Does the 100 calorie snack rule promote a healthier lifestyle?
One-third of children are now leaving primary school overweight or obese, according to Public Health England. Childhood obesity can lead to many health problems including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and asthma, and is also related to anxiety, low self-esteem and bullying.
In an attempt to combat the rise in childhood obesity, the government’s Change4Life has introduced the 100-calorie snack guideline. This encourages parents to restrict their children to two 100 calorie snacks a day, ruling out many popular chocolate bars, ice–creams and packets of crisps.
The average primary school child has at least three sugary snacks a day, and figures show that half of the sugar children consume comes from unhealthy snacks and sweet drinks.
However, some are warning over the problems associated with calorie counting. National charity, Beat, argues that the 100 calorie count campaign could have a negative impact on children at risk of developing an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa.
These disorders can be just as harmful to children and teenagers as obesity, with potential health problems including slowed or halted development (e.g. a girl might not get her period), anaemia, poor bone density, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Beat claims that the promotion of anti-obesity messages is a factor in the onset and maintenance of childhood eating disorders. They suggest that public health professionals should consider the wider impact of campaigns, such as the 100-calorie guideline.
Calorie counting is also not a reliable impact of a snack’s impact on health; what about the percentage of fat, salt or sugar? These are highlighted on some foods using the traffic light system, and should also be taken into account when choosing snacks. Additionally, snacks high in processed sugar will not satisfy children’s hunger, and too many could damage their teeth. In England, tooth decay is the most common hospital treatment for children between the ages of five and nine, with 25,923 cases in 2016-2017 – twice the number of children treated for broken arms.
While this 100-calorie rule is a memorable tip – and could be a helpful starting point for time-poor parents – there is much more to encourage healthy lifestyle choices for children. By educating children about good nutrition, we can give them the tools they need to make healthy choices as they get older. One of the best ways to do this is by demonstrating positive eating habits because you are your child’s most valuable role model – family mealtimes have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of both obesity and eating disorders.
Regular exercise is also vital for growing children, but that doesn’t have to be a trip to the gym or a game of football. In fact, research has found that children are more active during unstructured play time than during PE lessons. This is great news for children who don’t consider themselves ‘sporty’ – with space (preferably outdoors), time and toys (make-believe toys are great, or even a cardboard box, as the above study shows!), children can get plenty of physical activity.
Three habits to promote a healthier lifestyle for your child
- Plan a family meal once a week – Committing to daily family meals is difficult when parents are coming home from work at different times, children have clubs to go to, and so on. At least three family meals per week are ideal, but one is a starting point if it’s not a routine you’re used to.
- Go for a walk once a week – Go with your child, go as a family, or go on your own. Go to the park, or go hiking in the hills. However you do it, you’ll be modelling a more active lifestyle for your child. Research also suggests that exercise makes you crave fruit and veg, so it could give you a good health all-round health boost.
- Have an hour of screen-free, unstructured play every day – Sometimes, children can find their time packed full of homework and after-school clubs. Giving them a good amount of time to do what they like (excluding tablets and computer games) means they have more opportunity for active, imaginative play.
Examples of healthy 100 calorie snacks!
Encourage healthy lifestyle choices is about much more than the choices you make for your child right now; for the benefits to be long-lasting, your child needs to learn why some foods are healthy, why others aren’t, and why exercise is important for them. Your child looks up to you more than anyone (yes, even more than their favourite YouTuber) – so be the healthy-eating, physically active person you want your child to become.
By Claire Gillies and Anna TaylorTags: children, eating, family, food, health, kids, nutrition
This post was written by Claire Gillies