Why are our children getting so obese?

Recent figures have revealed that almost one in four boys and more than one in five girls is overweight or obese by the time they start school. And by the time children finish primary school, these numbers increase to one in three. This sudden gain in weight over just a generation is too fast to suggest that the cause is genetic, so environmental influences are clearly to blame. This biggest factor here is indisputably diet.

A recent survey suggests that the average Brit is eating only half of their daily recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables, with many children not even getting that.

I heard one dietician comment that the reason she believed we hadn’t seen more cases of scurvy is because children eat so many crisps today, and they at least contain a small amount of vitamin C. While she may be right, the downside is that crisps also contain salt and harmful fats that contribute to weight gain and increased risk of heart disease in later life.

However, it’s not just a lack of fruit and vegetables that are causing our children to balloon, it’s what they are eating in their place. Refined carbohydrates – sugary cereals, white bread, fizzy drinks, sweets and processed convenience foods – now make up a large percentage of the diet for many. Not only do these foods contribute to rapid weight gain, they also increase risk of developing diabetes.

The antidote is choosing wholegrain carbohydrates and balancing your intake with protein and plenty of nutrient-rich fruit and vegetables. The result is more energy, stable weight and less health complaints. (Find out more in the Special Report The Secret to Successful Weight Loss.)

Even swapping a few common foods for healthier options can make a difference. For example: • Sugary and refined cereals for porridge or sugar-free muesli • Biscuits and puddings for fresh fruit • Crisps for unsalted raw nuts or seeds • Chips for new potatoes • Turkey or chicken nuggets for salmon fish fingers • Crisps and dips for carrot sticks and hummus • Fizzy drinks for fruit juice diluted 50/50 with sparkling water • White bread for wholemeal or granary • Chocolate spread and jam for nut butter

While there are calls by some for higher taxes on foods with high levels of sugar or salt, surely better education is the best way to encourage families to eat healthier food?

Many people are hungry for knowledge. That’s why books such as Optimum Nutrition Made Easy, which explains the basics of healthy eating, sell so well. The Holford Low-GL Diet Cookbook is also a popular choice for those wanting to eat well and lose weight – the recipes are delicious and suitable for all the family, including children.

Experts are right when they say that Britain is facing “a public health tragedy of unspeakable proportions”. We need to act now to reduce this obesity epidemic. If we don’t, government projections suggest that nine out of ten men will be overweight within 15 years and at least half the population obese within 25 years.