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Physical and mental health for young children
Physical and mental health for young children

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6 Bringing it all together: Community and global influence

Although Figure 1 (in Section 1) separates out the global, national and community legislation and looks at the place of policies in education settings, the reality is that there is overlap between and relationships between each of the different levels.

The community that a child lives in can influence their food choices and, in turn, their nutritional status. Children’s food choices can be affected by the community they live in. Many communities don’t have access to shops that sell affordable, fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables. And for people living in remote rural areas, access to a reliable public transport system can restrict access to affordable shops.

Many multi-national fast-food chains produce ultra-high processed foods that are often more affordable than fresh produce; and powerfully influence eating habits around the world. In Tatlow-Golden and Boyland’s 2021 study about digital food marketing in the Philippines, which was commissioned by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), they reported: ‘This food marketing monitoring study found that in the Philippines, social media is almost 100% saturated with marketing for unhealthy foods and non-alcoholic beverages. Advertising is appealing to 84% of adolescents. an almost entirely unhealthy “advertised diet” is promoted to children and families, creating emotional associations of fun, love, sharing and health with these foods, and draws on the “star” power of local sporting and media celebrities’ (Tatlow-Golden and Boyland, 2021, p. 5).

The powerful influence of advertising and its association with children’s food is evident in many food products, and there are numerous products that are packaged in ways to appeal to children. This environment is making a significant contribution to children’s health, specifically in relation to the number of children who are overweight and obese.

In the following activity, you will watch a video and explore the ways that the ‘food environment’ influences eating habits.

Activity 3 Video review

Timing: 20 minutes

In this video, the importance of the ‘food environment’ in relation to changing our eating habits and reducing the consumption of unhealthy ‘junk’ food is discussed. The video highlights the influence of such food on children’s health, specifically on the contemporary levels of obesity and children who are overweight.

As you watch the video, make notes about the following:

  1. Which factors need to be in place to help families make healthy eating choices?
  2. What can be done to change the food environment?
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Video 2 children and food
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Your list for the first question may have included some of the following points:

  1. Parents need knowledge and skills about healthy food.
  2. Healthy food can be more expensive, more difficult to access, and many parents don’t have the spare cash to spend on changing a diet to include healthier choices.
  3. Shops may not be easy to get to.
  4. Cooking facilities may not be available to families living in inadequate housing.

What can be done to change the food environment?

  • From a global perspective, individual countries need to ensure that children’s rights to health are met. This can be partly addressed by ensuring there are ways to provide healthy and affordable food.
  • There needs to be a move away from putting the responsibility on families and there needs to be a societal change. This can be achieved through a community approach to reduce childhood obesity (Public Health England, 2018) which includes the layers around children to include home, education setting and services.
  • Address the influence of advertising on children’s food choices and habits. Advertising normalises foods, however restrictions to advertising on children’s programmes is not entirely effective because children watch other programmes where advertising isn’t restricted. Children are accessing digital media at a young age; however, advertising isn’t regulated in digital media. Children are heavily influenced by their exposure to advertising, and families can become influenced by children’s ‘pester power’.
  • Countries can play an important part in making healthy and affordable food available.
  • Taxes on unhealthy food to make them more expensive and unaffordable. In England, certain soft drinks are liable for a sugar tax which is aimed at reducing the consumption of high calorie and high sugar drinks (HM Revenue and Customs, 2021).
  • Changes to agriculture and the farming subsidies that could make growing healthy food crops more attractive for farmers.
  • Investing in agriculture so that mechanisation can be introduced and this in turn reduces labour costs and can make fruit and vegetables more affordable.
  • Promote a society where children’s rights to health and healthy food are a priority.

Clearly there are many challenges to implementing the changes summarised above because all have financial implications. Some involve financial investment and others would result in financial loss. However, investing in creating a healthy eating environment will have benefits not only on obesity, but also to children’s oral health, as well as their long-term health into adulthood.