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Listen to your gut... this is another scare story peddled by nanny state

By Suzanne Breen

Published 09/03/2016

Here we go again. It's another guilt trip for parents. A quarter of our children and young people are obese, Health Minister Simon Hamilton told the Assembly yesterday.

I wonder about those statistics.

Looking around my daughters' primary school, I see a handful of chubby children - maybe 5% - but that's it.

The classrooms are by no means heaving with unnervingly overweight boys and girls.

What's the definition of obese anyway?

Is a child so classified because they fall ever so slightly outside some weight, height and age graph?

My gut instinct is that this is another case of over-diagnosis by the nanny state.

Of course, there are a small minority of children whose health is at risk.

But I don't buy the line that obesity is the ticking time-bomb for the next generation that some health professionals claim.

I won't be confiscating the party bags or ordering an end to the weekend ice-creams for my daughters just yet.

Nowadays, parents have so much to worry about when it comes to their children's diet. Excessive salt, trans-fats, omega-3, five-a-day, red meat, fruit juices, bacon and sausages (below) - the lists of dos and don'ts is endless and ever-changing.

All too often, I look at my shopping trolley and I'm ashamed at the amount of processed junk I buy.

Like many mothers, my dreams involve my kids feasting on fruit and vegetables and gambolling freely through sunny meadows.

Then, there's reality.

Chicken nuggets and chips for tea and straight onto their tablets after homework.

No matter how hard I try, or what playful shapes I cut them into, a bowl of cucumbers and carrots just doesn't have any appeal.

And yes, youngsters are far too often couch potatoes nowadays.

Stranger danger means we don't allow our children to do what we did in the golden years when kids were free to climb trees and roam far and wide on their bikes until dusk.

But there's no point in beating ourselves up about it. We can't turn the clock back. I don't believe in sugar-coating the truth, but I do think the problem of obesity in the next generation is over-hyped.

There are very serious cases at the extreme end of the scale.

A Channel Five programme recently showed an 18-year-old girl who weighed 32 stones.

She could hardly climb the stairs and her mother had to help her wash.

That the situation ever reached that stage without social services intervening is disgraceful.

To me, that's tantamount to child neglect.

But let's not go overboard and confuse cases of puppy fat - where a wee bit of exercise will work wonders - with those where a youngster's health is in grave danger.

Obesity in children is a problem, but to suggest it's of epic proportions is just another scare story.

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