As the Christmas season draws closer, I felt it was my responsibility to remind you of the old saying ‘you are what you eat’. I am really worried about the number of overweight and sometimes seriously obese children one sees these days. This leads me to the first of my new heroes, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The Governor of California, who I am sure you remember as the Terminator, has set about putting a stop to bad nutrition for children in schools. Arnold, who is originally from Austria and who started his career as a world champion bodybuilder, seems to be much smarter than many thought he would be as a politician.
He has quickly realised that the financial implications of millions of children growing up to have their first heart attack at 40 years old or becoming diabetic at age 25 would be absolutely devastating, even for a rich state like California. Not to imagine what it would mean for the state health system in one of the poorest countries in Europe like Portugal.
Arnold and his team had the courage to take on the powerful fast food lobby in the US. He passed a law that makes it illegal to sell fast food in American schools, where a Burger King on site was formerly the rule. He also made it compulsory for schools to stack their vending machines with healthy food.
I was really impressed with Mr. Schwarzenegger when I read about this campaign, and it also confirms the belief in that independent politicians, who enjoyed successful careers before they became politicians, can prove to be very refreshing among the climate of those who are in politics for a living. That is why many people in Germany feel that Franz Beckenbauer, ‘der Kaiser’, would have had a much better chance of lifting Germany and the Germans out of their depression than Angela Merkel. But, back to the school kitchen and Arnie.
The next step for him will have to be to persuade parents to feed their children more healthily at home. This is the point where my
From that point, he set out to make school dinners more healthy and tasty. With an enormous amount of personal commitment, he began in the borough of Greenwich, with the support of the educational authorities, to develop healthier food in schools, particularly at lunchtime. He developed practical recipes, adjusted them to the palate of children, made eating more fun, a priority occasion and even a bit spiritual, and stirred up a lot of controversy.
He came up against the strongest opposition, not in the shape of the fast food lobby, the dinner ladies or the children. No. Those who worried most that vegetable lasagne, a fresh Mediterranean salad or barbecued fish with boiled potatoes instead of chips could harm their offspring were the parents. Believe it or not, many appeared at the school gates delivering secret care packages of hamburgers, chips, crisps and sweets to their children, who apparently were being tortured with healthy food.
It took Jamie Oliver a lot of work to convince the whole family that his campaign was entirely aimed at achieving improved health and wellbeing, and hence greater success in school for the children and, in the end, the whole family.
My third new hero is McDonalds. They have started to sell delicious apple slices packed ready to eat, ideal for children. Vegetarians can now also participate in an outing to the fast food palace and enjoy tasty vegetarian pittas. This shows that it is, of course, possible to be successful in the marketplace with healthy fast food. To sell half an apple for 50 cents must deliver a good profit margin.
Before I tell you about my fourth new hero, here is the bottom line – there has never been a greater danger to our offspring since the times of Smallpox and Tuberculosis. Studies have shown that even obese babies have a nine times higher risk of becoming obese adults. The dangerous effect of obesity on the health of our children is self-inflicted and the treatment is simple, cheap and fun. Here is the prescription:
• Five portions of fruit, vegetables and salad per day
• 60 minutes of enjoyable physical exercise and fresh air per day
• Limit the amount of time your children spend in front of the TV or computer to 60 minutes per day
• Set an example of healthy habits and teach your children healthy food preparation.
• See your doctor to get help if your child is too heavy
• Teach your children to eat only when they are hungry and not to overcome boredom
• Sweets and sugary soft drinks should be consumed a maximum of once per day. That makes them even more enjoyable because they remain a special treat.
Finally, my fourth new hero is James Blunt, with his beautiful new CD – fantastic, sensitive music, ideal for jogging or just for relaxation. My favourite track is number three.
In my next article before Christmas, I will take on the challenge of investigating the effect of the Ten Commandments on our health. Until then, wishing you a wonderful autumn.
(By the way, a final little tip – if you are missing the smell of fallen leaves in autumn, go to the park in Loulé next to the rugby field you can inhale a dose there)
Dr Thomas Kaiser
• Dr Kaiser of the Family Medical Centre in Vilar do Golf/Quinta do Lago, Almancil, can be contacted on 289 398 009 or 917 967 424.