INTERNATIONAL -- Britain's booming restaurant culture is fuelling record levels of childhood obesity, with today’s children spending at least twice as much time spent eating out as previous generations did, experts have warned.
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Health officials said families no longer behaved as though dining out was a “treat” and have instead allowed restaurant meals and fast food to become a major part of youngsters' weekly diet.
Figures from Public Health England (PHE) show significant changes in the nation’s eating habits, with almost one in five meals now eaten outside the home - a rise of five per cent in just one year.
Today’s families are spending at least twice as much time eating out as those who grew up in the 1970s, its report warns.
Dr Alison Tedstone, PHE chief nutritionist told the Telegraph: “Going out for a meal is part of Britain’s culture but instead of being a weekly ‘treat’ for families, it’s becoming the norm and contributing to the obesity epidemic.”
She said parents needed help - including calorie labelling on menus - to look after their children’s health.
“Every day we are bombarded by cheap, high calorie food and drinks; what we see in the media, in our shops and on the street encourages us to consume too much and gain weight,” she said. "We need action from across society to help the nation to consume less,” the senior official said.
Research involving almost 2,000 people found 75 per cent had eaten out or had a takeaway in the last week, a rise from 68 per cent five years ago.
One in ten had eaten out at least six times in the previous week. Studies have consistently associated eating out with higher daily calorie intake.
Last year, Harvard researchers discovered that people who eat out regularly are more likely to be overweight and to develop Type 2 diabetes compared to those who eat at home.
"We now buy a very large proportion of our food from the out of home sector. It is not a treat, it is an everyday event,” Dr Tedstone said.
"Children on average have three meals from the 'out of home sector’ [restaurants, takeaways and fast-food outlets] every week,” she added. "That’s a lot of calories.”
One in five families now has at least two takeaways a week, the official added. Health officials are working with the food industry to remove 20 per cent of sugar from food by 2020.
Dr Tedstone said making improvements to restaurants and fast food would be crucial to tackling Britain’s obesity epidemic.
“The majority of sugar in children’s diet is not coming from sugar added within the home,” she said. “If we want to do something about children’s sugar intakes we need to do something about the sugar that is within the food parents buy and children buy for themselves”.
The nutritionist welcomed efforts by some councils were trying to limit the number of fast food outlets near schools, but said restaurants needed to do far more to help customers make healthier choices.
“Restaurants, cafes and takeaways can contribute by reducing portion sizes, sugar, saturated fat and salt across their menus as well as offering healthier options if they don’t already,” she said. "Calorie labelling on menus would also help the public make healthier choices.”
Official figures show that a record proportion of children were classed as obese by the time they left primary school last year, prompting health campaigners to warn of a “state of emergency” facing the nation.
In November, Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer said the threat to humanity is growing as great as that posed by Ebola, warning of a “dystopian future” ahead.
Latest data shows nearly one in five 10 to 11-year-olds is obese, while one in three is classed as overweight or obese.
Campaigners have urged the Government to introduce a ban on junk-food advertising aimed at children, and to clamp down on marketing promotions.
Many had expected such measures to be included in the Government childhood obesity strategy, which was published in August, but resisted such steps.
Dr Tedstone said the plan was “definitely” missing elements that PHE had wanted to see, but said many of the measures which are planned -including targets to reduce sugar levels in foods, and a sugar tax, were “really important."
She said Britain had a “long way to go” to tackle its bulging waistlines, with poor diet now equal to smoking in terms of the health risk it poses across the population.
Today, two in three adults are overweight or obese and on current trends, at least half of adults will be obese by 2050.
"The average man in the UK is consuming at least 300 more calories a day more than they need. That’s a lot - that’s an extra meal,” Dr Tedstone said.
"Women are typically consuming at least 200 more calories a day than they should," she added.
"On average diets in the UK for all age groups are really poor."
"We are not achieving dietary recommendations for almost anything,” she said. "Our saturated fat intakes are too high, our sugar intakes are vastly too high, our fibre intake is too low, our fruit and vegetable intake is too low and our salt intake - despite being considerably reduced in recent years - is still too high.”
SOURCE Laura Donnelly, The Telegraph
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