Friday, 18 May 2012

Keeping Healthy Should Be Cheap As Chips

Yer een are bigger than yer belly.

Ye couldnae see green cheese but ye’d want it.

Some of my Gran’s favourite catchphrases. This week my plate has definitely been piled high with food for thought.

Political hacks have had a whale of a time thanks to “Venison-gate”, although my friends in the Brighton of the North will be aware it’s not the first time deer meat has cost a politician dear. (Poor Graham Marsden was ousted in the council elections earlier this month. Perhaps his penchant for venison pushed disillusioned Libdem voters over the edge?)

Joan McAlpine’s latest no-show, due to lunch, coincided with a debate in the parliament on obesity and the part that physical activity can play in keeping the nation’s weight under control. Green MSP Alison Johnstone highlighted the importance of the built environment and green spaces. Too often we seem to think keeping fit must involve going to the gym, buying specialist clothing and equipment, and crucially, devoting precious time in our busy lives. Indeed, a Conservative commented about an increase in people attending ‘sports clubs’, a phrase that made me picture squash rackets and pullovers knotted jauntily about the shoulders.

The reality is if we design our surroundings properly, keeping fit can be part of everyday life and what’s more it will be free or certainly cheap.

I keep hearing from parents with older kids about the plethora of after-school activities that invariably turn you into a taxi service, ferrying your child and their pals from one club to another, filling in form, forking out for kit and taking turns organising trips and events.

When I was a lad I went out on my bike. I also recall raiding farmers’ fields for peapods, climbing trees, swimming, playing kerby, kicking a ball about, and on rainy days reading books. Cheap as chips. Healthier than chips.

I don’t recall constant snaffling of snacks. Even in later years with the arrival of the Atari and Commodore 64 video games, food was something prepared by mum or gran and you were called to eat it at a table.
Wife-features baked some low-sugar muffins for my work colleagues the other day. They were scoffed. One comrade came up to me a short while later, narrowed their eyes and said slowly: “That was toddler food, wasn’t it?”

Certainly our Toddler has a bit of a sweet tooth – takes after her dad with an Empire Biscuit Radar – but is of age where when she gets hungry she will say yes to a healthy snack if that’s all that’s on offer. Cakes? No cakes in this house today, young lady. But look! A banana. Still hungry? Thought so…
And in terms of exercise she is well conditioned to the Scottish weather and knows that a walk on a beach on a windy day can actually be hilarious.

I was saddened but not surprised by recent research suggesting only one in seven Scottish mums with an overweight or obese child recognises their kid is unhealthy. All too often I see toddlers sooking on sugary fizzy drinks and munching away at big chocolate bars. Or eating hideous potato or corn based snacks.

Having said that I understand the relief a bag of Pombears or an ice cream can bring. Those few minutes of toddler silence if you’re having a tough day are worth it.

Parents should lead by example but so should politicians. I wonder if any of Mr Salmond’s special advisors has plucked up the courage to ask the First Minister about his physique. I remember Jack McConnell giving an interview when he was the big cheese, saying cheese was his big downfall. You lead such a hectic job you forget to eat or exercise properly and end up wolfing cheese on toast at bedtime, which goes straight to the waistline.

Wife-features and I go through phases of being good but we’re from Scottish stock so it’s in our DNA to want fried skirlie on a winter’s night. We’re also children of the 70s so will always fall for a bucket of butterscotch Angel Delight.

Like the built environment supporting physical exercise we need to create the right food environment to support healthy eating. We live nextdoor to a cheese and wine shop and across the road from an ice cream parlour but we’re also within waddling distance of a greengrocers. Maybe if it stayed open till 10pm we’d nip out for an apple instead of a bottle of Pinot Grigio and a tub of Rum & Raisin.

It’s an issue of perspective. In the long run I don’t want Toddler being burdened with an unhealthy dad so if I care about her quality of life in the future I should look after mine right now.

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