Letter: Blame those videos, not children's diets

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The Independent Online
Sir: It was surprising to read ('Poor diets 'making children overweight' ', 24 September) that the rising incidence of overweight and obesity in children was attributed to their poor diet. The recent major dietary survey of some 3,000 British schoolchildren (Department of Health, 1989) revealed that on average 10 to 11- year-old and 14 to 15-year-old children were meeting or exceeding the Recommended Allowances for all nutrients with the exception of iron, the intake of which was marginal. Heights and weights were also measured. The average 10 to 11-year-old was found to be 4.5kg heavier, but also 3.5cm taller than the 'standard' set up in 1960. Children of the Nineties are bigger.

Paradoxically, however, the survey revealed that the average intake of food energy was about 10 per cent below the allowance for energy recommended as recently as 1979 (DHSS). This value has been modestly revised in the current report of the DHSS Panel on Dietary Reference Values.

Whether a child gains or loses weight depends on the balance between food energy intake and energy expenditure. Regrettably, attention is invariably focused on the first component of the equation and even diet quality is invoked as the cause of overweight, when it is obvious to any parent that the level of energy expenditure of the children of the Nineties is abysmally low.

Overweight in British schoolchildren has a great deal more to do with the invention of video games and the video cassette recorder than with the peculiarities of children's food choice.

Yours faithfully,

DONALD J. NAISMITH

Professor of Nutrition & Dietetics

King's College London

London, W8

24 September

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