Better Health campaign: a facilitator of unhealthy food relationships

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With the coronavirus pandemic fuelling a large increase in child obesity, where 27.7% of children at reception school age are now categorised as overweight, we are in an era where the UK has the highest rates of childhood obesity in Europe. Yet, whilst this statistic is highly alarming, it sadly comes as no shock.

Being locked within the four walls of our homes has meant children’s impressively active lifestyles came to a sharp halt — no more energetic school runs, violent games of tag at playtime, and hour-long swimming lessons. Instead, a child’s daily routine became a mixture of struggling to sit at desks for more than ten minutes for online school, spending too many hours playing with their brand-new Nintendo Switches, and continually raiding the sweet-treat cupboard out of sheer boredom. 

As the Government would prefer not to have this negative statistic tied to the country, they recently launched a ‘better’ health campaign which strives to improve the health of the younger generation. Creating the NHS food-scanner app which allows parents to control their children’s diets, it includes a ‘scan, swipe and swap’ feature which allows parents to simply ‘scan’ foods and choose from a selection of alternative choices marked with a ‘Good Choice’ badge.

Within the NHS food-scanner app lies an arguably more disheartening outcome

By signposting healthier options in line with the Government’s dietary recommendations, the days when you could freely throw chocolate croissants, sugary cereals, and packets of Haribos into your shopping trolley are long gone. Instead, these ‘unhealthy’ options are replaced with wholewheat cereals, no-added-sugar options, and every fruit imaginable — a nightmare for the majority of children who turn up their noses at the prospect of eating an apple. 

At first glance, the ‘better’ health scheme seems a hopeful attempt to prevent this statistic from rising. Simply substituting your usual Walkers crisps multipack purchase with a wholegrain crisp option, although seems a small change, in the long run, can prevent children from being burdened with painful tooth decay, heart disease, and diabetes later in life. And as the last thing we want is a younger generation bombarded with detrimental health issues due to their poorly structured diets, this app appears effective in reducing such a disheartening outcome. 

However, within the NHS food-scanner app lies an arguably more disheartening outcome — the development of an unhealthy relationship with food. With the app urging parents to swap their usual ‘unhealthy’ foods with ‘healthy’ foods, this strictly categorises food as ‘good’ and ‘bad’, a categorisation that is deeply problematic. Every food provides nutrition and sustenance regardless of what the alarming red nutrition labels tell us — occasionally treating your children to Dominoes on a Friday night will not automatically cause them to develop diabetes.

This app should urge parents to find such balance

Yet, this app creates a hyper-focus on dieting, where pizza becomes categorically unwholesome and therefore a food that should be completely avoided. By demonising whole food groups, families are forced into a restrictive where toxic habits develop within the home — habits that are sadly but inevitably re-enacted by young children. This process prevents children from having a balanced diet, a lacking balance which can plummet children into harmful eating habits further down the line. As parents begin to remove packets of Haribos from their child’s diet, when they become older and have free reign over their diets, they will only indulge in these restricted food groups. Constantly being fed healthier alternatives and restricting enjoyable foods is not balanced — it is a harmful process that will only facilitate this statistic in the future.

Instead, this app should urge parents to find such balance. Yes, you can choose to give your child the whole-grain cereal over the chocolate croissant for breakfast, but you should not completely wipe out chocolate from their diet. Allowing children to moderately indulge in the food they enjoy only means a long-term healthy relationship with food will be developed — something which will always be more important than a short-term weight loss plan.

Image via Foodtank.

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