of Breakfast Clubs in Schools with High levels of Deprivation (Research Report March 2017) said a lot.
Basically it suggested that better targeting of pupils who are not taking breakfast at home is still needed. In England, evaluations showed improvements in concentration, attendance and an increase in preference for fruit. (School Breakfast Clubs, England 2004). In Wales, there was no reduction in breakfast skipping or classroom behaviour after introducing the clubs. The main reason for this was that generally, those who accessed breakfast at school were those who would otherwise have eaten at home. (Welsh Government School Breakfast Clubs 2011). There was little difference in the findings from New Zealand, New York and Australia. (New Zealand Free School Breakfast Programme 2012), (New York City, Breakfast in the Classroom 2013) and (Australia: Healthy Food For All, Evaluation of the School Breakfast Programme 2011).
When it comes to simplifying the message for the school-going population, it effectively 'boils down' to two pieces of advice.
1. Try to eat a healthy breakfast every morning
2. Be aware of the sugar content in food, including hidden sugars.
The emphasis placed on breakfast being the most important meal of the day is well founded. Breakfast provides our bodies with a much-needed kick start and helps us to operate at our fullest potential throughout the rest of the day.
Hunger, on the other hand can cause us to lose concentration in class and have low levels of energy at play time. We tend to compensate for not having had breakfast with snacks that are not always the best choices.
The practical workings of a morning rush mean that in a busy household, it can be too hectic and finding time to prepare a healthy breakfast is not easy. Maybe it calls for the preparation to be done on the previous night if we are serious about our long-term health. There are good reasons to organize our time so efficiently.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in The United States claims that children who have a healthy, well-balanced breakfast each morning are more likely to:
· Reach their daily nutrient requirements.
· Concentrate better in class.
· Show better signs of problem-solving.
· Have better hand-eye coordination
· Remain alert and focused throughout the day
· Be more creative
· Have fewer absent days
· Be in a good mood
· Be more physically active
It is good practice to encourage young people themselves to make and take breakfast as part of their regular household routines. Learning important concepts about eating the right kind of fibre-based breakfast is building a foundation of good eating habits for years to come.
With so many cereals, fruit juices and spreads being marketed as healthy food products, it is important to realize that many of these can in fact contain up to 3 teaspoons of sugar. Taken on a regular basis, it makes the daily recommended sugar intake for young people very difficult to achieve. Yet, the healthy breakfast option is the starting point in encouraging children to cut down on the amount of sugar that is eaten.
A report compiled from a survey conducted for Public Health England’s Change4Life Campaign, showed that many young people were consuming more than three times their recommended daily sugar allowance. It also highlighted that many parents were unaware of what makes up a healthy breakfast for their children. Even when their children’s breakfast contained 3 teaspoons of sugar, more than eight out of every 10 parents believed that their child’s breakfast was a healthy one.
When too much sugar is consumed and we are not getting enough exercise, we run the risk of obesity problems and even developing related health conditions such as type 2 diabetes.
Being educated on the levels of saturated fat and salt in foods such as sweets and candies, biscuits, cakes, buns and fizzy or soft drinks is wholly necessary at home and in school. Interestingly, limiting computer or TV time has been shown to increase physical activity as well as reducing mindless snacking that usually accompanies screen hobbies. One wit had a point when he said ‘It's not that diabetes, heart disease and obesity runs in your family. It's that no one runs in your family.”
We all know that our diet is like a bank account and good food choices are always good investments. Diet plays a key part in all aspects of our being from our physical and emotional welfare to our intellectual and psychological health. More than ever, we need to urgently tackle this issue by making decisions on what to buy and serve. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye or lest like my friend’s wife Susan, we will be forever not heeding the warnings. He writes:
“I love you loads, honeypie,” my wife said to me earlier.
I replied, “And I love you, tons.”
“What, no nickname for me?” she asked, disappointedly.
Sometimes I swear she’s going deaf.