According to a 2015 report by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, nearly one in five UK children are obese by the time they leave primary school.
That is a shocking and scandalous state of affairs, which to my mind is evidence of a new type of child abuse. Without a drastic change in their circumstances, most of these young children, already obese at age eleven, will go on to become chronically ill as adults, preventing them from leading active, fulfilled lives and putting yet more unnecessary strain on our struggling National Health Service (NHS).
Why do we ignore the early warning signs? We spend far more on treatment after they have escalated to chronic illness in adulthood than we do on prevention, on sensible steps to help prevent young children becoming obese in the first place.
Enter the UK government’s long-awaited Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action. Originally due for publication in December last year, the Childhood Obesity Plan was unexplainedly delayed until its publication, finally, on Thursday of this week.
It was not worth the wait. A slight document, which takes just a few minutes to read from start to finish, it contains little in the way of the tough measures that are needed to stop the food and drinks industry continuing to poison us with food products containing excessive amounts of sugar. Instead the Plan contents itself by setting modest “challenges” to the industry.
At the time that the Obesity Plan’s publication was first delayed last year, there were strong suspicions it was because the food industry was alarmed – and the government embarrassed – by the popularity of the campaign, spearheaded by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, for a “sugar tax” on unhealthy food products.
It is clear that since then vested interests within the food and drink industry have been hard at work to secure a watering down most of the expected measures to tackle sugar consumption. Now the industry will be “challenged” to reduce sugar levels in some foodstuffs such as breakfast cereals, yoghurts, biscuits and cakes, but they will be given until 2020 to do so. And if the food companies fail to meet this “challenge” in four years time? The Plan simply states that it will use “other levers” to achieve the same aims.
The Plan also has nothing to say about very obvious problems such as advertisements for sugary food and drinks specifically aimed at children or the placing of sweets and unhealthy snacks near to supermarket checkouts.
According to the diabetes.co.uk website, obese people are up to 80 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who have a healthy weight. In the UK, the NHS is already creaking at the seams trying to cope with the soaring numbers of diabetes sufferers and the cost of treating them (the Childhood Obesity Plan itself includes the staggering statistic that the cost to the taxpayer of treating diabetes and obesity is now greater than the cost of the police, fire service and judicial system combined).
The government’s childhood obesity strategy needed to be big and bold in order to make a big difference, but the published Plan represents the sum of the government’s thinking on this issue then it has not been worth the wait or the resources it used. Childhood obesity will remain at epidemic levels and the NHS will continue to creak at the seams under the growing cost of governmental failure to tackle head-on the food industry giants whose products and practices are making us, and our children, ill.
Onto the recipe. One evening last week I was part of a small group which went gleaning for plums in rural Worcestershire, not far from where I live. The yellow egg plums we picked (with the farmer’s permission) would have gone to waste if we had not picked them. Instead they went to homeless shelters and other good causes.
Whilst climbing up and down ladders laden with these beautiful plums I found myself musing on recipe ideas, and this is the creation I came up with, although for the recipe itself I used Victoria plums as they are sweeter and juicier.
It’s actually a very easy recipe, but the result is a beautifully flavoured vegan, gluten free dessert.
roast plums with pistachio crumb
16 organic Victoria plums, approx 750 g
2 star anise anise
1 cinnamon stick
75 ml maple syrup
for the pistachio crumb
75 g pistachio kernels
50 g almond flour
pinch baking powder
20mg coconut oil
20 ml maple syrup
coconut, or other vegan yoghurt
1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Halve the plums, but leave the stones in. Place them, cut side up, in a roasting tray along with the star anise and cinnamon stick and drizzle over the maple syrup. Roast in the preheated oven for 35 minutes, or until the plum halves are tender and starting to catch but still retaining their shape. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
2. Pulse the pistachio kernels in a food processor to break them down into smaller pieces. Place these in a bowl with the ground almonds and baking powder. Gently heat the coconut oil and maple syrup in a saucepan until the oil has melted. Pour over the pistachio and almond mixture and stir to combine. Spread this mixture evenly on a baking tray and cook in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes or until starting to brown (take it out of the oven a couple of times to stir the crumb and encourage even cooking). Finally, remove from the oven and set to one side to cool.
3. To serve, remove the star anise, cinnamon stick and plum stones from the baking tray. Divide the plums between four bowls and drizzle over any of the cooking juices from the baking tray. Add a generous spoonful of yoghurt, then sprinkle pistachio crumb across the top.