YESTERDAY health experts announced that the key to tackling child obesity was for water to be the only liquid drank at mealtimes.
They argued that sugary drinks contain ‘empty calories’ which contribute to our daily intake without any benefit to our wellbeing. Public Health England is also planning to publish a report for plans to cut the nation’s sugar intake in the not-too-distant future.
But is this really the way forward? In an age where plenty of alternatives are available which are either completely sugar-free or contain a significantly reduced amount than they once previously did, will replacing a glass of orange juice with water to accompany a meal really make a significant impact to our long-term health?
The Pingle School in Swadlincote has had a ban on energy drinks, which are notoriously high in sugar as well as caffeine, since June last year. It is also encouraging pupils to drink water both during lessons and at lunch.
However staff acknowledge that there is only so much they can do to influence the choices made by youngsters. Assistant head Deb Holland (pictured) explained: “Pupils can still go and buy sugary drinks from the shop, or drink them at home. We can’t control that. However we do have plenty of water fountains around the school for them to top up bottles, as well as jugs of water at lunch. We try to do our best to make sure they are making the right choices.”
On the other hand, it can be argued that sugary drinks only form part of the child obesity problem, and that parents should not have to moderate how much their children drink, providing that they encourage them to be active and undertake regular exercise.
Johanna Williams from Burton says that she does not regulate how much sugar her children have, as she makes sure they do not spend their free time sat in front of the television or computer.
She told the Mail: “I let them have sugary drinks and sweets as well, but what I don’t do is let them come in from school and just sit and watch television. I also make sure they eat plenty of vegetables too and have a balanced diet.”
“They don’t need much encouragement but they’re always running about in the garden playing games, so I can see they’re getting plenty of exercise and keeping active.”
She admits that she is a fortunate position as a stay-at-home mum to keep an eye on her children, but says there are plenty of youth clubs and parks in the area for children to play in.
However other parents believe that banning fizzy drinks is important in helping to maintain their child’s health. Joanne Phillips from Woodville said on the Mail’s Facebook page that her children are only allowed to drink soft drinks once a month if they are lucky.
She said: They are not overweight and get plenty of exercise. It’s getting a balance of diet and exercise to reduce the problem of obesity.
I work but I also make the effort for my children to enjoy after school clubs that keep them busy too. It’s not just fizzy drinks, I think these energy drinks are addictive and children shouldn’t need them.”
Of course, drinking soft drinks laden with sugar can also lead to other health problems. Dental experts are always quick to point out that consuming too many carbonated drinks can lead to rotten teeth, but providing that they are looked after properly and regular check-ups are attended, then is it not comparable to exercising regularly in order to avoid putting on weight?
Health bodies are more than entitled to have their say on what drinks children should and should not be given by their parents, but they cannot enforce their ideas. A campaign to cut back on the amount of sugary drinks should be welcomed by all, but it is also important to remember that it is only one piece of the jigsaw when it comes to tackling the child obesity ‘crisis’ alongside maintaining a balanced diet and also undertaking regular exercise.