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Calories: The importance of self-control

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We are all guilty of reaching for a packet of crisps or purchasing a ready meal when we are short of time, but when you discover that many of us are eating 200 – 300 more calories than we should per day, many of us would believe it is time to make a change.

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Public health officials believe that as a drive to tackle both childhood obesity and over eating in adulthood, food companies should do more to reduce calories in food, making them healthier for adults and children alike.

This action follows a recent drive to reduce the amount of sugar in drinks and sweets and tax those with higher sugar content. However, this raises the question of whether it is the role of companies or us as adults and parents to manage our calorie intake and that of our children.

To examine the whether popular foods such as ready meals and snacks could potentially be made healthier and more nutritious, is a positive notion all round. Whether or not we closely monitor our calorie intake, we could all benefit from our fast food being healthier.

However, this is not the major issue. Food companies by all means should make food which is healthy and nutritious but should they do so under institutional pressure, that they solely are the cause for obesity?

These companies do play a role in the increasing issue of obesity in our youth; shockingly a third of children now leave primary school overweight or obese due to high calorie intake, including sugar and other forms of fat. They do in fact lack an element of control. Quite literally they are not forcing children to eat these unhealthy foods, rather it is an issue of diet management enforced by parents.

Before parents start screaming into their screens that they do not have time to cook lengthy home cooked meals after work and asking if we have ever tried to get a child to eat a vegetable, please consider the approach you are taking.

By putting some chicken nuggets in the oven or refusing to cook vegetables because your child throws a tantrum at the sight of them, you are taking the easy approach. Okay, every now and then (maybe even once or twice a week) this is not a terrible way of dealing with things, but in the long term, avoiding the difficult route will have major health complications, whether in the form of weight issues or other health conditions.

The reality of the matter is, children will eat what you place in front of them. Even if it is a vegetable they do not enjoy, at least they have made an effort to try and discover their taste palate. You can always move on and try something different next time.

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If you restrict your children to unhealthy foods and snacks, then that is all they will become to understand about what kinds of foods they enjoy and thus the issue of weight gain and high calorie consumption becomes a serious issue.

Should parents manage and monitor their own and their children’s diets better? Yes, they should. After all children will mimic what their parents do. If they see you snacking down on a multipack of crisps as opposed to a salad for lunch, then they in turn will do the same.

Whilst the occasional unhealthy treat does nothing terrible, as adults we should and are responsible enough to manage our own diets and that of our children far better than we already are. All it takes is a little effort.

It could be argued that placing the management of calorie intake on food manufactures, much like cooking up a plate of chips after work, is the easy way out. Rather than taking responsibility for our own calorie and food consumption we are relying on others to do the hard work for us. This reinforces negative habits, that eating this bag of crisps is ok because it only contains 90 calories, but in reality, this food is still harmful and damaging to your body long-term because it contains no nutritional value.

Overall, we as people should take better control of our diets and that of our children. Yes, sometimes the healthier approach can be time consuming, but its long-term impact is far more beneficial than that of food manufacturers reducing calories in fast food.

Whilst this approach could be considered a short-term solution to the obesity crisis and may help fast food to become more nutritious, more should be done to encourage parents and ourselves to manage our diet in a healthier way, without having to influence institutions to change their processes.

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