March 10, 2009

Food, activity and obesity in childhood - does it matter?

This week is York Festival of Science and Technology. I found out about it from leaflet at the library, and decided I would like to attend a few of the things mentioned. It all sounded great! I love Science and Technology, and I love learning - it seems like I haven't been to a lecture in a LONG time.. and Andrew gets to go to University all the time. I know, I've had my time as a student already.. but hey! If I can go to free lectures while Andrew stays in with the children - woohoo!

So.. off I went to the Lecture entitled, 'Food, activity and obesity in childhood - does it matter?'. It turns out this was the last in a series of York University Public Lectures around the topic, 'Are you what you eat? The science of food'. I wish I'd known about it earlier.. but now I know I'll be looking to see what's available next term.

Dr Ashley Adamson a lecturer at Newcastle University presented her research on this topic. She started by stating that 60% of adults in the UK are overweight or obese. That this problem is really in need of a societal change, it can't be tackled just by the individual. She likened the problem to that of climate change. We can't change it alone. It's true, although I can do my bit for the environment, or I can stay a healthy weight - that wont effect what will ultimately happen to our world because of these problems. Lots of diseases and health issues are associated with being overweight and this means the NHS is inundated. At the moment the NHS is just about coping, but what will happen in 10 or 20 years if these figures increase? This article predicts that by 2050, 60% of adults will be obese.

One of the references on a slide that was used was for - this is the National Obesity Observatory - who knew this existed? There is so much information available online.. wow! I keep getting distracted from the notes that I wrote from this lecture and all the extra stuff I'm finding now.

The lecture went on to talk about changes in food intake and exercise done, so to understand why obesity is on the rise. One of the studies analysed was the Gateshead Millennium Study. The most interesting things for me, was that although the amount of food eaten, and time of day food was eaten had not really changed the type of food eaten had. Food that was previously eaten as a snack (crisps, chocolate etc) is now eaten as part of a meal. She gave studies to show that children who were overweight became adults who are overweight, and links to show a higher frequency of overweight children to those parents who were overweight.

The most interesting thing was what she had to say about our perception of child obesity. Most parents surveyed assumed that their children were doing over 2 hours more exercise per day than they really were and gauged their child's weight on whether they fit clothes of the age that they were. Apparently children's clothes sizing has changed considerably as our children's sizes have. So, just because you are average weight in your class for example does not mean that you are not overweight, because of this many parents do not realise that their children are not a healthy weight. In one study 86% of parents had a child who was overweight, but 25% of the parents of children who were obese, thought that their weight was normal - obese, not just overweight. A lot of people don't like to talk about weight issues, but really we need to start to.

It was a really interesting lecture, but best of all it just got me thinking. On my walk back home afterwards I was thinking about research in general. How interesting it is to be finding out things that are new, to be linking it in with other people's studies, and then using that research to do good in the world. Maybe when I return to work I will be involved in research of some kind.

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