John Walsh: Ignore the mixed messages – eat less and move more

Notebook

Share

It's back-to-school time, and as the nation's parents make their way to department stores and uniform shops, it's also time to digest a shocking statistic. Uniform manufacturers are sending retailers ever-larger sizes: 42in-waist trousers and skirts, and 52in jackets, for Common-Entrance-age children; and 40in-chest jumpers for primary school children; as well as "sturdy fit" trousers with elasticated waistbands for 12-year-olds. These aren't freakishly sized garments. They're expected to sell in large numbers – to an expanding audience of expanding kids.

When I was at school, centuries ago, there was the odd fat kid in the playground who stood out among the skinny oiks and weeds, as if he suffered from a one-in-200 disorder. It was probably the same in the 1930s and the 1890s. Most children were thin and undeveloped and had waists like napkin rings. But in the last half century, an epidemic of avoirdupois has settled on British youth. According to the Child Growth Foundation, children's waistbands have ballooned since the 1970s by an average of 12.5cm, or five inches. Since 2000, the number of obese children has risen by a third.

It's going to get worse, and we know why: a combination of rubbish food at school, rubbish snack food at home, sugar-intensified soft drinks, a culture of stay-in-your-room-gazing-at-a-screen recreational activity and a terminal lassitude brought on by the worship of Rihanna and that Bieber kid.

We also know what should be done, don't we? A spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, Tam Fry (who happens also to be chairman of the Child Growth Foundation just around the corner) said recently that the solution is not to combat child obesity but to pre-empt it. "What we have not done is to spend or to focus sufficient resources into preventing obesity taking place. This means making sure that all food available is as healthy as possible and physical activity is encouraged."

Well, yeah, you feel like saying, that is blatantly stating the obvious, as Jamie Oliver was busily stating the obvious about school dinners, what? – seven years ago. His TV programme inspired the nation, but didn't impress children. The main result of government legislation was that the number of children eating school meals decreased by 400,000.

We have to keep nagging about it, though, don't we, because we all know that obesity can lead to diabetes, strokes and heart failure. Oh, but hang on – here's some new research, in the European Heart Journal, which says obesity isn't necessarily a bad thing, and that if you're fit and healthy despite being obese (I'm thinking the pre-Liz Hurley Shane Warne) you're in no more danger of dying than people of ordinary size. "Obesity," concluded a leader in the journal, "may carry benefit up to a certain degree."

Sometimes you despair of the messages we send our children about how to live, and of how ineffectual we are in keeping them from bad habits. All you want to do is instill in them my friend Lisa's four-word maxim for healthy living: "Eat less; move more." But how much would we appreciate it if the Government, somewhere between the health and education secretariats, could stand up to the food and soft drinks industry and regulate its supply of not just unhealthy but dangerous products into our children's innocent bodies? Before your charming, slender, five-year-old Little Mermaid starts coming home from school, five years hence, resembling Ursula the Sea Witch.

My 'Parade's End' puzzle

I confess I share with some Independent readers a certain bafflement about what's happening in Parade's End, BBC2's ravishing adaptation of Ford Madox Ford's masterpiece. The relationship between Christopher Tietjens and his wife Sylvia, played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall, is a puzzle in itself – he so idealistic and virtuous, she so callow and dégagé.

How, I kept wondering, could this mismatched couple ever have got together? I became indignant that they should be married. Then the penny dropped. I'd seen them co-starring before, in a 2006 film called Starter for Ten, in which James McAvoy played a student who joins a University Challenge team. Among his associates were Ms Hall, playing a stroppily idealistic political activist, and Cumberbatch playing a pompous public-school quiz captain – characters quite different from their roles in Parade's End.

I really shouldn't be surprised that screen actors have impersonated other people in earlier productions – but the coincidence was clearly too odd for my subconscious to deal with it.

j.walsh@independent.co.uk; twitter.com/@JohnHenryWalsh

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The influx of hundreds of thousands of eastern European workers has significantly altered the composition of some parts of Britain  

Immigration is the issue many in Labour fear most

Nigel Morris
The Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf heads the inquiry  

Why should Fiona Woolf be expected to remember every dinner date?

Mark Steel
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?