New Year, new you?

I have had a self-imposed break over the Christmas and New Year period after a hectic end to the year. Like everyone else, it seems, I am back with good intentions and resolutions to start off the year. The annual onslaught of competing fitness DVDs, diet books and ‘easy’ programmes that promise a New Year, New You is in full force. As is the publication of bad health news in the shape of more studies that show us how unhealthy the UK has become. Among it all, another call to parents by Public Health England’s Change4Life initiative to change their ways when it comes to feeding their children. This time, the focus is on sugar.

It is hardly new news that our children are eating too much sugar after finishing a recent holiday where it was positively encouraged and even endorsed by the fat man, himself. But anyone who experienced the repercussions of their offspring coming off a sugar high as the mince pies and chocolates dwindled will understand the potential damage it can do to our bodies. There’s tooth decay and the risk of becoming overweight and obese with the BOGOF risks of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and more. But, didn’t we already know this?

In fact, the hard, cold and depressing facts were released last September, when the results of the National Diet and Nutrition Survey were published. The Survey showed that children aged 4-10yrs and those aged 11-18yrs consume 13.4% and 15.2%, respectively, of their daily calories from ‘free’ sugars. Far from consuming the government recommendation of no more than 5% of calories coming from additional sugars, children consume far too many sweetened cereals, yoghurts, cakes, biscuits and everyone’s favourite health villain, sweetened fizzy drinks. So what has changed?

Well, nothing. But it hasn’t stopped Public Health England from publicising the results of a small online survey they commissioned in November 2016. The survey was completed by 200 parents of children aged between 4 and 10 years about their child’s breakfast. Approximately half of the respondents answered questions about a weekday breakfast and half about a weekend breakfast. The survey showed that children consume over half of the maximum daily allowance of added sugar at breakfast, mainly in breakfast cereals, spreads and drinks.

Although online surveys with such tiny numbers are far from the gold standard of scientific research it has been used with the National Diet and Nutrition Survey as the basis for the new Change4Life campaign focusing on children’s breakfasts. The ad campaign highlights this by featuring a child eating a typical breakfast of sugary cereal, toast with chocolate spread and a glass of orange drink that transform to the respective numbers of sugar cubes that they contain. Although it is hard to believe that there could be any parents or children out there who would be surprised that this breakfast could be anything but high in sugar, the ad campaign is actually entirely about something else. Rather than being another reminder from Change4Life that names and shames sources of free sugars that our bodies could do without, the ad campaign is really about promoting their new app.

Yes, Change4Life continues to be down with the kids in their pursuit of technology that markets their public health mantra. Their new Be Food Smart app is similar to the Change4Life’s Sugar Smart app that was released almost exactly a year ago and allows the user to scan the barcodes of foods and drinks using their phone. The app then produces a readout of the product’s sugar content as long as it is actually on their database. The Be Food Smart app follows the same simple concept and allows smartphone users to be even better informed about what they are putting into their shopping trolleys. The original app has been supersized and Be Food Smart reveals the sat fat and salt content as well. To avoid any misinterpretation of the numbers, the app also produces the results in the form of a traffic light label.

I have to say that at first I was a bit cynical about the app as it does not tell us anything new about our food that a label cannot and this is especially true when you scan a product that is not on the database. However, the truth is that many people simply do not read ingredients labels or understand what they mean in the real world let alone, have the time to figure it all out. Manufacturers have not helped as they have not adopted clear, universal traffic light labels that are meaningful to consumers. Therefore, even if using an app to do all the work is slightly gimmicky, if it helps more people understand which foods contain hidden sugars (and sat fat and salt) and means they can make healthier choices, I am all for it. Best of all, like anything new in technology, children will naturally adopt it with ease and be encouraged to use it, even if it’s only used simply to lecture their parents about their bad choices. If you think about it, what could be more irresistible to them?

Which brings me to one of my New Year’s resolutions that many other parents may not like to admit to. In 2017, I am going to try to keep up with any new technology that my children take on and also make time to master my new iPhone before it is due for an upgrade. Which means that I will be enlisting the help of my teenagers to help me eventually achieve the technological equivalent of New Year, New Me. I have a feeling that they are going to enjoy this more than I am…

In the meantime, I will settle for New Year, New Recipe and we might as well start with breakfast. This Banana apple bread is an easy recipe that can be eaten as part of a healthy breakfast or a ready to eat snack.

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