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 jucier.
There are surprisingly few ingredients for a recipe with such a fancy sounding title. Best of all, they all combine perfectly in this light, beautifully flavoured vegan and gluten free dessert.
griddled plums with thyme, orange and vanilla ice cream
8 fresh plums, halved and stoned
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp maple syrup
for the ice cream
400 ml organic coconut milk
160 ml organic coconut cream (not the solid form)
100 ml maple syrup
juice of 3 oranges
zest of 2 oranges
6 springs fresh thyme
2 vanilla pods
a few fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1. For the ice cream, Place the orange juice in a saucepan and bring to simmering point. Reduce the heat and simmer for a further 10 minutes, or until the juice has halved in volume. Set to one side.
2. Pour the coconut milk and coconut cream into a separate pan. Split the vanilla pods with a sharp knife and scrape the seeds into the pan. Add the pods too, along with the orange zest and thyme leaves. Place over a medium heat and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat, stir in the reduced orange juice and set to one side to cool completely. When cool, pour the mixture through a fine sieve to remove the vanilla pods, orange zest and thyme spring. Put the strained liquid in the fridge to chill for at least half an hour.
3. Pour the chilled ice cream mixture into an ice cream maker, giving it a quick whisk first, and churn. Once it is starting to set, tip the ice cream out into a freezer proof container. Cover the container with a lid and freeze for at least 4 hours. Remove the ice cream from the freezer and leave to stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.
4. For the plums, whisk together the sesame oil and maple syrup. Place a ridged frying pan over a high heat. Brush the cut surface of the plums with the oil and syrup mixture and place carefully into the pan. After 3 minutes carefully brush the skin side and turn the plums over. Cook for a further three minutes. Lift out of the pan and serve whilst warm.
5. To serve, place four griddled plum halves on each plate with a generous scoop of the ice cream. Sprinkle with a little chopped fresh thyme.