Change4Life and the 100 calorie snack issue

Please note: We do talk about calories in this post. Although this is something that we generally avoid it is unavoidable in this topic.

 

100 calorie snack

This has been a story that has been around for a while, but due to its intricacy and complexity we haven’t commented on it yet.

Change4Life is an initiative that is backed by the government and aims to promote healthy living choices for families that last a life time. One of their most recent campaigns which has been featured on TV is the 100 calorie snack. The idea being that “[they’re] suggesting a handy tip when buying packaged snacks, look for ‘100kcals, two a day max’”.

Why this is a problem

There is an issue with this, in fact there are quite a few. Some of the issues people have raised include the advert promoting calorie counting to children, that this ‘100 calorie’ limit does not account for healthy higher calorie foods and that it is promoting restriction to children.

Childhood obesity and education

Whilst it is important to recognise that childhood obesity it an issue in the UK and that education for parents and children alike is crucial to changing this, the message of this advert it misguided and potentially damaging.

It is generally considered that it is a parent’s responsibility to teach their children and guide them in making healthy choices for life, whether this is food related or not. It is reductionist to boil the issue of education down to this ‘100 calorie’ message.

Vulnerable to the message

Further to this, the advert is not presented after the watershed when many children will be in bed, the advert is on TV at prime time for children’s TV watching. This means that this message is being presented to children, who we all know are like sponges with information, when they are particularly vulnerable.

Lost in translation

When children are presented with a message such as this, either from their parents or from the TV, the message can become lost in translation and something which is intended to provide guidance for healthier food choices can become distorted into feelings of shame and ‘I shouldn’t eat that’, ‘I can’t have this’, ‘I’m too fat’ and ‘I should eat less’. These monologues are familiar for those suffering with restrictive eating difficulties.

Childhood eating disorders

Although eating disorders are often considered to be an issue for the teenage girls of the world, the more research is done the clearer it is becoming that eating difficulties do not discriminate. Childhood eating disorders are a real issue and with the increase in stimulus from the internet and social media, there is more pressure than ever on kids and they are struggling with increasingly more adult issues.

 

If you are worried that you child may be struggling from an eating disorder, you may find the following helpful:

  • Try not to label foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ as this may lead to feelings of guilt and shame when ‘bad’ foods are eaten
  • Avoid using food as bribes, punishment or rewards
  • Avoid promoting unrealistic or perfectionist ideals in terms of your child’s behaviour, grades and achievements, and instead encourage self-acceptance
  • Encourage children to celebrate diversity, and not place too much value on physical appearance as a measure of value
  • Accept that children are likely to have different eating habits from adults –they may require food more frequently during the day or go through periods of liking or disliking particular foods
  • Children learn by example – don’t skip meals, participate in fad diets or enforce diets upon children
  • Encourage your child to express their feelings freely and encourage open communication in the home.
  • Allow your child to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full – don’t force them to eat everything on their plate
  • Model acceptance of different body shapes and sizes, including your own
  • Don’t criticise or tease children about their appearance, or make comparisons to another child’s appearance
  • Encourage sport and regular exercise to foster their body confidence. Model a healthy lifestyle yourself by participating in regular exercise for enjoyment and fitness
  • Reassure your child that it is normal and healthy to gain weight at the onset of puberty and throughout adolescence
  • Help children develop a critical awareness of the images and messages they receive from television, magazines, the internet and social media
  • If you are concerned about a child restricting food groups or portion sizes, you may want to consult with your GP

 

 

Helpful Resources

Supporting your child with eating problems

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