The UK’s National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) has recently published a new set of guidelines aimed at tackling obesity that focuses on lifestyle changes and I was immediately drawn to 3 recommendations that have been made specifically for parents. They are chiefly, to encourage and support our children to be active at every opportunity, to eat meals with them and finally, to help and encourage them to get enough sleep.
Implied in this is that parents need to take a more hands-on responsibility for the health and well-being of their children and that seems fair enough because really, we should already be doing this. Besides, these 3 recommendations seem fairly simple to achieve. However, the longer I think about it, the more I realise that trying to do all 3 is easier said than done.
For example, if you successfully encourage your children to do lots of sports, it is almost impossible for everyone to share meals together because it soon becomes a logistical nightmare. You are more likely to be found in the car rather than at the dinner table, taxiing children back and forth to different pitches for overlapping training sessions. It is a feat in itself if you manage to drop off and pick up everybody on time without forgetting anything (or anyone), not to mention making sure that everybody is fed.
Cooking becomes a military operation and ‘sharing a meal’ turns into making sure that several sittings of the same one-pot dish are available over the course of the evening for various children coming and going. At the end of it all, there will be few leftovers, if any, to share between parents.
This becomes even more of a challenge once your children grow into teenagers and begin to exercise their independence. Training sessions tend to be longer and suddenly, they want to stay afterwards to hang out longer with their friends. The only way to eat a meal with them is to keep lunch or dinner on hold until they eventually decide to make an appearance. And when you finally all sit down to eat, does it still count as ‘sharing a meal’ if they have a cast-iron grip on their phone and message the whole time?
When it comes to helping and encouraging children to sleep, it does make sense to try to make sure they are getting enough. We know that a lack of sleep increases the risk of becoming overweight and obese. However, encouraging a young child to get more rest is an entirely different thing from trying to wear down the argument of a wide-awake, sceptical teenager who is not convinced that they need to turn off their tablet and go to bed. And when you are desperately tired, yourself, you are fighting a losing battle.
Although like many busy parents, I may not have much success in following all of these 3 guidelines until the weekend, they are just a small part of several broader practical recommendations aimed at changing unhealthy lifestyles leading to obesity. The NICE guidelines are essentially focused on helping all individuals take responsibility for their own physical activity and eating behaviour. The central message is that taking small, practical steps, however futile or impractical they may feel at the time, can go a long way towards changing bad habits and staying at a healthy weight. And as the number of people classed as obese in the past two decades has nearly doubled, surely, these are badly needed.