Junk food not cheaper


Junk food isn’t cheaper than healthier alternatives.

The Auckland research disproved a view that the cheap cost of fatty and sugary food was driving an obesity epidemic.

But this latest research, presented at an obesity conference in Auckland last week, revealed there was no difference in the weekly spends between the most and least healthy eaters.

Auckland nutritionist Rebecca Whiting, who led the study, said a person’s ethnicity and salary can have more influence on shopping habits than pricing.

“There are a number of factors that drive consumption, and the cost of food is only one – and it may not be as important as we think.

“Habit, preference, meal planning, time, taste, and the desire for family harmony all contribute to the types of food families buy and the meals they prepare.”

Cost has been used as an excuse for junk diets and obesity but this research shows the issue is far more complex than that.

Teaching self control better than imposing restrictions


Principals want restrictions on junk food sold near schools.

This is would be a desperate step which wouldn’t work.

Removing some temptation teaches the children nothing, what they need is to learn how to resist it.

That is backed up by a University of Otago study that shows self-controlled children become healthier, wealthier adults.

Young children’s self-control skills – such as conscientiousness, self-discipline and perseverance – predict their health, wealth and criminal history in later life regardless of social background or IQ, the Multidisciplinary Study shows.

The study led by Professors Avshalom Caspi, Terrie Moffitt and Richie Poulton is published in the US-based journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, and offers evidence that even small improvements in self-control for children can yield reductions in costs of healthcare, welfare dependency and crime to a nation.

Professor Moffitt says the research indicates that low self-control makes children vulnerable to ‘snares’ that could have life-long impacts.

Poor diet and lack of exercise aren’t going to be solved by imposing restrictions on dairies and fast-food outlets when most of the responsibility for what children eat and do lies at home.

What do they eat for breakfast, what are they given to eat at school, what do they have when they get home , how active are they and where do they get the money to spend on junk food?

Children who have a reasonable diet and enough exercise most of the time won’t get fat on the occasional treat.

Learning to eat properly and make healthy choices is one aspect of self control and the study shows that has many benefits:

The results suggest all children – even those who already have above average self-control – could reap later rewards from universal interventions design to improve such skills.

“This is a highly uplifting message,” Ms Moffitt says. “Not only could the most vulnerable children have a better chance at a happy and healthy life; there is the potential for across-the-board benefits in personal, social and economic well-being.”

Ms Moffitt says the challenge now is to develop interventions specifically focuses on improving self-control skills that can be offered on a universal basis to young people.

I have sympathy for principals who have to deal with the behavioural and health problems in pupils who don’t eat balanced diets.

But this study shows the solution is in teaching self-control to individuals rather than imposing restrictions on businesses and their customers. 

A large part of the solution to the problem of childhood obesity isn’t restrictions on what’s sold but self-restraint over what’s eaten.


Jim Mora interviewed Professor Richie Poulton on the self-control study and he was also interviewed on Close Up.

Junk diets start at home


Is anyone surprised that a lot of children have junk diets at home?

A bit more fat and sugar and the extra kilojoules which go with them now and then isn’t a problem, it’s what you eat most of the time which makes a diet healthy or not.

You only have to look at what’s available on supermarket shelves to work out that a lot of people must be eating more of the food which ought to be reserved for occasional treats more often than they should.

 Food and drink that used to be reserved for celebrations like birthdays or Christmas – crisps, sweets, take aways, fizz – are almost staples for some families.

A generation or two ago homemade food was the norm. Some of us still cook from scratch, or nearly scratch,  when we know exactly what’s going into your meals most of the time but a lot of people don’t.

Poverty is one of the reasons for this. If you have little or nothing for  discretionary spending  price matters more than nutrition and a lot of the highly processed high energy foods are cheaper than healthier alternatives.

Ignorance is another – some people simply don’t know what a healthy diet is and how to cook it.

Even if you do know the sort of food you’re supposed to eat most of, most of the time, unless you study nutritional information on packaged food, which is almost always in tiny print which is difficult to read , it’s easy to be miss high levels of fat and sugar in what you might think is “healthy” food.

Then there’s time, or lack of it. When you’re busy it’s very tempting to resort to ready-to-eat meals which are usually more energy dense than to cook from scratch.

Any or all of these contribute to unhealthy eating and too much energy going in is compounded by too little energy going out.

Children have a lot more choices of indoor activities than they used to. Sections are smaller so it’s harder for kids to get incidental exercise playing at home and fears, often groundless, of dangers outside their properties make parents loathe to let their offspring go too far away.

All of these contribute to valid concerns about more people being overweight and under fit.

Solving that isn’t easy, but schools may take some comfort from the survey because it shows what happens between nine and three is a small part of  a much bigger problem.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: