A couple of years ago the World Health Organisation predicted that all nations in the European Union would continue to see increases in the proportion of their population that are obese, with one exception: the Netherlands.
More on the Netherlands later, but an interesting piece of news closer to home caught my eye recently: the city of Leeds in the UK has managed to reduce the rate of obesity amongst young children in deprived areas of the city over a four year period. It is the only city in the UK to have bucked the trend.
Obesity is a disease which disproportionately affects the poor. Being hard-up often tends to be accompanied by a poorer diet, one which includes a greater proportion of processed and “ultra-processed” foods. Obesity not only makes the lives of those who suffer from the condition restricted, and in some cases miserable, it also places a huge strain upon our health services.
Some commentators believe an initiative called HENRY is behind the welcome reduction in obesity rates amongst young children in Leeds (overall from 9.4% to 8.8% over four years, the decline being more marked amongst poorer families, from 11.5% to 10.5%).
HENRY stands for Health, Exercise, Nutrition for the Really Young and is a programme which is actually focused on parenting skills. The intention is to encourage what is called “authoritative” (as opposed to “authoritarian”) parenting. In this psychology-based approach, rather than telling a child what they must or must not do, the parent offers controlled choices. When it comes to food, the parent might ask their child, for example, if they would prefer peas or broccoli with their meal. As yet there is no definitive proof that HENRY is the reason for the fall in obesity amongst young children in Leeds, but parents who have been part of the programme have spoken positively of its impact on their relationship with their children and on their children’s relationship with food.
Going back to the Netherlands, I think one of the reasons why that country is also bucking the obesity trend is to do with exercise. Anyone who has visited Amsterdam will know that there the bicycle reigns supreme. The city has an unparalleled cycling infrastructure, with well maintained, well-lit cycle paths, protected intersections and dedicated bicycle parking sites. The city’s cycle routes have been designed to be shorter, quicker and more direct than the corresponding car journeys. As a consequence, the Dutch cycle more than anyone else in Europe – roughly 2.5 kilometres each per day.
10% of the population of the Netherlands are obese, and that percentage is falling. in the UK the figure is 23% and it is rising.
It does seem to me pretty obvious that if you don’t eat the right foods and you don’t exercise then you are liable to put on too much weight. Perhaps there are some helpful lessons we might learn from these positive initiatives.
The Leeds project is of particular interest because of its focus on the very young. The children involved in the project may be young enough for their long-term attitude to food and nutrition to be changed for the better.
The lesson of Amsterdam is that if we spend more on making walking and cycling easier and safer, people are more likely to walk and cycle, and therefore to burn off calories.
The answer to the obesity crisis is surely that we need to focus far more on preventing unhealthy weight gain in the first place. This would be far more cost-effective, and far better for the individual, than waiting until people become so ill they require treatment for chronic illnesses or drastic surgery.
On to the recipe.
Today is the summer solstice, and thus the astronomical start of summer.
Time, then, for a dish that looks ahead to the warmer weather we all hope is coming our way. This is a simple, four ingredient, refined sugar free sorbet that is light, sharp and deliciously refreshing. Perfect for enjoying in the garden on a warm summer evening.
raspberry and mint sorbet
450 g fresh organic raspberies
10 g fresh mint leaves
120 ml organic maple syrup
juice of half a lemon
1. Place the raspberries in a blender with the lemon juice and process to a smooth pulp. Pour the pulp into a sieve over a large bowl and use a spoon or spatula to push the pulp through the sieve and remove the seeds. Pour the maple syrup into a clean blender and add the mint leaves. Blend until combined and smooth, then whisk into the raspberry pulp. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes then pour into an ice cream maker and churn. Once it is starting to set, tip the sorbet into a freezer proof container. Cover the container with a lid and freeze for at least 4 hours.
2. Remove the sorbet from the freezer and leave to stand at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.