What’s Up With Our Kids’ Diets?

Author: Green Cyprus  //  Category: Green Cyprus Blog

Because I’m involved with food on a daily basis, I regularly make a point of posting on my about food issues. I have on several occasions commented on the Cypriot diet and in particular, what our children eat.

Years ago, the Cypriot diet with its abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, pulses and lashings of olive oil was much healthier than of recent times. Nowadays, evidence has shown that we are shunning the diet that is part of our culture. The Greek/Mediterranean diet is known for being one of the healthiest in the world but here in Cyprus, it seems to be going out of fashion, particularly with the younger generation. No prizes for guessing what kinds of food have become more popular in recent years! Unfortunately, it is our children who are now paying the price.

A survey conducted late in 2011 by the Research and Education Institute for Child Health monitored about 2,500 children in Cyprus as part of a five-year Europe-wide €13 million project funded by the European Commission.

It concluded that children in Cyprus eat fattier and saltier foods, exercise the least and on top of that barely get enough sleep in comparison to those in northern Europe. Children in Cyprus topped the chart when it came to eating salty snacks and chocolate and brought up the rear when it came to cooked vegetables. Seven in ten children replaced healthy food with crisps, chocolates, pastries and other similar snacks.

We appear to have abandoned the core Mediterranean diet of fresh fruit, vegetables andpulses in favour of what is basically fast or ‘junk food’. It was even found that children’s consumption of olive oil lies just at the European average when surely you would expect it to be higher. Children in Cyprus also ranked low in terms of calcium consumption andomega 3 fats which are necessary for healthy cells. About three in five did not get enough vitamin C or A. These vitamins protect the organism against fat oxidisation which causes cancers as well as clogging up arteries. The overall finding in this study was that one in six Cypriot children who participated in the survey was considered obese.

This is a worrying statistic. I made a point of looking around– schools, restaurants, cafes, play zones andother places that children frequent as well as taking into consideration the general day-to-day activities of, let’s say, a ‘typical’ family. I quickly came to the conclusion that these statistics appear to be pretty accurate.

You only have to look around yourself to see what I mean. Observe any school playground and you’ll see more overweight children than ever before. Unhealthy diets fuelled by nutrition-less, carb-filled, calorie-laden snacks which children often buy from kiosks and school tuck shops don’t help matters, nor do unhealthily packed lunch boxes. There is also a huge fondness for all things sweet. There are cake shops and bakeries virtually on every street in Cyprus and they are always busy – many of the items you can buy there like cakes and pastries are making their way into the lunch boxes I spoke about!

I believe that these items have become for many people like an addiction, as has the fast food so much loved by the younger generation. Add to this, the general reluctance to go anywhere on foot and you begin to see where the problems lie and indeed, that it’s us adults who are to blame!

Will we be able to turn this situation around? Yes, because we have to. Striving for good health and adopting a healthy diet is common sense. Unfortunately it doesn’t help that there is an apparent lack of education on health issues and I for one would certainly like to see this change, but in the meantime, we cannot ignore the situation as our children will continue to pay the price for bad eating and lifestyle habits with their health.

As parents, it’s up to us to make healthier dietary choices because we influence what our children eat. And we need to jump on board too by setting good examples. It’s not difficult. It just requires commitment and awareness of bad food choices that are so readily available and making sure you and your children avoid them. There’s plenty of healthy food, fruit & vegetables, snacks anddrinks in the supermarkets & health shops andit goes without saying that many items are available organically-grown, including olive oil. And of course these days, you can even get The Yum Company organic fresh ready meals which are healthy, nutritious and great for kids too! 

Here are my suggestions for a healthy school lunch box:

Include: nuts, chopped fruit or vegetables e.g. apple, banana, carrot, cucumber tomato, dried fruit e.g. apricots, dates, mini rice cakes, piece of cheese e.g. halloumi, small pot of organic yogurt. If I am including a sandwich, I usually add mashed avocado and mix in a splash of Cool Oil omega 369 (available from Holland & Barrett) or flax or pumpkinseed oil. I always use organic where possible. As for drinks, juices are best avoided as they are full of sugar and bad for your children’s health as well as their teeth. Mineral water is ideal.

Exclude: pastries, processed meat products e.g. sausage rolls, salty crisps, sweets, cakes, sugary, fizzy drinks andso called ‘energy’ drinks. As if you didn’t know!  

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.