Jelly babies

The statistics surrounding early childhood obesity are alarming, even though good nutrition isn't a difficult nut to crack

At first I thought the world had gone mad – was National Diabetes Week really being promoted by allowing school children to buy jelly babies? Oh the irony!

Then I looked closer. The jelly baby promotion was a month-long initiative by Woolworths to support research into Type 1 Diabetes. Now the jelly babies made sense – a symbol of how to fix dropping blood sugar levels.

But National Diabetes Week, an initiative of Diabetes Australia, is about awareness of Type 2 Diabetes. This is a condition that's lifestyle-related and preventable, and often caused by a diet too heavy in fats and sugars. So whether you're talking about Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes, those jelly babies are either the heroes or the villains.

Type 2 Diabetes is now the fastest growing chronic condition in Australia. Currently almost a million Aussies are diagnosed, with 10% of those diagnoses occurring in just the last 12 months!

Since Type 2 Diabetes is preventable, why are the rates still skyrocketing? Something to do with our culture's addiction to processed foods over fresh whole foods, maybe?

There's certainly a whole lot of misinformation out there. The latest media thought bubble is that burgeoning rates of childhood obesity are being caused by full cream dairy products. Other national research recommends that children aged 4 - 7 should only have one serve of fruit per day while simultaneously saying that one or two servings of "allowable extras" (cakes, pies, soft drinks, lollies) is fine.

I had a heated debate with a colleague recently. She said the reason parents feed their children so much highly processed food is because it's cheaper than fresh whole foods. When educated people start saying this sort of thing, we're in real trouble as a society. Perhaps this explains why, during 12 months of recess duty, I only saw two pieces of fruit amongst a sea of highly processed, packaged food.

Good nutrition not only improves children's behavior, but also has long-term health benefits. The statistics surrounding early childhood obesity are alarming, even though good nutrition isn't a difficult nut to crack. Unfortunately there's an incredible amount of hype and conflicting messages out there, deliberately designed to confuse and distract.

Ask any TAFE teacher of the Certificate IV in Allied Health Assistance (Nutrition and Dietetics) and they'll tell you the same thing – for optimum health eat plenty of fresh fruit, veggies, whole grains, nuts and cereals with moderate amounts of lean meats and full cream dairy. Try to mostly avoid highly refined or processed foods, which are usually very high in sugar, salt and fat. It's that simple.

It seems so straightforward and yet there's always a twist. Consider the high-pressure tactics of fast food chains touting their wares (and guarding their profit margins). Sadly this is also very common for sporting events and sporting teams. Children don't see the amount of intense, behind-the-scenes training that their sport stars engage in. All they see is their athletic heroes drinking sports drinks, soft drinks and being sponsored by fatty processed food products. This marketing blatantly encourages poor food choices.

It's true that parents have the choice to say no to these food products. But the pressure from children is great. Parents who succumb to this pressure may not realise that they're setting bad food habits and long term health problems for their children.

On a brighter note though, governments are at least starting to consider nutrition with the implementation of school programs such as Crunch&Sip and focusing on healthy school canteens.

But it doesn't go far enough. Until we have a fully integrated approach this will be an ongoing problem for generations to come. Governments need to see that prevention is better than cure. Let's stop latching onto every new bit of research espousing weird and wonderful faddish ideas and get back to the simple message that fresh whole foods in moderation are best.