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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Don't be evil......

Occasionally there is a tag line or quote that has a powerful impact and the ‘google’ motto, ‘Don’t be evil’, made public in the documentary film ‘Google; Behind the Scenes’ did that for me. To me these simple words did an excellent job of summarizing what we all bring to this world, as individuals or as corporations in the sense of whether we are contributing positively or negative to the global energy system. And this morning, after spending some time reflecting on the contents of the new Coca Cola advertisement which aired in Australian prime time last night, again the concept of ‘Don’t be evil’ echoed in my ears.

As a health professional, when I go to sleep at night, my goal is to feel that I have contributed positively to this world. Sure there are perks associated with working in the media but in general I see my role as a dietitian in contributing positively to the health and well-being of my clients. Indeed, there is nothing more gratifying than to see a client achieve their food and weight related goals in conjunction with my guidance and I am never as happy as when I have had a successful day seeing lots of clients who are on track health wise.

I imagine this would be the same for a number of professionals – teachers, parents, doctors’ even most lawyers J  whose focus is to not only make money to live a comfortable life but to also put good energy, skills and resources back into the universe.

When I consider big multinational food companies who pump millions of sugar and fat based calories into the universe every day, I struggle to see the positive contribution. Sure, on one hand these groups create thousands of jobs, service a consumer want for these food types and give back to the community via various feel good initiatives, but should these groups still be rewarded when you argue that at least some parts of their business are a little bit evil in terms of what they are selling, developing and marketing?

These were the feelings I experienced when viewing the Coca Cola advertisement highlighting their commitment to smaller serving sizes of sugar based drinks; clearer caloric labeling and programs to support disadvantaged children get more active. Sure, it is great to see a company acknowledging that sugar based drinks are a contributing factor to obesity and also their commitment to do what they can to help but is it not a little bit hypocritical? Would those advertising dollars not be better spent on actually helping the managing obesity, at grass roots? Is it still a good thing when the underlying business model is to sell more and more liquid calories?

There is not one cause of obesity and successful obesity prevention and management requires numerous strategies and initiatives from individuals and as well as the public and private sectors. I do wonder though, if the executives of these big food companies rest easy at night? Whether, if they actually saw the impact of obesity at a grass roots level, would they continue to do what they do? And do they really believe that they are ‘doing no evil’ as they work towards plugging more and more high fat and sugar calories into the universe? What I do know is that I couldn’t do it, and while these groups are still around, the health professionals like me will have plenty of work to do, hopefully funded by Coca Cola or Pepsico in the future.



Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Are grandparents making their grandkids fat?

School holidays – 2 or 3 weeks in which working parents juggle the demands of their career with child care and keeping busy, energetic children stimulated for an extra 6-8 hours a day. For some this will mean extra child care, or time off work and then there are the growing number of grandparents who are taking the role of secondary caregivers for more and more busy, working parents. While this may appear the perfect scenario for families, recent research published by the University of Helsinki has found that children who are cared for my grandparents are more likely to be overweight than children cared for by parents.


The study which was published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology examined the weight status of 9000 children living in the UK and found that on average 23% of children were overweight and 26% of children cared for by grandparents were overweight. Researchers concluded that the benefits associated with grandparents caring for children from a historical perspective may not hold in modern life in which sedentary entertainment, high calorie food choices and long working hours tend to dominate family life.


And every single day, we see this. Children spending hours if not days sitting in front of screens, food treats a regular daily occurrence and schedules being based on the child’s wants, interests and desires – long gone of the days where Michael spent the day pottering with Nan in the garden and a treat was a glass of milk and a homemade biscuit.


So what does this mean for parents and grandparents who naturally want to do the best by their children, at least from a health perspective long term? It means that we need to start saying no – no to purchasing food away from the home; no to the TV, video games and i-pad’s and no to spending more and more money on entertainment in place of simple activities such as playing in the park or heaven forbid in the garden with friends. Not only does saying no help to empower any caregiver to be in charge of the child rather than the other way round, it basically helps to control calorie intake and increase activity to help prevent excessive weight gain.


You only have to spend a little time in a shopping centre or local kids entertainment centre to see fat kids. In Australia at least 1 in 4 kids has a significant weight issue and no parent or grandparent really wants this.


School Holiday Healthy Family Tips

1) Limit treats to at most 1 extra food item such as a small ice cream once a day.

2) Limit screen time to 2 hours a day, this includes ipads and DVDs.

3) Arrange play dates with other children.

4) Avoid all sweet drinks and choose only water.

5) Pack lunches where possible.

6) Allow children to choose their treat each day; for example, do you want an ice cream now or a sushi later?

7) Avoid shopping centres where overconsumption is encouraged.

8) Never take a child out of the house hungry.

9) Choose kids sized portions of everything including milkshakes, cakes and drinks.

10) Avoid ‘all you can places’ such as sushi trains and smorgasbords.


Susie Burrell is a paediatric dietitian who has worked in the area of childhood obesity for more than 10 years –