Saturday, November 11, 2006

What's the Answer?

From Spiked Online: an intriguing op-ed on the school meals debacle, in which the author, amongst many other things, implies that our fear of certain food stuffs may be exaggerated. He may have a point if this kind of article (on trans fats) is anything to go by.

My quibble with Spiked: I do think there is a genuine problem. Yesterday, for example, we walked past a line of primary school children sitting along a wall, plumped there as if for our inspection. At least every third child was significantly overweight in a way which would mean that they couldn't run at any speed, or indeed rise from a chair with ease. This cannot be right, surely!

The problem with the school meal solution is that it could only really work in an age of automatic deference to authority, but do we really want to return to the days when we spent years gagging over liver and bacon, particularly when this way of doing things does so little to encourage reasoning skills or enhance personal responsibility? Ideally, what seems to be needed is the provision of close and persuasive argument in order to win hearts and minds but schools are unlikely to be able to offer this as a result of the usual difficulty with sheer weight of numbers and you can sympathise with parents who feel that they have to shed all those responsibilities as soon as a child steps through the school gates.

So still can't think of a good school solution and just keep thinking "Phew" thank heavens Ds and Dd are clear that want to stay with home education!


Terri said...

I don't think the calorie intake is necessarily the problem - it's more the output. Recently some friends and I were talking about our eating habits in the 50s/60s.

A typical day's menu would go something like this. Breakfast:cereal, boiled egg + toast. Mid-morning: milk + a doughnut from the school shop. Lunch: meat & potato pie with soggy veg + semolina pudding and jam. Sweets on the way home. Piece of cake or a jam sandwich when we got in. Supper: sausages, beans and mash followed by rice pudding and stewed fruit. At home a lot of the cooking was pastry or suet-pudding based, we ate meat nearly every day, vegetables were boiled within an inch of their lives, and there was always pudding. Fresh fruit was barely available in the winter - apples and oranges.

The difference, I suspect, is that additive-packed and pre-pepared food was barely available (tinned spam and the occasional fray bentos steak and kidney pie) and we also had high levels of physical activity and freedom. Having scoffed the cake/crumpets/jam (or chocolate spread!)sandwich, most of us would change and go straight out to play for a couple of hours (No homework at primary school). Weekends were busy, with a long, 'family walk' after Sunday roast dinner. Only the wealthiest had cars, and a mile walk to school was normal.

There was a lot less traffic, and less paranoia about strangers. I'd be warned not to take sweets from strangers or talk to "that Horace" (a rather unhealthy-looking old bloke who hung around) and occasionally a father was summoned to get someone down from a tree, but we had a huge amount of space and freedom.

Children's lives have changed so much - more cars, fear and passive entertainment; less open space; increasing urbanisation. It's crazy for people to hark back to the mythical times when everyone's diet was exemplary - a lot of it was rubbish that I wouldn't dream of feeding my own children!

Sorry to inflict this long post on you, Carlotta - I'll clear off and walk my dog, who needs at least an hour of free running every day to stay fit...

Dani said...

Absolutely - car culture is the culprit. Any 'solution' that doesn't address that is doomed to fail.

Also, what you eat is a matter of personal choice, and it's hard for children (or anyone) to develop the ability to make good choices when their lives are so controlled in every other way.

On those TV programmes where they send in an expert to tell people what to eat and what to do in order to change their unhappy lives, it seems to me that the key to "success" is the person's own self esteem. Being given a load of prescriptive rules is never going to work in the long term, or even the short term.

Being empowered to make your own meaningful choices is the only way to effect real change in your life. I agree, Carlotta, that's not very likely to happen in school.

Anonymous said...

Terri has a point, high caloric food is very cheap now, people use cars all the time, and it seems the only kids playing on the street are yobs. I am yet to see a group of children playing normally.

I say school dinners must be playing a roll too. In Portugal public education cannot afford that luxury and there isn't that kind of shocking obesity in children, at least not that I have noticed.

School dinners are a waste of money. Parents should be feeding their own children. It's not right that money is taken from the health system, which people lives actually depend on.

That said I don't understand how any parent can just stand aside and look while their children become obese. Why would they need Jamie Oliver to coerce them on TV?

Carlotta said...

"Sorry to inflict this long post on you"

Very pleased you did, Terri, as I think your arguments are very convincing.

Hope your dog walk went well. Ours did until we copped out at the top of the hill in a bog...which reminds me of Dani's point about car usage...I also think it is a problem that we don't expect to carry our children any more and shove them instead into buggies.

And I agree, Leo, it was striking that Portugese children were not fat...could this just have been the school meals, more exercise, closer parenting or some other factor?

Fiona M said...

My 2 children (5 and 8)play out in the front of the house -on the pavement and driveway of my house and the ones either side. Since I've let them out my 8yo's friend has been allowed to as well, and an 11 year old neighbour sometimes joins them. They have a fantastic time and get very messy making "ramps" out of the dirt and sand that's washed out of all those expensive new driveways that seem to be the new in thing!! I've yet to see any other children out playing though. There are 4 other children my dauthers age in our street and they're never out.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carlotta,

Portugal has no canteen and uniform school culture like here. Most children still go home to have lunch so parents are still responsible for what they eat.

We have good meal traditions we didn't loose completely yet.

I also don't think Portuguese parents in average are shy to say no when their kids are eating too much.

Yet the main reason might be that we have good weather.

lookie today

If kids exercise more, it's most likely spontaneous play and lots of running and free swimming on the beach in the long summer holidays.

Anonymous said...

Fiona, where is your street, we want to join in! :)

Anonymous said...

A friend is telling me now that in Portugal is becoming a trend to speak of childhood obesity all the time too.

I think it's all an excuse to take parents their rights.