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Opinion: 'Fat shaming' is not the way to encourage healthy eating

Rather than scaremongering children into thinking that eating sweet food will make them (horror of horrors) fat, let’s teach them about being healthy.

Aisling Lyons

IF I EVER meet whoever is responsible for the scheduling of the current Safefood advert, I will not be responsible for what I say. I hadn’t seen it before but it came on recently while I was watching television with the children.

It is clearly trying to send adults a message not to give out biscuits willy-nilly but all it did was make my daughter say, ‘Look Mum,when she got the biscuits she got fat, ugh, I would hate to be fat!’

So the message that particular advert sends my child is that fat is ‘wrong’. Nothing about healthy eating, nothing about being fit and strong – just the message that if you eat biscuits you will be fat and that is bad.


Uploaded by safefoodTV

I am fully aware that my child will go through phases of worrying about her shape. It will not matter what her shape is, she will worry about it. Do we ban biscuits from the house? Are cake and chocolate to become ‘unmentionables’? Because, as we all know, if you are forbidden something you just accept it and move on, right? You don’t make it your sacred mission to eat as many biscuits and cakes as you can, whenever and wherever you get the chance!

Childhood obesity is a problem in Ireland and so there is a massive push by Safefood at the moment to encourage healthy eating. I am absolutely all for that. I have written about it previously myself – it is one of our parental duties to encourage healthy eating and explain why everyone needs to eat well. But not because you will ‘get fat’, but because if you only snack on sugary food, you will not feel well. Because if you only snack on sugary food, you will not have enough energy to play outside. Because if you only snack on sugary food, you may harm your body, and your teeth. Because sugary snacks don’t give you enough energy to play football, to go swimming, to climb trees, or to scoot to the playground. Sugary food will not help your brain to grow and develop, it will not help you do the ‘maths frenzy’ that you love so much.

Rather than scaremongering children into thinking that eating sweet food will make them (horror of horrors) fat, I for one am teaching them the positives of healthy food. Fruit and vegetables are good for your body and mind, and eating these will help you to grow strong in both. Cheese and milk are good for our bones and teeth, they will give you a nice bright smile. I focus on encouraging the children to eat the meals I prepare for them rather than rely on snacks to keep them going. However, I absolutely refuse to demonise sugar. Biscuits and chocolate every now and again are good too – no, they will not help us to grow strong and healthy but they are tasty and enjoyable. They are sweet. They are, in fact, a treat!

I have never felt the need to tell any of my children that a food type makes them fat and I never intend to, either. Stick to correct portions, keep sweets as a treat, let your children have plenty of fresh air and play. Allow them to grow up healthily but not living in fear of the dreaded sugar. If you are struggling with limiting your child’s sugary treat intake, then there are some great tips here from Safefood. But please don’t let them see that ad!

Aisling Lyons, aka Babysteps, is a mother of three from Co Wicklow, Ireland. Aisling has over 20 years experience in the childcare sector. Her blog aims to help any parents struggling with the little and large problems that parenting young children can bring! Visit her website, Babysteps, or Facebook page

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Aisling Lyons

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