The Malta Independent 21 November 2018, Wednesday

Obesity: A holistic approach is needed

Monday, 15 June 2015, 08:04 Last update: about 4 years ago

Education Minister Evartist Bartolo last week announced that thousands of Maltese school children are going to be screened and tested in an effort to establish the body mass index of our youngsters.

What does body mass indices actually mean? The answer is simple, it is a calculation to establish how much extra fat people are carrying in relation to their height.

The results will surely make for some frightening reading. We already know that Maltese kids are amongst the most overweight in the world with obesity levels reaching frightening proportions. Various studies have already shown that we are near the top in the fat scales when it comes to adults, but out children are overweight and steadily gaining, in league with the United Kingdom and the United States.

It is, very much, the white elephant in the room. We are Mediterranean, with a supposed diet of olives, vegetables, fish and the occasional dish of red meat. But somewhere along the line, as affluence set it, we became a nation of snackers, eating chocolates, crips, and mountains of butter laden bread and TV dinners.

As adults, we have begun to face the consequences of cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes. But our children – the upcoming generation – are going to fare worse than we have. These children have been brought up on saturated fat diets coupled with incessant doses of refined sugars in everything that we eat.

The Education Ministry has taken the first step – kids will only be allowed to buy water from school tuckshops and soft drinks will be a thing of the past. The Ministry said that something had to be done, and that drastic measures were needed. We could not agree more. But the issue needs to be followed up. It is useless restricting kids to water if they are then going to go home and be fed processed rubbish. An education campaign, in conjunction with the Health Ministry needs to be set up (or stepped up) to educate children and parents on the dangers of eating bad food.

The Ministry also ought to take the brave decision (what on earth is stopping you) of replacing our terrible attempt at P.E. classes with something that actually makes a difference to children’s lives. Half an hour of disorganised football, basketball or volleyball is not enough to get out kids fit and in shape. They need dedicated classes – at least two hours a week – of specialised training in keep fit and a multitude of other sports that are taught in every European country apart from our own.

Kids need to practice the disciplines of track and field, boxing, tennis, badminton, rugby and many more. Will it cost money? Of course it will. But what price on life? If we allow our children to continue to become more and more obese, we have already given them a death sentence. There is no price on life, and by investing in educating children on health, we will be giving them the greatest gift of all. Given that obesity is set to overtake smoking as the leading cause of death (and expensive palliative care), then we might even save money (and heartache) in the future.

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