`If I Have to Die, I'd Rather Die Happy' ; Diet Health Chiefs Fear the Childhood Obesity Campaign Is Backfiring. and to Listen to These Teenagers, They Have Every Reason To

By Severin Carrell and Jonathan Thompson | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), October 1, 2004 | Go to article overview
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`If I Have to Die, I'd Rather Die Happy' ; Diet Health Chiefs Fear the Childhood Obesity Campaign Is Backfiring. and to Listen to These Teenagers, They Have Every Reason To


Severin Carrell and Jonathan Thompson, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)


Steph Ashcroft and her friends from Year 9 at Warden Park Secondary School near Haywards Heath in West Sussex, have more important things to worry about than obesity. Such as music, boys and pocket money.

"We've touched on healthy food at school, but not in any great detail," said 12-year-old Steph. "Most of us are healthy anyway. I eat a lot, but I don't get fat because I do karate. It's people up in the north who aren't healthy; big, fat, flabby people. They're the problem."

Her reaction is exactly what the Government's official food advisers expect - and what they fear, according to an internal Food Standards Agency report seen by The Independent on Sunday.

It warns that the drive to alert teenagers to the dangers of obesity is backfiring, because the "healthy eating" message is boring and negative.

Instead of switching to healthier low-fat and less sugary foods, teenagers are starting to "screen out" government warnings about the risks of fast foods, sweets and ready meals.

Young people often see healthy eating as an issue for fat and obese teenagers - not themselves, the report says. This is leading to "compassion wear- out", increasing the risks that young people will reject calls to eat healthier food.

They are often cynical about some products' claims to be healthy. One 13-year-old girl interviewed for the study denounced Sunny Delight. She said the drink was supposed to be full of vitamins and all fruit, but was actually additive-laden. "You can't believe any of the stuff they say on packs," she said.

The agency is using the report's findings in a series of new initiatives to tackle Britain's rapidly growing obesity problem, which will culminate in a government White Paper on health, due out next month.

Young people are seen as a crucial target audience for this campaign. Recent figures suggest more than one-fifth of all children are overweight or obese - partly because of a sharp growth in the use of fast foods, and a steep drop in activity by teenagers.

The latest health studies warned that rising obesity is leading to a surge in cases of type 2 diabetes in younger adults - a form of the disease previously confined to older people. Obesity in children has tripled over the past 20 years.

Stark warnings, the FSA report suggests, are having little impact on teenagers' eating habits.

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`If I Have to Die, I'd Rather Die Happy' ; Diet Health Chiefs Fear the Childhood Obesity Campaign Is Backfiring. and to Listen to These Teenagers, They Have Every Reason To
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