March 7, 2019

If you’re over the age of 50 and think back to your primary school days, you’ll be hard-pressed to remember a child who was overweight. Move forward a few years: was high school any different? Chances are that overweight barely existed in that generation and all that came before.

In the 1960s and 1970s, it was rare to see an overweight child. That same cohort, now in their 50s and 60s, has a rate of overweight and obesity of 63%. What happened?

It comes down to changes in our environment, lifestyles, and social expectations.

Problem: Nutrition guidelines

Nutrition guidelines focused on a fear of fat, with advice being to minimise the amount of fat in the diet. Food manufacturers got on board, and the processed foods industry knew they were onto a winner if they could put “low fat” on a food label. It sounded sensible, so people avoided fat and increased carbs.

The problem, it turned out, was that carbs are less filling than fat, so people ate more calories. Added to that was the increased consumption of processed foods, with their cheap ingredients, preservatives, and the exact combination of fat, salt and sugar that makes it hard to stop eating.

Solution: Eat fresh, unprocessed foods, as close as possible to the way nature provided them.

Problem: Sedentary lifestyles

Our grandmothers may have had a washboard and a wringer, and wash-day was Monday. All day. Now, we toss clothes into a machine to get them clean, and often then into another machine to get them dry. How long until a machine irons, folds, and puts them away?

Along with labour-saving devices came sedentary jobs. Where our grandfathers earned money with manual skills and using their bodies, increasingly we are earning a living with our head, sitting in front of a computer. Our incidental exercise has diminished. Sitting for 8+ hours per day can’t be countered with a 30-minute exercise class. It helps, of course, but we need to move more.

Solution: Make a conscious effort every day to move more. Walk a little, stand up from your desk and wriggle, walk to a colleague to ask a question, take the grandchildren to the park – and play with them. You get the idea.

Problem: Blue light and poor sleep patterns

Electronic devices and artificial light disrupt sleeping patterns. Apart from enabling us to be awake until late at night, usually watching TV or sitting at a computer, the light emitted by screens disrupts our circadian rhythms.

Of course, the more hours we sit around, the more opportunity we have for ‘just a little snack before bed’, and we’re eating more food and more often.

Solution: Stop all screen time an hour before bed – read a book. Eliminate electronic devices from the bedroom. This little LED lights affect sleep more than you might think.

Problem: Large plates

Fashionable larger plates look beautiful in a restaurant – and of course makes the restaurant meal look tiny. At home, we like these larger plates but we don’t stick to the tiny restaurant serving. Again, this influences us to eat more.

Solution: Buy smaller plates, use the bread-and-butter plates, or fill plates only to the inside of the rim.

Problem: Snacking

Snacking has become a pastime. Granny and Gramps had three square meals, mostly simply meat and vegetables. Now, convenience, easy packaging, and social acceptance sees us grazing all day long; while driving, walking, working, watching.

Solution: Focus on three meals, and supplement with two snacks if you get hungry. That’s it. Ensure all food is consumed within a 12-hour window – or even less.

Problem: Easy and inexpensive prepared food

Our Grandies probably didn’t have a local restaurant they could pop around to or call for take-away. Even if these were available, home-cooked meals were the norm, and restaurants very expensive. If you went shopping, you ate before or after the trip; no lingering in food courts with all the temptations they provide.

Solution: Prepare your own food. Try a recipe if you don’t know how to cook. It doesn’t need to be elaborate: even a committed non-cooker can chop up some vegies for a salad and open a can of salmon.

With all these changes over the last, let’s say, 50 years, it’s little wonder that overweight/obesity statistics have become alarming. Think about this: of people now in their 50s and 60s, 63% are overweight or obese yet as children they had no problem. What does this mean for present day children, 26% of whom already have a weight problem?

Something must change, and change quickly. Bringing awareness to parents, who are in prime position to change the eating patterns of their children and entire family, is the only way to create change and prevent future problems.